What do we learn about Jack Eccles's family in Updike's Rabbit, Run?

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gpane | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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We learn that Jack Eccles, the minister, is married to Lucy and that they have two little girls. We get a glimpse of their family life when Rabbit goes to their house because Jack has invited him round to play golf. Rabbit is surprised at what he sees of the Eccles family. He had been expecting rather a type of austere religious household, in ‘a gloomy, Lutheran’ style but it turns out to be quite different. The house looks cheerful and ordinary, but an even bigger surprise awaits Rabbit inside in the shape of Jack’s wife Lucy who most assuredly does not measure up to his idea of a conventional minister’s wife. She is young, pert, sensual, and he is instantly attracted to her; in fact he makes a pass at her. She certainly does not appear very religious, on the contrary she turns out to be a devotee of Freudian psychology, which emphasizes the importance of sex and instinct.  (These ideas were extremely current in the 1950s, the period in which this story is set.) She airs these Freudian ideas even in ordinary conversation, to Rabbit’s bemusement. In fact she and Jack have rather an odd exchange during Rabbit’s visit, in which it becomes clear that husband and wife have a somewhat dysfunctional relationship. They seem to be quite at odds with one another, and Jack’s dissatisfaction is brought out strongly at one point, with reference to his ‘bitterness’ which 'cripples his laugh, turns his lips in tightly, so his small jawed head shows its teeth like a skull.’  The use of the word ‘skull’, with its macabre overtones, is particularly striking.

Of course, it is important to note that, if Lucy does not appear as the typical minister’s wife, Jack hardly appears as a typical minister. He does not seem to have much religious faith either; he does not insist upon matters of theology when meeting with his parishioners, he is more interested in social events and pastimes like golf. He does try to help people, but not really in a spiritual way. Ironically, Rabbit’s tortured search for the meaning of life appears more akin to a religious quest than anything in the minister’s outlook.

Jack also provides some background information about his family which may help to explain his attitude. He seems to take after his grandfather who according to him had a very high ranking position in the church as Bishop of Providence, but who also had some unorthodox beliefs, describing himself as a ‘Darwinian Deist’ for example. It is his ‘watered-down theology’ that seems to have influenced Jack as a minister.

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