Rabbit, Run, a novel of a former basketball star and his floundering marriage set in the late 1950’s, was the first of what has become a series of four novels about the protagonist and his family; Updike published one of them every ten years from 1960 to 1990. Together the novels form a revealing chronicle of the complex changes occurring in American culture between the 1950’s and the late 1980’s. In Updike’s hero, Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, the reader sees one of the author’s many lapsed creatures in search of renewal, of regeneration, of something to believe in. The destructiveness of the character’s actions in the first novel reflects Updike’s own intense religious crisis, experienced at the time he was writing the novel.
At twenty-six, Rabbit, who got his nickname from the way he twitches his nose, finds himself in a stultifying life. He has a job selling magic-peelers in a dime store and is married to Janice, a careless and boozy woman who is pregnant with their second child. Coming home with new resolve to change his life after a brief game of basketball with some children in an alley, Rabbit finds the mess of his marital life too much to overcome. Thus begins his series of recoiling actions from the stifling experiences of his present life.
The novel captures well the sense of bottled-up frustration of the 1950’s, a decade during which American society put a premium on conformity and adapting to one’s environment. Hence, like so many of Updike’s protagonists, Rabbit is enmeshed in a highly compromised environment, one committed to the values of the marketplace and lacking in spiritual concerns. Like a latter-day Huck...
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