Rabbit, Run Summary and Analysis
by John Updike
One night, Rabbit and Ruth go out to Club Castanet, an establishment on the south side of Brewer. Rabbit is unhappy at the club: time has passed, and he is growing uneasy about his relationship with Ruth. She seems "heavy" to him now. Try as he may, he cannot shake off his ideas about her sordid past, and there is something that seems to be eating her; he remains paranoid that she doesn't think much of him.
At the club, Rabbit and Ruth join Ronnie Harrison and Margaret.
Reacquainting himself with his former high school teammate is not a pleasant experience for Rabbit; he is annoyed by Ronnie's presence and disturbed that Margaret isn't with Tothero, and feels competitive about Ronnie's rapport with Ruth. Hardly any time passes before Ronnie and Ruth begin reminiscing about a drive they once made to Atlantic City with another sex-crazed couple. Soon enough, the talk shifts to basketball. Ronnie, with more than a hint of jeering in his voice, calls Rabbit "the great Angstrom" and "the old Master." When the subject of Tothero comes up - whom Margaret claims didn't join them because he wasn't feeling well - Ronnie refers to the coach as "the man who made us immortal." Rabbit is quick to interject: "Me, you mean...You were nothing."
The gauntlet is thus thrown down. Rabbit makes no secret of his hostility, and Ronnie, for his part, claims that Tothero once confided to him that Rabbit was not a team player. Rabbit points out Ronnie's two fake teeth - from a football injury - and claims that they stand out like sore thumbs. Just when the rivalry reaches its pitch, however, Rabbit's sister Miriam appears in the club with a young man on her arm. Rabbit, distressed by the sight, approaches her and asks her what she is doing in such a seedy place. Confronted by Miriam's companion, Rabbit forcefully shoves him away and walks brusquely off. He can hear the young man tell Miriam: "He's in love with you."
Rabbit leaves Club Castanet with Ruth, barraging her with questions about Ronnie. Did they have sex? She says they did. He asks her about her past. She says: "I took some money. I told you." He asks her if she gave oral sex to the guys in her life. She says she did. This piece of information inspires Rabbit to ask Ruth to perform fellatio on him. At this point, Updike again switches to Ruth's perspective. Although she is close to fed up with Rabbit and prefers Ronnie because he isn't under the impression that he's "the greatest thing that ever was," she decides to appease her man, and gives him oral sex in her apartment.
We then jump to Lucy Eccles' perspective. She is alone in her house, waiting for her husband to return home. She has been waiting for hours. She muses on her marriage and the effect of religion on Jack: now, the gaiety she used to love in him is "spent on other people." Finally Jack shows up, but expresses little concern for his wife's malaise. It turns out he was at drugstore all this time, chatting with kids, as he is so fond of doing. This angers Lucy even more; again, it seems apparent that Jack cares more for his parishioners than for his own family. Jack, for his part, has a lead on the Rabbit situation - a phone number that Peggy Fosnacht gave him. He dials it, and to his relief Rabbit picks up. Jack tells him that Janice has gone into labor, and Rabbit immediately decides to go to his wife in the hospital.
We then switch back to Rabbit's perspective as he tells Ruth that he has to go, that his wife is having a baby, but that he'll be back soon. Already he regrets having made Ruth please him; he was "half-hoping" she would refuse his demand. The writing then adopts Ruth's point of view, and we get a further hint of her deeply conflicted feelings. She feels physically sick after the oral sex, and yet yearns for Rabbit. She feels somehow certain that she has lost him to Janice.
Rabbit waits in the hospital, overcome with fear at the thought that Janice or the baby might die. He remembers that Nelson's birth took a painful twelve hours. The Springers pass by him; Mr. Springer says hi, prompting his wife to rail at Rabbit: "If you're sitting there like a buzzard young man hoping she's going to die, you might as well go back to where you've been living because she's been doing fine without you and has been all along." Some time later, the doctor arrives to congratulate Rabbit on "a beautiful little daughter." Rabbit is surprised and even a bit disturbed by the doctor's kindness to him. The man asks Rabbit if it's all right for Janice's mother to see her, a question that strikes Rabbit as bizarre, given what a shameful act he has committed. His guilt is finally weighing down on him, and the last straw, it seems, is the sight of Janice herself: she displays no anger or bitterness whatsoever to him, and is only happy to have him back. He tells her that he loves her and that he'll be back tomorrow, and the reader can sense the honesty in his words.
