Rabbit Is Rich Characters
by John Updike

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Rabbit Is Rich Characters

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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Harry Angstrom at forty-six has retained his memories of grandeur on the basketball court, and despite the fact that his waist is now ten inches larger and the image in the mirror often appalls him, he stands tall and attractive in the eyes of the bevy of women who surround him in this novel. Harry's most significant characteristic in this novel is his contentment, a condition that has eluded him since his high-school glory days. Yet problems with his son, Nelson, provide the narrative's necessary conflict to fuel the story. Harry's parenting skills, never exceptionally strong, are much more sorely tested by the adult Nelson. Harry veers from feeling sorry for Nelson to being jealous of him—of his youth, his girlfriend, his freedom that Harry never had at that age. All of these characters, Harry's women and Nelson, are developed only in relation to how they supply or thwart his wants and needs.

Janice has improved with age. Not only does her Springer inheritance supply the family's material comforts, but her newfound sexual appetites also supply most of her husband's physical needs. Trim and tanned from her regular tennis matches at the country club, Janice has forsworn the cotton nightgowns she favored for the first decade of their marriage and now "comes to bed in just her skin, her little still-tidy snake-smooth body" challenging Rabbit's virility. He realizes that he is a lucky man, that his "dumb little moneybags" in her bikini is the envy of the other husbands at the Flying Eagle Club. Updike underscores Janice's dual assets, sensuality and money, in a memorable scene in which she and Rabbit make love among their golden coins. Despite Janice's charms, however, Rabbit still longs for what he cannot have, the younger, even more sensual Cindy Murkett.

Cindy's character is not highly developed. Twenty-nine and the mother of two young children, Cindy exists in the novel only as a tantalizing and elusive dream. Updike writes lovingly about every part of her anatomy, especially in describing the Polaroid self-portraits of Cindy and Webb's sexual positions. Rabbit's scrutiny of these photos when he accidentally shambles upon them during a party is hilarious: "Consumer Reports had a lot to say a while ago about the SX-70 Land Camera but never did explain what the SX stood for. Now Harry knows." Cindy remains an unattained dream, yet Rabbit does not mourn his inability to bed her.

Thelma, the gray-haired, prim wife of his long-time rival from high-school, Ronnie Harrison, serves to remind readers that Harry still retains the "gift of life" which has affected so many women in the past. In the Caribbean when Thelma "with gentle determination pulls him along" as the women choose new partners, Harry is stunned to learn that she "adores" him. The night of totally uninhibited sex that follows is in some ways a payback for Ronnie's sexual activity with Ruth, Rabbit's former lover, twenty years earlier. Their intimacy also serves another purpose. Thelma lovingly encourages Rabbit to confront Ruth about his paternity of Annabelle, thus precipitating the climactic encounter at the Galilee farm.

Annabelle, like Cindy, is an unattained dream, the daughter he has longed for since Rebecca June's death. Rabbit's desire to have a girl-child is ferocious: "Her eyes his blue . . . a secret message carried by genes all that way through all these comings and goings all these years, the bloody tunnel of growing and living, of staying alive. He better stop thinking about it, it fills him too full of pointless excitement." Annabelle is not well developed, but she appears at every key point in the narrative, even driving by the church just as Nelson and Pru enter to get married. One of his "riches" is this secret knowledge that he has another child. Annabelle's mother, Ruth, plays an important role in the novel in that only she has the truth about the girl's paternity, but she appears fully in just one scene. A former prostitute who used to dress in satin...

(The entire section is 1,183 words.)