Updike centers not one, but four, novels around Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, so it is to be expected that his development, or lack of it, commands most of the narrative. Rabbit's inner life and his quest for meaning and grace occupy most of the omniscient narrator's focus, but on three occasions, the narrator takes readers into the consciousness of other characters: Janice, his wife; Ruth, his lover; and Eccles, his wife's Episcopal minister.
Janice is portrayed as the principle stumbling block to Rabbit's happiness, an immature wife and careless mother who has "just yesterday stopped being pretty." In contrast to Rabbit's physical grace and personal fastidiousness, she is "especially clumsy when pregnant or drunk." Her failure at housekeeping has produced clutter that frightens her husband away: ". . . the Old Fashioned glass with its corrupt dregs, the choked ashtray balanced on the easy-chair arm, the rumpled rug, the floppy stacks of slippery newspapers, the kid's toys here and there broken and stuck and jammed . . . the continual crisscrossing mess clings to his back like a tightening net." Ironically, Janice does not suffer significantly from Rabbit's first desertion. Eccles tells Rabbit that she and her young son have moved back into her parents' comfortable home, where she enjoys "her own version of your irresponsibility."
Readers get only these brief unflattering glimpses of Janice until near the end of the novel. Then, when Rabbit deserts her again after the birth of the baby, Updike for the first time provides an extensive look into Janice's mind. Drinking heavily to blot out the pain of losing her husband, Janice reviews how she became dependent on alcohol early in her marriage: ". . . she was still dumb little clumsy dark-complected Janice and her husband was a conceited lunk who wasn't good for anything in the world Daddy said and the feeling of being alone would melt a little with a little drink." Ironically, the more Janice drinks in this segment, the more insight readers have into her character. Janice veers from picturing her life happy and single as if in the movies to wishing that Rabbit would abandon his aspirations toward the unknown and come "settle" for their domestic routine. She bitterly resents his need for more than she can offer. Her mother calls to say that her daughter has brought "disgrace" on the family, accusing Janice of incompetence by saying, "The first time I thought it was all his fault...
(The entire section is 1582 words.)
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A twenty-six-year-old former high school basketball star, Rabbit is now unhappily married to Janice, who is pregnant. He has a young son, Nelson, and a boring and unfulfilling job selling kitchen gadgets for the Magipeel vegetable peeler company. He is restless and unhappy, unable to regain his former glory as a sports star, and he feels trapped by the mundane demands of being a husband and father. Rabbit leaves home, looking for something—he doesn't know what—that will show him there is meaning in life. He senses that there must be something greater and more meaningful than the world he lives in, but he doesn't know what that is.
Although Rabbit is a seeker, in a religious sense he is naïve. He has been raised Christian but only has a limited, Sunday-school awareness of what this means, in the sense that he knows some things are considered sinful, such as alcohol, gambling, and cigarettes. He is also aware that cheating on his wife and leaving his family are sinful, but this awareness does not stop him from doing so; his feeling that he needs to find himself takes precedence over these rules. "If you have the guts to be yourself, other people'll pay your price," he says at one point. His spiritual shallowness is shown in one scene, in which he is lying in bed with his girlfriend Ruth, a prostitute, and he prays.
As Rachael C. Burchard wrote in Yea Sayings, this prayer doesn't change his actions, but "it comforts and reassures him,...
(The entire section is 404 words.)
Eccles is Janice's parents' clergyman, an Episcopal minister. Although he professes to be religious, he does not have any faith. He plays golf with his churchgoers so he can be a pal to them and hangs out at that corner soda shop with teenagers, again being a pal. His wife is aware of the self-serving nature of these actions, however, and she remarks that he does not particularly want to help the teenagers; he is merely titillated by the teenagers' questions about how far you can "go" on a date without being sinful. He is similarly chastised by another minister, Reverend Kruppenbach, who tells him, "[You are] a minister of God selling his message for a few scraps of gossip and a few games of golf."
Unlike Rabbit, who places his own search for meaning above conventional religious and moral rules, Eccles is more interested in getting people to follow the rules than in the meaning behind them. Eccles believes actions are more important than meaning and belief, and in fact does not seem to have much belief in anything. When Rabbit asks Eccles, "Remember that thing we used to talk about? The thing behind everything?" meaning the source of meaning in life, Eccles says, "Harry, you know I don't think that thing exists in the way you think it does."
Because Eccles is more interested in behavior than belief, he tries to get Rabbit to go back to his wife and get a respectable job. Similarly, he meddles in other people's lives, trying to get them to...
(The entire section is 352 words.)
Rabbit's wife, who is pregnant with their second child in the beginning of this novel, is also bored and disillusioned but fills up the void in her life with alcohol and television. She simply wants Rabbit to behave like an ordinary husband and can't understand why he has the urge to run. In the morning, Updike writes,
She feels the workday approaching like an army of light, feels the dark ridged houses beneath her as potentially stirring, waking, opening like castles to send forth their men, and regrets that her own husband is unable to settle into the rhythm of which one more beat is about to sound. Why him? What was so precious about him?
Like Rabbit, Janice is not very articulate and is inclined to avoid problems rather than discuss them and make changes. After a nasty fight, in which she and Rabbit curse and demean each other, she goes into the kitchen and calls, "And honey pick up a pack of cigarettes, could you?" as if everything is normal. Of course it isn't, and she drinks to dull her emotional pain. At the end of the book, this avoidance has disastrous consequences when she gets very drunk and accidentally drowns her new baby.
Lucy is Eccles' wife. She flirts with and teases Rabbit. Although she's a pastor's wife, she is not particularly religious and is more interested in the psychosexual theories of Sigmund Freud than in the church....
(The entire section is 532 words.)