Rabbit spends the night at Eccles' house, telling the minister that he cannot possibly go back to Ruth's apartment now. The next morning Lucy wakes him and makes him a bowl of cereal for breakfast. Rabbit feels he has begun a new life, but already small details seem to hamper his newfound confidence. He thinks of Ruth when Lucy pours the milk on his Cheerios; he remembers touching Lucy's bottom and decides that she must in fact desire him; on his way out of the house, he gazes at her breasts and then notices her subtly winking at him: "Quick as light. Maybe he imagined it. He turns the knob and retreats down the sunny walk with a murmur in his chest as if a string in there had snapped."
Despite the continued use of the shifting perspective and the introduction of a new point of view - that of Lucy Eccles, who is bitter at religion itself and what it has done to her previously happy marriage - this section belongs chiefly to Rabbit and to his new awakening. His obsession with mortality, with the fragility of life itself, is evident when he waits in the hospital, wracked with the fear that his wife or the baby will die. This preoccupation with death seems to have begun with Rabbit's musings atop Mt. Judge while looking over the city of Brewer with Ruth by his side, and culminates in the baby Rebecca's drowning.
If one is to interpret Rabbit as the prime catalyst for all that transpires in the narrative, it might be argued that it is precisely Rabbit's decision to go back to Janice that allows the birth to go smoothly, just as it is his second departure that leads to the baby's death. In other words, his return enables the mother to successfully give life; his parting prompts her to take it away. This interpretation may seem both schematic and anti-feminist, ascribing all the narrative power to Rabbit alone, but it is nonetheless worth considering. Rabbit instinctively objects to any indication that he may be a passive participant in the events that occur around him. When Lucy tells him Eccles is "overjoyed" that Rabbit has decided to return to his family - "It's the first constructive thing he thinks he's done since he came to Mt. Judge" - Rabbit "feels his smile creak." As Updike writes, "This suggestion that he's been managed rubs him the wrong way." Rabbit feels the need to claim his actions for his own, a need that renders his own search for spirituality ambiguous. What, exactly, is he looking for?
"Last night driving home," he tells Lucy, "I got this feeling of a straight road ahead of me; before that it was like I was in the bushes and it didn't matter which way I went." This image precisely mirrors the moment near the novel's end in which Rabbit emerges from the forest and jumps onto the clean, straight road: "He jacks his long legs over the guard fence and straightens up...The asphalt scrapes under his shoes and he seems entered, with the wonderful resonant hollowness of exhaustion, on a new life." Of course, the irony is that this "new life" is no newer than the one he feels he has begun when he awakens in the Eccles household. Rabbit is condemned to continually "start anew" until the act and the expression that describes it lose all meaning. Every new leaf Rabbit turns over - be it his drive out of Mt. Judge early in the novel, his love for Ruth, his return to Janice, his second departure, or his climactic run - only brings him back to where he was before. The myth of Sisyphus looms over these proceedings - the man sentenced to roll a stone up a hill and have it fall back down again and again for all eternity.
The implication of the rhyming effect Updike creates is once again that of a closed loop. From both the world in which he lives and the form of the novel itself, Rabbit is unable to escape. Is Updike suggesting, then, that Rabbit's growing faith in religion is foolhardy - that religion is nothing more than an opiate? When Lucy reckons that "the one good thing if the Russians take over is they'll make religion go extinct," one cannot help but wonder if Updike shares her perspective.
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- About Rabbit, Run
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Section 1
- Summary and Analysis of Section 2
- Summary and Analysis of Section 3
- Summary and Analysis of Section 4
- Summary and Analysis of Section 5
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- Summary and Analysis of Section 7
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