The Rabbit Angstrom Novels Characters

John Updike

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Owing something to the schlemiel of the Jewish tradition as well as to the stereotype of the American boy athlete, Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom remains, throughout his questionable adventures, one of the more credible and memorable main characters in recent American letters.

Although confronted with failure, death, and destruction, in part as a result of his own weaknesses, Harry Angstrom retains throughout his life the deep if inarticulate religious faith that evokes the interest of Father Eccles in the chronicle’s first volume. Moderate to abstemious in his approach to liquor and tobacco, owing perhaps to his early indoctrination as an athlete, Harry is nevertheless doubly obsessed with sex and with religion from adolescence onward, his sexual fantasies often merging with the solid bedrock of his unquestioning belief to produce a peculiar, honest obstinacy. Harry can rarely look at a woman without disrobing her in his mind’s eye (or in fact), yet he endures his tribulations with the patience and prescience of a modern Job, as unquestioning of his sufferings as he is of his belief in an underlying principle of order.

To Updike’s credit, the character of Harry Angstrom remains consistent throughout the sequence, developing slowly but plausibly as Harry passes from his twenties into his fifties. From volume to volume, the author presents Harry from an angle of compassionate detachment, his restrained irony suggesting that Harry is to be viewed as representative rather than exemplary: Harry may learn from his mistakes, but he never seems to learn quite enough. He remains oddly insensitive to the needs of those around him, even as his experiences should have taught him otherwise.

Among the greater, no doubt intentional, mysteries surrounding Harry Angstrom is his continued attachment to Janice. Although described in physical detail, further revealed through her speech and actions, Janice remains a shadowy figure, more of an enigma to the reader than she apparently is to Harry. At the end of Rabbit, Run, Jack Eccles’s wife suggests to her husband that perhaps the Angstroms would be better off divorced; her suggestion, although it goes unheeded,...

(The entire section is 895 words.)