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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 720

In Rabbit Redux , Rabbit believes that the whole United States is doing what he did ten years earlier. Rabbit appears to have made his peace with the world and has settled down to fulfill his various obligations. He works as a typesetter in the same shop where his father...

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In Rabbit Redux, Rabbit believes that the whole United States is doing what he did ten years earlier. Rabbit appears to have made his peace with the world and has settled down to fulfill his various obligations. He works as a typesetter in the same shop where his father has worked for more than thirty years. (He works at a trade, however, that is soon to be replaced by a new technology.) In this novel, Rabbit is more a passive listener and observer than a searcher. The racial and cultural turmoil that he sees on television literally comes into his home, and Rabbit is forced to be a student of his times. Updike uses this rather feckless working-class man in small-city Pennsylvania as a foil to the upheavals sweeping the United States during the late 1960’s.

The landing of Americans on the moon, which Rabbit, like millions of others, watches on television, is a fitting analogue or metaphor for the cultural shifts of the decade. The astronauts, pioneers of the new technology and exemplars of the centrifugal movement of the West, land on a barren satellite. The implication is that America’s spiritual landscape is as barren as that of the moon. Americans have gone about as far as they can, and they must now return home and make the best of things here. The gravity of Earth cannot be escaped for long.

In Rabbit, Run, Rabbit left Janice for a mistress. In Rabbit Redux, Janice leaves Rabbit to live with her lover, Stavros. Rabbit acquiesces to this affair and stays home to care for his son, Nelson. Through a strange set of circumstances—not wholly probable—Rabbit takes in Jill, a runaway flower child, and Skeeter, a bail-jumping Vietnam War veteran and black radical.

Rabbit’s living room becomes the place for his encounter with the radical attacks upon America’s values and policies. Skeeter’s charismatic critiques of the American way of life challenge Rabbit’s unquestioning patriotism and mesmerize him. As a consequence, Rabbit is helpless when disaster finally comes. His house is set on fire, probably by disgruntled neighbors; Jill is caught inside and dies in the fire. Rabbit helps Skeeter escape. Because of Stavros’s heart condition, Janice gives him up to return home to Rabbit and Nelson. The novel ends with Janice and Rabbit together in a motel room asleep, in a sense rendered homeless by the forces of their time, over which they have little control.

In Rabbit, Run, Rabbit was a radical of sorts, a seeker for the transcendent in an entropic environment. In Rabbit Redux, Rabbit is a conservative, a defender of the American Dream and the war in Vietnam. He resents all the naysayers, the radicals who want to overthrow everything. He has a flag decal on his car window. In a sense, his patriotism has replaced his old religious quest for the supernatural. It is a shaky religion in a revolutionary time, when all quests are quite this-worldly.

Contrite because of the suffering his earlier quest produced, Rabbit has returned to the old rules precisely at the time most of the culture is repudiating them. Jill flees her upper-class world and seeks to overcome ego and materialism through drugs. Skeeter proclaims a radical black religion to rejuvenate an empty, “dollar-crazy” America. Janice seeks liberation through a lover. The burning of Rabbit’s home represents the failure of all these quests: Jill dies, Skeeter flees, Janice returns home, and Rabbit’s old dream is chastened. Significantly, it is Rabbit’s sister, Mim, a Las Vegas call girl, whose visit home resolves the conflicts of the novel. Her unabashed worldliness and acceptance of an essentially empty world enable her to help the others find a way to live in the new American desert.

The novel sounds an apocalyptic note: What one sows, one reaps. The “external circumstances” become overwhelming. The televised images of flame and violence come home to destroy, perhaps to purify, like an ancient holocaust or offering. Rabbit bears witness to a disintegrating United States, even as it puts a man on the moon. Janice and Rabbit sleep, perhaps to awake to a new sense of maturity and responsibility. At least they may awake to a new beginning, which still lingers as a key element of the American Dream.

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