Rabbit Run Essay, Research Paper
The world of John Updike’s Rabbit, Run is a collection of polarities that dramatizes the in-betweeness and the constant state of tension that characterizes humanity. A cursory perusal of John Updike’s Rabbit, Run reveals a world of hopeless futility in which Harry Angstrom runs in ever-tightening circles. Rabbit is always running, from one woman to another, between Brewer and Mt. Judge, between solitude and society. Rabbit is torn because he has faith in something meaningful in the world, somewhere, but he fails to find it during any of his frequent but brief stops. More important than the futile vacuity of Rabbit’s world, however, is the fact that he never gives up his quest. He searches through sex, orthodox faith, and family for a sign that life is not meaningless. Rabbit conceives of that thing he wants to find as embodied in the perfectly hit golf ball whose path is straight and true, the arc gradually rising in geometric continuity, traveling far before falling gently to earth with an imperceptible thud. It is neither the nature of Rabbit’s travels, nor what he discovers that is vital; it is the fact that he never gives up in his pursuit of excellence that finally confirms John Updike’s affirmation of the indomitability of the human character.
The structure of Rabbit, Run provides the outline of Updike’s intention. The novel begins and ends with flight.
Updike focuses on a Rabbit who is unhappy in his marriage to his wife Janice Springer, pregnant with their second child, alcoholic, and addicted to the balm of the Mouseketeers. Ironically, Jimmy, one of the Mouseketeers, puts things in perspective one night for Rabbit, who has returned home from his job demonstrating the MagiPeeler in five-and-dime stores. Jimmy says: “Know Thyself, a wise old Greek once said. Know Thyself . . . It means, be what you are. Don’t try to be Sally or Johnny or Fred next door; be yourself”. Rabbit’s life with Janice offends his fastidious nature and he realizes that “the clutter behind him in the room–the Old-fashioned glass with its corrupt dregs, the choked ashtray balanced on the easy-chair arm, the rumpled rug, the floppy stacks of slippery newspapers, the kid’s toys here and there broken and stuck and jammed,” is not Rabbit; yet the disorganized mess “clings to his back like a tightening net” . He longs for order, neatness, and a straight and clear road ahead. The chaos of his home symbolizes the ugliness and unbearable frustration his life seems to be heading toward.
On impulse, Rabbit snatches his car from Janice’s parent’s house and heads south towards a mythic land of peaceful orderliness on a beach of the Gulf of Mexico. This avenue is spoiled for him, however, when he finds that the regions he travels through resemble the landscape around Brewer, a tight mesh that constricts him. Updike states: “At the upper edge of his headlight beams the naked tree-twigs make the same net. Indeed the net seems thicker now” . Even the songs on the radio remind him of Brewer. His journey, and the map that represents it, begins to seem another trap: “The names melt away and he sees the map whole, a net, all those red lines and blue lines and stars, a net he is somewhere caught in”. He has an image of himself “going right down the middle, right into the broad soft belly of the land . . .” . Like the golf ball in flight, Rabbit seeks a straight path uncluttered by confusion, frustration, and messiness. Yet the roads he drives bend him west, and he is eventually pulled back home. He returns not to Janice, but to his old coach and mentor, Tothero. This completes the first cycle in the novel and sets the framework for each of Rabbit’s successive movements.
The next cycle begins with Rabbit’s introduction to the prostitute Ruth. After only one night with her he decides to move in because he is unable to face his old life with Janice; however, the very tendrils of the net that drew him back from his journey south begin to meet to pull him back to Mt. Judge and Janice. When the Reverend Eccles appears, Rabbit realizes that, “the world’s such a web anyway” . Soon, when life between them becomes more and more complicated, Rabbit realizes that his relationship with Ruth is much like his marriage to Janice.
Rabbit wants to find the straight path and blast through the net that contains him. That path seems to open to him when he is notified by Eccles of the imminent birth of Janice’s baby. After the birth, the long-awaited reconciliation between Janice and Rabbit occurs. On the way home from the hospital, “the curving highway seems a wide straight road” open once again to Rabbit. Moreover, when he returns home he finds that Janice’s father has paid the rent on their apartment while Rabbit was living with Ruth, and he offers Rabbit a job selling used cars. These events provide Rabbit further evidence that he is on the straight road again.
