Rabbit, Run Literary Techniques

John Updike

Literary Techniques

Updike employs the present tense in this novel, a powerful literary technique which was somewhat unusual for the time. The sense is that readers are living Rabbit's life along with him, that no one knows when and where this running will lead. This technique establishes an immediacy that pulls the reader along, as in the opening: "Boys are playing basketball around a telephone pole with a backboard bolted to it. Legs, shouts." And of course, in the conclusion: ". . . he runs. Ah: runs. Runs." Movement is a central theme of the novel, and there would be precious little movement in "... he ran."

Updike trained as an artist in the Ruskin School for Fine Arts in Oxford, England, and his visual acuity is evident in the incredibly detailed scenes he sketches, often writing beautifully about the most sordid vistas:

He hides in the lavatory. The paint is worn off the toilet seat and the washbasin is stained by the hot-water faucet's rusty tears; the walls are oily and the towel-rack empty. There is something terrible in the height of the tiny ceiling: a square yard of a dainty metal pattern covered in cobwebs in which a few white husks of insects are suspended.

Updike devotes as much detail to sexual encounters in the novel, counter to the norms of 1950s literature. The initial sex act between Rabbit and Ruth covers six and one-half pages, including a vivid description of Ruth's post-coital cleansing rituals.

Another Updike technique, which echoes the chaos of Rabbit's life, is the use of a dense narrative, with few official interruptions of the action. Rabbit rarely pauses to think before he acts, so this format echoes the main character's sensibilities. Occasionally, Updike uses a spatial breather, but the book rockets on with only two true stopping places. The first division happens just after Rabbit gets his first glimpse of "it," watching his golf shot recede along a line "straight as a ruler-edge." He finally has escaped the traps, both on the golf course and in his consciousness, and has delivered the ball arcing toward its intended destination. For Rabbit, who earlier could not follow a road south without becoming hopelessly lost, this success is amazing. The narrative stops here, and when it begins anew on a separate page, he is happily laboring in Mrs. Smith's garden, an occupation that seems ideal for any rabbit. The second division is just after Janice drowns the baby, and it signals the final cycle of the novel.