Rabbit, Run was published in 1960 by American author John Updike. He wrote three more Rabbit novels, one at the end of the '60s, '70s, and '80s. He says these novels became “a running report on the state of my hero and his nation.” He won the Pulitzer Prize for the “final” two books. series continued after Rabbit’s death in Updike’s 2001 novella, Rabbit Remembered. In 2006, The Rabbit series was voted number four on The New York Times list of “the best work of American fiction of the past 25 years.” Rabbit, Run was also selected by Time magazine as one of the top 100 books from 1923-2005. And the novel is also listed by the American Library Association as one of the 100 most frequently banned books in the 20th century.
Banned? set in 1959, Rabbit, Run touches on some delicate issues, like prostitution, male and female orgasms, alcoholism, adultery, blow jobs, homosexuality (though only briefly and ambiguously), birth control, abortion, and even accidental. Its 26-year old protagonist Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom even leers at 14-year old girls (though only to make his girlfriend jealous). Rabbit, Run also has lots of conversations between people arguing about different Christian philosophies, a main character with a bit of a Jesus Complex, a couple of atheists, and even a Freudian. Rabbit, Run was also what some consider a “biting critique” of America in 1959 The American Dream meant being married with children, and having the latest in modern appliances and beauty products. Many of these issues are barely visible in the novel, but a working knowledge of America 1959 might help us understand the characters a little better.
Rabbit, Run Theme of Fear
Fear pervades Rabbit, Run, though the novel does provide moments of relief. The main character, Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom thinks he’s caught in a contracting and expanding "trap," or "web," or "net." He runs to counteract the fear this trap produces, though he’s usually running, literally, in circles. Fear drives Rabbit to run, and to be still – to leave, but to always return. He’s afraid the trap he’s stuck in is the trap of mediocrity; he’s sure something better awaits him. So he runs. Yet, he has obligations to others, and he fears that abandoning them makes him a bad man. So he goes back and forth. And back and forth, until his final run at the end of the novel. Rabbit, Run Theme of Religion
Rabbit, Run is suffused with religious questioning. Much of the religious debate in the novel relates to variations of Christian philosophy, but Freudianism (treated something like a religion), atheism, and a brief appearance, or rather, disappearance of the Dalai Lama provide interesting contrasts. Some of these perspectives are pretty risky for the McCarthy-ist and Red Scare era 1959 that provides the backdrop for Rabbit, Run. The drowning death of a newborn baby challenges the religious beliefs of many of the characters, and even provokes her father to dream of founding a new religion, based on "the truth" about life and death. The end of the novel does not tell us if he fulfills the dream’s prophecy. Rabbit, Run Theme of Identity
Rabbit, Run explores the ways in which individual needs and desires, responsibility, family, religion, pop culture, and The American Dream circa 1959 impact the identities of its characters. The tension between American pioneerism and American conformity results in an identity crisis for the novel’s main character, Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom as he runs back and forth between them trying to escape an all pervasive "trap." The results can be both stunningly beautiful and utterly shattering. The open ending leaves it to our imagination (unless we read the sequel, Rabbit, Redux) as to what extent the characters’ identities are, or aren’t, changed by the drowning death of Rabbit’s newborn daughter. Rabbit, Run Theme of Drugs and Alcohol
John Updike’s Rabbit, Run, published in 1960, is obsessed with alcohol and cigarettes. But unless you...