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 but I'm not so sure anymore. . . . I'm not so sure." Realizing that she has lost even her parent's approval, Janice desperately tries to clean the apartment and bathe the baby to impress her mother. It is this drunken need to appear in control to her dictatorial mother that causes her to accidentally drown Rebecca June, unwittingly fulfilling Rabbit's waiting room prediction that his sins would cause either the baby or Janice to die. Ruth, the lover with whom he lives for two months, is a woman also wounded permanently by her relationship with Rabbit.
Ruth, too, is presented in a most unflattering light: her face "caked with orange" makeup; her poorly dyed hair "red and yellow and brown and black . . . like the hair of a dog." She is overweight, crude, and when Rabbit offers her money to "help pay the rent," he calculates his investment as "a dime a pound. And that's not counting the restaurant bill." However, Ruth ironically refers to Rabbit as a "Christian gentleman," and for the two months they live together, he indeed does treat her as a loving spouse, even referring to their first sexual encounter as "our wedding night." Ruth serves as a catalyst for Rabbit's exploration of his spiritual desires as well as his sexual desires. He confesses his belief in God to her, and he is walking with her at the foot of Mt. Judge when he formulates his most coherent vision of man's spirituality: ". . . bothered by God. It seems...
(The entire section is 1582 words.)