At home, with Janice still in the hospital, Rabbit reworks his and Nelson’s life into some semblance of order. He finds pleasure in the details of domestic life: caring for his son, playing at the park, cooking, and maintaining the apartment. He gives up his job gardening for Mrs. Smith. Nevertheless, he soon begins to feel the truth: he has not put himself on the straight road, “the thing that had left his life had left irrevocably; no search would recover it. No flight would reach it. . . . The best he can do is submit to the system and give Nelson the chance to pass, as he did, unthinkingly, through it”.
Furthermore, his mother is angry with him for returning to Janice and not staying with Ruth. Rabbit reflects on her behavior: “You act like I’ve gone over to the other side. You’re acting insane. Don’t you know it’s the right side and why don’t you praise me”. Although Rabbit thought he had put himself back on the straight path, his mother’s behavior towards him coupled with his constant thoughts about death (Mrs. Smith tells him she is going to die and Rabbit visits Tothero in the hospital after his near-fatal stroke) reveal otherwise. When Janice finally returns home from the hospital, Rabbit wants to make love to her, but his desire for a simple affirmation of the correctness of his choice is spurned, and feeling that he has made a terrible mistake, he flees again.
Rabbit’s second flight from Janice ushers in one of the most powerful scenes in the novel. In despair over losing Rabbit again, Janice gets drunk and accidently drowns the baby Rebecca in the bathtub. Rabbit had spent the day walking around Brewer instead of returning home to Janice. He doesn’t return home because of “the feeling that somewhere there was something better for him than listening to babies cry and cheating people in used-car lots”. Told by Eccles of his baby’s death, Rabbit returns to Mt. Judge for the funeral. During the service he accuses Janice of being solely responsible for Rebecca’s death, and he flees once again up the mountain in search of the straight path.
At this point, all avenues seem closed to Rabbit. He tried to find the straight path, a meaningful existence, with and through Eccles, Janice, and Ruth, but nowhere he turns offers him support or authority to show him the way. He devolves into his own passions and solipsism when nothing remains except what lies inside. He tells us that “his life seems a sequence of grotesque poses assumed to no purpose, a magic dance empty of belief”.
Rabbit returns to Ruth one final time, but she rejects him, calling him “Mr. Death.” She tells him of her pregnancy and demands that he divorce his wife or forget about her and the child. He decides to walk around the block to clear his head. The first thing he sees is an “unlit, dark circle in a stone facade”. The dark circle represents the fact that Rabbit’s circular movement has finally devolved into the smallest possible movement, an entirely subjective movement that takes place in his head. He concludes shortly thereafter that “Goodness lies inside, there is nothing outside. . . . He feels his insides as very real suddenly”. These passages reveal Rabbit’s final flight into the “pathetic emptiness of himself”; the circular movement in the novel becomes tighter and tighter until, finally, Rabbit runs completely into the center of his own consciousness.
The structure of Rabbit, Run shows that Rabbit never breaks from the hopeless vacuity of his life; he never finds the straight path that he seeks. Yet, in the end, “he runs: Ah: runs”. The conclusion suggests at the least an ephemeral hope, and in the most generous reading, an ecstatic proclamation. After all that Rabbit has endured, he persists in his hopeful vision. This reveals his creator, Updike, to be highly affirmative of the indomitability of the human spirit. Like a pebble in a spring stream, Rabbit is, by his own designs and by those of others, tossed to and fro. He endures the death of his newborn baby, the rejection of his mother, the ineffectual and foolish machinations of the Reverend Eccles, and the loss of Tothero who, behind his mother, had the second greatest influence on his life. Finally, he loses contact with the child he conceived with Ruth. In spite of this, Rabbit retains hope in a future in which he will find the straight path that appeases his appetite and appeals to his sense of orderliness and peace.