Updike establishes a central theme of the novel in the epigraph, a quotation from French philosopher and mathematician Pascal: " . . . the motions of Grace, the hardness of the heart; external circumstances." Rabbit, the star athlete, has mastered the motions of grace, but he also yearns for the grace of God, and his search for satisfaction in life is, in large part, religious questing. It is the hardness of Rabbit's heart, usually accompanied by sexual frustration, and the messy external circumstances of his life that ultimately come between him and justification for his sins. Until the final scene of the novel, Rabbit seems secure in his faith that there is something that lies beyond, a something that can elevate him from this second-rate life to a better existence, so he keeps running. Unfortunately, his actions toward grace are guided by his own worse instincts.
The novel begins and ends with flight. Rabbit first runs just after he comes home from selling the MagiPeel peeler to discover Janice, pregnant with their second child and high on Old-Fashioned, staring blankly at the Mickey Mouse Club. Ironically, head Mousekeeter Jimmy motivates Rabbit's flight when he quotes "a wise old Greek" who warns, "Know thyself . . . be what you are. Don't try to be Sally or Johnny or Fred next door; be yourself." The fastidious Rabbit looks around at the chaos of his apartment that "clings to his back like a tightening net," rejects this unbearable life, and heads out for the straight and clear road ahead.
Impulsively, he takes his car from Janice's parents' house, "hops" onto the highway and turns instinctively south. Hoping to find the mythic land of peace and order on a Florida beach, he instead finds himself hopelessly lost, traveling for hours only to reach West Virginia. Rabbit turns down a dirt lover's lane as "the naked tree-twigs make the same net. Indeed the net seems thicker now." His journey, and the map that represents it, form yet another trap: "The names melt away and he sees the map whole, a net, all those red lines and blue lines . . . a net he is somewhere caught in." He is eventually pulled home, returning not to Janice but to his old coach and mentor, Tothero. Expecting guidance for the "game of life," Rabbit instead receives from Tothero an introduction to Ruth, a former classmate now earning her living from "dates."
Returning home completes the first cycle in the novel and sets the pattern for each of Rabbit's successive flights, futile moves in which he runs in ever-tightening circles. He is always running, from one woman to another, between Brewer and Mt. Judge, between the "good way" and "the right way," searching for...
(The entire section is 1094 words.)