John Updike’s Rabbit, Run details the account of a struggling young adult who tries to straighten out his life. Unfortunately, Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom’s involvement with alcohol, adultery, and accidental murder within a short time period do not help his situation. In a negative feedback loop, Rabbit runs back and forth in and out of different situations with a variety of people. The need to take control of his life and escape mediocrity drives Rabbit to make bad decisions.
Unable to accept his subpar marriage and life, he makes numerous bad decisions in an effort to escape. These negative choices are a result of Rabbit’s constant fears, especially about religion, death, and others’ disappointment, guilt arising from his unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions, and discontent in his fragile lifestyle. Many of Rabbit’s choices are spurred by resurfacing fears of his moral violations and the effects of these actions on the people closest to him.
Sadly, Rabbit starts his story as the top man on his high school basketball team who unhappily settled down with an unsatisfying spouse, and he finishes it as a deeply troubled man that has only worsened his situation through his desire to run from his problems. Rabbit becomes fearful in many of the novel’s scenes, and his fight-or-flight response normally ends with him attempting to avoid confrontation, with varying degrees of success. After making the decision to leave his wife, whom he has fallen out of love with, Rabbit drives to West Virginia, before returning to Mt.
Judge, the city in which he lives. Although Rabbit appears to have cooled down after failing to fulfill himself, he winds up joining his former basketball coach to meet a couple of women. It is Rabbit’s desperation that propels him to desire one of the women, Ruth, despite being in a dedicated relationship. He feels the need to sexually engage with Ruth, yet he does not account for the future consequences when giving in to his instant desires. Until the story’s end, additional characters appear in Rabbit’s life, with each new face signaling a negative turn for Rabbit.
Rabbit physically desires or is afraid of disappointing most characters in the story. Rabbit’s actions seem to be completely motivated by fear, whether pushing him to desire or to dread encountering others. In fact, Rabbit’s “fear trills like an alarm bell you cannot shut off,” as fear is always on his mind (Updike 1. 67). Whether in his decision to leave Janice because he fears of remaining in a poor relationship with an undesirable woman or his urge to return in fear of the lives of his wife and daughter, every decision he makes is rashly conceived, inspired by anything in Rabbit’s plethora of terrors.
Sadly, these decisions never seem to benefit Rabbit, as leaving Janice creates tense relationships with his parents, her parents, and even a preacher by the name of Jack Eccles, yet returning to her when he learns that she is in labor, causes many of these characters to despise him for seemingly returning to see the baby, not out of love. After this baby is born, Rabbit leaves Janice yet again, with the fear in the back of his head remaining unresolved. This leads Janice to accidentally drown the baby, showing her gross incompetence, one of the main qualities that dissatisfied Rabbit and caused his decisions.
However, at the infant’s funeral, Rabbit is ashamed and does not want to encounter anyone, in fear of hearing harsh remarks that he does not want to accept, especially from those he values most. “Of the things he dreads, seeing his parents is foremost,” which would be odd for a normal father, as family is supposed to support each other through tough times (Updike 24. 50). Fearing your own parents signifies Rabbit’s troubled relationships that he fears to come to terms with. Rabbit’s fear of his parents’ reaction to him is akin to that of a child who broke a valuable possession.
Because of this fear and his tendency to be on edge, Rabbit ends up fleeing his own daughter’s funeral, as well. As soon as conditions become too difficult, Rabbit runs, but he runs out of a fear that running cannot resolve and can only lead to worse decisions. Although he attempts to dodge his responsibilities, Rabbit is burdened by guilt, which also supports his decisions. Every time that Rabbit runs, he leaves unresolved problems. Rabbit does not like taking responsibility for his poor choices, but the guilt he collects overwhelm him at certain times.
Although Rabbit does not feel any deep attachment to religion, he was brought up a Christian and loosely maintains his status, despite going against religion numerous times. Even in the novel’s beginning paragraphs, Rabbit and Janice shamefully avoid religion. “God’s name makes them feel guilty,” yet, as the story progresses, Rabbit’s sinful actions stockpiles the guilt (Updike 1. 29). When Rabbit becomes involved in his affair, he avoids his responsibilities as a loyal husband, causing him to entangle himself into a situation that he would soon regret.
