Rabbit, Run was written in 1959, and published in 1960. That same year, documentary filmmakers Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin released Chronique d'un Ã©tÃ© in France, thereby coining the term cinÃ©ma veritÃ© and permanently altering the face of nonfiction film. Both works suggest the culmination of a movement across different media intent on capturing the stuff of everyday life, of locating meaning in the mundane and drama in the ordinary. Both are likewise trenchant documents of their time: a time when rock music and the first full-fledged youth movement were beginning, and middle-class society was as constricting as it had ever been.
Suburbia was a new phenomenon in the United States, and Updike's descriptions of Mt. Judge - characterized by blocks "of big homes, fortresses of cement and brick inset with doorways of stained and beveled glass and windows of potted plants" - reek of a pervasive, unshakable gloom. If the sky over Mt. Judge is ever blue, one wouldn't know it from Updike's prose. It is worth noting that Mt. Judge is in fact based on the town of Reading, Pennsylvania - Updike's birthplace. What provides the tempting promise of a new life for Rabbit is the road - another '50s phenomenon, in that the postwar era was the time in which the highway first achieved its current status as icon of Americana as well as everyday convenience.
Other cultural markers are peppered throughout the novel. Janice repeatedly watches television, reminding us of the introduction of the "idiot box" into so many American households - particularly middle-class ones - in the '50s. When Eccles pays a visit to the Springers, Janice has gone out to the movies with her friend Peggy; they are off to see the 1959 smash hit Some Like It Hot, starring that icon of the '50s, Marilyn Monroe (the eroticism of whose on-screen persona both echoes and opposes Rabbit's own troubled sex life).
More than anything else, however, it is the chokehold of Rabbit's marriage that is intended to reflect its time. Sex remained a taboo prior to the Sexual Revolution of the '60s and '70s, and Rabbit's lust seems at times to drive him nearly to the brink of madness. The expectations of his middle-class family, the values to which he is supposed to aspire, and the difficulties that divorce poses for him are all trademarks of the era in which he lives. That said, one should not make the mistake of reducing Rabbit, Run to a simplistic "time-capsule" interpretation. It should go without saying that many of the troubles Updike identifies still afflict American society today. Nearly a half-century after it was written, his landmark novel continues to register as fresh, provocative, and decidedly "modern."