Jeremy Keeshin Throughout his many novels, John Updike has explored the consequences and dilemmas of many

of the most pressing moral questions that face humanity. Updike writes about morality and faith and their intertwining effects on the individual and his surroundings. Throughout his Rabbit tetralogy, and more specifically in Rabbit Run, the protagonist Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom seeks to find his place amongst his friends, family, and society. He faces the everyday challenges that face the typical human, and he deals with them only as he knows how. Rabbit Angstrom is a character whose lack of future plans keeps him caught in the conformity of his age. He acts on his marginal and visceral instincts because he is naturally impatient. His impatience, selfishness, and futile attempts to escape the boredom of his life to find something more meaningful make him an unsuccessful character because his faults leave others behind, and he fails take blame for his own irresponsibility. Rabbit Angstrom is a nameless and faceless character amongst the multitude of 1950s American young adults, but Updike makes his story come alive to reveal the nuances and importance in the typical, stereotypical life. Updike demonstrates the importance of characters who seem to be insignificant in the overall scheme, but whose actions largely shape the lives of those around them. His triviality in the big picture is demonstrated by his last name Angstrom, which is a unit that is one ten-billionth of a meter. However, he was of great importance to his own world. Rabbit was a former high school basketball star, and his lifetime downfall of mediocrity and inability to break of out his shell causes him to feel that his life is in a period of hibernation akin to Darling in Irwin Shaw’s “The Eighty Yard Run.” Updike demonstrates via Rabbit the importance in every person finding more to themselves than simply being an inconsequential part of the overall plan. Updike contrasts the idea of valuing the importance of each individual with Rabbit's selfish egotism. Sanford Pinsker says, "Rabbit Run is the portrait of

Jeremy Keeshin a would-be rebel's rise and fall, the story of an ordinary man's extraordinary effort to break out of the domestic trap as the 1950s defined it" (Trachtenberg 54). Pinsker is correct in asserting Rabbit's want to break out and rebel against society, but is incorrect in defining his rebellion as "extraordinary." Rabbit tries to escape from his situation, but his feelings express a somewhat idea of vagueness and negligence. Rabbit’s tone throughout the novel is somewhat hopeful, but he acts as though there is a not very substantial chance that he truly escapes. When Rabbit leaves for the first time he gets advice from a man at a gas station who tells him, “The only way to get somewhere, you know, is to figure out where you’re going before you get there.” However, Rabbit refuses to take the advice, judges the man by his whiskey-breath and says, “I don’t think so” (Updike 26). Although Rabbit expresses hopes of finding this meaning, his efforts are halted by his shortsightedness. He wants to escape from his current stagnation, but his efforts are a futile attempt to truly resolve this. When he runs away from Janice (twice) and from Ruth (twice), all he does is delay his problems without resolving them. Kelly Winters says in her essay on Rabbit Run that Updike demonstrates the midlife crisis of many Americans in the twentieth century, and that people need something more than what modern culture provides (Winters). Rabbit is the epitome of this person that Winters talks about. Rabbit searches throughout the book for something better, but his failure as a character is in his attitude during the search. He maintains optimism, but he is so sure of his own ideas that he blocks out everyone else, and this denies him the chance of ever succeeding. Rabbit's desire for something more stems from his impatience and immediate want for a solution to his problems. Winters points out the irony in Rabbit’s search for meaning and purpose, as he is not the purest soul to be on such a divine quest (Winters). As an unfaithful husband and irresponsible father, he does not seem to have the privilege of seeking a higher

Jeremy Keeshin purpose. Rabbit’s quest for higher meaning reveals not only his desire to find answers and escape problems, but the manner in which he goes about it sheds light to his character. Rabbit is so fed up with his marriage that it takes the slightest action to push him over the tipping point. Eccles asks Rabbit, “What did she do that made you leave?” Rabbit responds, “She asked me to buy her a pack of cigarettes” (Updike, 91). This action in no way justifies a man to leave his wife, but it is the culmination and timing of events that are significant in Rabbit’s case. Early on in the book Updike tells of Rabbit’s failing marriage with Janice and sets the time ripe for a split. This instant seems to Rabbit to be the immediate catalyst as to why he left her, when in reality it is a skewed opinion. This is akin to saying the Great Depression happened because of the stock market crash. That was an immediate indicator and easy place to put blame, but it was truly the culmination of previous events. Rabbit acts on account of these immediate indicators, but the past is what causes the irrational decisions. This proves Rabbits impatience and quickness at which he makes decisions. He did not take time at the moment to evaluate the consequences of his action, but he chose to do so because of the buildup of events. This demonstrates that Rabbit’s character is reactive, not proactive. He did not take action to amend his marriage, and it inevitably led to its collapse. His irresponsibility comes from the fact that the situation is what alters him, and that he is never prepared nor ready to confront the it. Richard Lyons hits on the immediacy of Rabbit’s life when he says that “Rabbit is life, and life is always now” (Lyons 3). He mentions Updike’s use of the present tense in the novel, and how this becomes important for highlighting the instantaneous aspect of Rabbit’s life. Rabbit’s life happens as it is shown to the reader. This writing style is conducive to demonstrating that Rabbit’s impatient, visceral, instinctive, quick acting nature is what causes his change in character. Rabbit’s impatience within his relationships causes them to disintegrate or to never form