After Rabbit has committed adultery, he notices the nearby church, which is visible from Ruth’s apartment, reminding Rabbit of his lustful sin. When Rabbit reconciles with a former teammate, whom Ruth has also slept with, Rabbit’s guilt leads him to lash out against him. His envy led to wrath as he proclaimed some very harsh statements to the man, signaling two more deadly sins that were driven by Rabbit’s guilt. The summation of these negative events shows that “Rabbit feels underwater, caught in the chains of transparent slime,” linked to each mistake (Updike 12. 28).
By continuously dodging his responsibilities, Rabbit adds more chains that drag him to the ocean’s bottom. In fact, in Rabbit, Run, a summary and criticism or the novel, Elizabeth Thomason includes the criticism of Kelly Winters, an experienced freelance writer and editor. Winters states that, “Rabbit has a rudimentary awareness of sin…but does not connect the facts that he’s cheating on his wife and abandoning his child with the notion of sin. In his mind, his own search for self overrides the concept of sin” (Thomason). Rabbit would rather hide from his sins and never identify them than acknowledge his mistakes and improve upon himself.
Unknowingly, by running from his problems, Rabbit is extremely selfish, as he does not seem to care much for the effects his actions have on the woman he fell in love with or even his family that has been present throughout his entire life. By fleeing one bad situation and avoiding his responsibilities, Rabbit enters another one, due to his guilty conscience. Finally, many of Rabbit’s actions are a result of falling off his high school peak and questioning his unsatisfactory lifestyle, which he desires to replace with something better, despite only finding temporary replacements.
Many readers feel some sort of sympathy for Rabbit, who cannot catch a break, as his situation is frighteningly possible for real people. The novel’s graphic imagery is depressing, and it is tragic to witness a “good kid” making so many poor decisions. However, Thomson believes that “Updike intended to jar his readers, to make them feel as uncomfortable and ambivalent about their lives as Rabbit feels about his” (Thomson).
Updike appears to be sending a message that not everything in life is positive, but to look forward to a more positive tomorrow, people ust make solid choices today. Sadly, Rabbit is shown as an example of somebody whose discontent leads him to make decisions that might feel good in the moment, but lead to depressing outcomes. Rabbit’s first mistake is in marrying a woman he was not committed to, because he felt obligated to. Afterwards, Rabbit’s lack of communication prevented his marriage from improving, which lead Rabbit to make some of his bad decisions. As he becomes caught up in his troubles, he spends more time with Eccles, the preacher, who involves Rabbit in religion again.
Rabbit even decides to attend mass one day. He knew he was making bad decisions before, “but now he’s got the idea that he’s Jesus Christ out to save the world just by doing whatever comes into his head” (Updike 7. 24). Dissatisfaction with his role caused Rabbit to try to take on a role he was not prepared for. Rabbit’s brief stint as a Jesus figure is unsuccessful, as he is ridden with problems that he still cannot end. Rabbit appears to be perpetually discontent, as he does not know what to do to make himself happy, leading him along many false roads that lead him to dead ends.
The only satisfaction Rabbit experiences in this novel is temporary, as he finds joy in foreign situations. “Although this block of brick three-stories is just like the one he left, something in it makes him happy” (Updike 24. 106). This quote shows Rabbit’s interest in anything that is different to him, even if it seems similar. Although he has a wife of his own, Rabbit cannot stop admiring other females in the novel, simply because they are not his.
His discontent with his own wife leads him to desire extramarital relationships with these women, without realizing that each sexual encounter is a treacherous decision. By needing more than what he has, Rabbit sets himself up for wretched circumstances that he would never have been in if he only appreciated and improved what he already had. Harry Angstrom allows his assorted fears, guilt from avoiding his duties, and discontent with the life he has created for himself to lead him to run from one tragic decision to another.
Harry could not avoid the recurring, disturbing thoughts about death that would cause him to question if his life had amounted to anything. Ideally, Harry would have supported his wife, while trying to improve their relationship. However, Updike preferred to show us the flipside, an example of what to avoid in our own lives. Updike made an example out of poor Harry Angstrom, because he was never meant to have a happy ending. Harry Angstrom was always meant to make the wrong decisions, but his suffering is created. Ours must never exist.