Jeremy Keeshin fully, because his self-absorbed goals cause him to lose sight of others’ dilemmas. He leaves his wife Janice at a crucial moment for her: when she is pregnant. He meets a prostitute named Ruth and after he becomes jealous of one of Ruth’s former partners and his own former teammate Ronnie Harrison, he forces her to perform a degrading sexual act. He does this because at the moment it seemed right to him, and it seemed fair for him to get whatever Ronnie had. Later when Janice is in labor Rabbit leaves Ruth to go see Janice. Ruth is devastated and she thinks that, “All she wants is what she had a minute ago him in the room” (Updike 106). When Rabbit left Ruth at a critical moment because it felt right to do at that moment, he did not consider the detriment to her. This action is selfish towards Ruth. Rabbit is the man who is “playing it by ear” (Updike 90) and who “just [grabs] what comes” (Updike 95). He went back to stay with Janice but then again after sex one night left her all alone to become depressed. Janice expresses her hurt when she says, “It was so rude…. Here he called her dumb when he was too dumb to have any idea of how she felt” (Updike 215). These scenes after Rabbit leaves Ruth and Janice respectively are written from the perspective of that woman. These scenes demonstrate that Rabbit, while living in his little bubble without consequence or concern forgets to worry about everyone else, and finally when he does, it is too late. By the time he worries about Janice, their baby daughter Rebecca has drowned. By the time he worries about Ruth, she is already pregnant and angry with him. This illuminates Rabbit’s terrible timing with his relationships. He doesn’t give their meanings enough weight in the moment to decide the best possible outcome for the relationship. This Harry says that, “If you have the guts to be yourself, other people will pay the price” (Updike 129). Unfortunately for him, he is correct, because by acting on his visceral instinct, he leaves his wife, his family, and his companions behind. Rabbit’s quest throughout the book for meaning and depth rather than boredom and

Jeremy Keeshin conformity show that he is dissatisfied with his life, but he is able to continue because of his foolish optimism and natural persistency. Richard Lyons says that Rabbit’s escapes and runs are positive, and it is that he maintains his optimism and self-belief that allow him to continue (Lyons 3). Lyons is correct in asserting that Rabbit maintains the hope that something is there, but is incorrect in that the escape and run are positive. His running away from his problems only causes harm and confusion. However, he does maintain hope because Ruth tells him, “In your stupid way you’re still fighting” (Updike 80). Rabbit tells how he maintains his resolve when he says, “I do feel, I guess, that somewhere behind all this there’s something that wants me to find it” (Updike 110). Rabbit believes in his larger quest and this is what catalyzes his movement throughout the story. However, his impatience in seeking answers and sureness that there are answers causes him to never be able to settle down, and he leaves any sort of relationship he has formed. His strong, persistent gut feeling is what helps him throughout the story. Harry’s downfall is that he relies solely on his gut, when morally he needs to contemplate and weigh his important decisions more carefully. John Neary talks about Rabbit’s failed balance of the romantic ideal and transcendentalism and his ultimate quest for nothingness (Neary 52). His quest, however, is actually one of substance. Neary argues that Rabbit wants a “woman but not a human being,” but Rabbit complains of Janice’s stupidity in want of a more intelligent woman. Rabbit is searching for a higher purpose or higher being, and that inherently entails substance, not the nothingness that Neary refers to. Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom is a complex character whose actions do not boil down to one trait. He is the amalgamation of a typical, selfish, optimistic, impatient American, but his faults of normalcy cannot redeem him. When time was of great importance, he decided too quickly. When a decision was in the air, he acted stereotypically. When he was at a wall, he maintained

Jeremy Keeshin optimism. His search for answers that only provided more questions, but it provided an insight into the inner workings of his character. Harry wanted the world to be on his schedule, but he learned that it continued on its own.

Jeremy Keeshin Works Cited

Lyons, Richard. “A High E. Q.” Minnesota Review Spring, 1961: 385-89. Rpt. in John Updike: The Critical Responses to the “Rabbit” Saga. Jack De Bellis. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2005. 1-4.

Neary, John. Something and Nothingness: The Fiction of John Updike & John Fowles. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992.

Shaw, Irwin. “The Eighty Yard Run.” Welcome to the City and Other Stories. 1st ed. New York: Random House, 1942.

Trachtenberg, Stanley. New Essays on Rabbit, Run. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Updike, John. Rabbit, Run. New York: Fawcett Books, 1988.

Jeremy Keeshin Winters, Kelly. “Critical Essays on “Rabbit, Run”.” Novels For Students Vol. 12. Literature Resource Center. Northwestern University Lib., Evanston, IL. 4 March 2007 <>.

Jeremy Keeshin

Northwestern Criticism Log

Matuz, Roger, ed. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 70. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1992.

Schopen, Bernard A. “Faith, Morality, and the Novels of John Updike.” Twentieth Century Literature 1978: 523-535. Literature Resource Center. Northwestern University Lib., Evanston, IL. 4 March 2007 <>.

Trachtenberg, Stanley. New Essays on Rabbit, Run. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.