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The novel begins with twenty-six-year-old, six foot three Rabbit Angstrom coming on the scene of a basketball game being played by boys who are wearing Keds and have high voices.
He has pale blue eyes and a pale face and something about him – the way his mouth looks as he puts a smoke in it – gives us a hint to his nickname.
The boys are suspicious of his cocoa suit wearing, cigarette smoking, no car self, and think he could be a pervert.
But they know he’s outnumbered. So they let him take a shot when he takes the ball, which he handles in a rabbity way. He scores.
The boys say it’s luck. He says it’s skill.
He takes another shot but misses. They let him join the game.
Rabbit takes a handicap but he’s just too good.
He is irritated by their lack of dialogue with him, but he game and the silence continues until it's down to him and one guy.
The boy is “still midget,” and “a natural.” Rabbit thinks his cap makes him look stupid.
Rabbit wishes he was still famous as a high-school basketball star.
His Rabbit’s junior league record was held for four years, broken two years ago, ending his stardom. Now he’s just another grownup.
Rabbit does lots of fancy moves and then gets irritated when he loses his breath.
The game breaks up when all parties grow a bit bored. Rabbit bids them adieu.
Now Rabbit is running, holding his folded coat “like a letter.”
It’s March, and the smoke in his mouth contrasts with the taste of spring so he gets rid of his smokes.
He runs uphill through Mt. Judge, a suburb of Pennsylvania’s fifth largest city, Brewer.
Rabbit gets to his building and goes to the top floor, where his apartment is, and we get the idea his neighborhood and his building are kind of run down.
The door to his home is locked!
His hand is shaking when he unlocks the door.
His wife is inside drinking an old-fashioned and watching TV.
He wants to know why the door was locked.
She can’t explain, irritating him. But he kisses her anyway and thinks how she’s not pretty anymore, but that she could be again, perhaps.
He tries joking around with her about the locked door, asking her what she’s afraid of.
When she doesn’t respond he hangs up his coat (neatly).
We get the idea the apartment is cramped. Rabbit has to be careful not to disturb the TV cord when he’s hanging the coat in the closet.
He remembers how he saved the TV from destruction when Janice, when she was drunk/and or pregnant, got her ankle tangled in the cord, before having a panic attack.
He wonders why she has panic attacks, what she fears, and is still mad about the locked door.
Then he asks her why she’s here but not the car.
She says it’s at her mother’s, and he wants to know why.
Then they start watching the Mickey Mouse Club. A Tootsie Roll commercial comes on, which sickens Rabbit.
Janice asks him if he has a cigarette. She calls him “Harry,” not Rabbit.
He tells her he tossed the pack.
She finally looks at Rabbit, and asks him if he’s “becoming a saint,” not indulging in smoking and drinking.
He shushes her when the Mickey Mouse Club comes back on.
Rabbit is totally into this, and thinks Jimmie, MC of the Mickey Mouse Club, can offer advice that will help him with the job he’s had for four weeks selling a kitchen gadget.
Now for a lovely quote:
“ ‘Proverbs, proverbs, they’re so true,’ Jimmie sings, strumming his mouseguitar, ‘proverbs tell us what to do; proverbs help us all bee better – Mouse-ke-teers’” (1.28).
Wasn’t that fun?
Then Jimmie gives us an actual proverb, apparently passed down to him from a “wise old Greek”: “Know Thyself.” He talks about being an individual and that God wants us to be what we are and the he gave each of us “a special talent.”
Then Janice and Rabbit, Christians, get nervous because he is talking about God.
Rabbit tries to imitate Jimmie’s farewell wink and grin, then thinks that both Disney and the company he works for, the MagiPeel Peeler Company are “frauds.”
He thinks his company, the MagiPeel Peeler Company and Walt Disney are “frauds.”
He resigns himself to being a part of the deception, and even likes the idea a little.
Janice turns off the TV, possibly to avoid watching the six o’clock news.
Rabbit asks her where their kid is.
The kid is at Rabbit’s mother’s.
He accuses Janice of not having herself together, and disdains the look of her late pregnancy.
When she tells him she was tired, Rabbit blames it on her drinking.
As she tries to explain the shopping trip with her mother, he doesn’t like the look of her.
We learn he’s a little older than her and that they married when she was a few months pregnant.
Rabbit vacillates between disgust and tenderness for her.
When he learns she bought a bathing suit out of nostalgia for pre-pregnancy days Rabbit loses it.
She’s about to cry and she calls him a bastard.
He hugs her, tries to rub his “groin” on her out of “affectionate reflex,” but is impeded from doing so by the protrusion of their unborn child.
He softens again, though isn’t comfortable holding her.
Surprising him, she asks him not to run from her, and tells him she loves him.
He says, “I love you,” and asks her to tell him about the bathing suit, which we find out is red.
Then she tells him that shopping expedition made her varicose veins hurt, and she wanted to self-medicate with a drink.
The she gives him a hard time about being late. And he tells her about the game.
They are no longer hugging.
She says she tried to sleep because her mom thought she didn’t look rested.
He says she, being a “modern housewife,” should look tired.
She gives him a hard time about playing ball like a kid.
He sees she misinterpreted his housewife comment and he thinks how dumb she is.
He gives her a hard time about watching kid’s TV.
She reminds her he “shushed her” when it was on. He tells her off and she decides to make diner.
He decides to go get the kid and the car, both mad and not mad at Janice.
First he gives her a hard time about Nelson being at Rabbit’s mother’s, and berates her about all kinds of things, thinking she could be used to hearing it from him by now.
He thinks about their prenuptial life in an apartment borrowed from her friend.
See, Rabbit and Janice both worked at Kroll’s. She was a candy and nut girl. He was a furniture mover and a crate unpacker.
They would meet after work in a chamber of Kroll's. The green stained glass between the chamber’s doors made the room look like the room was underwater.
They would swim out slowly, escaping the hated Kroll’s, then head for the borrowed room, not talking about what they were going to do.
They would have sex in the late afternoon light.
She wouldn’t let him look, but would have an orgasm as soon as he entered her.
The Angstrom’s kitchen is a cramped affair, populated with outdated machines.
Rabbit gives Janice a hard time when she drops something.
He gets his coat and starts internally moaning about how the place is a mess and nobody cares but him. (The place really does sound like a mess.)
He can’t decide whether to fetch kid or car first, but finally decides kid first, even though his mom will slow him up, because she has lots of power over him.
Janice asks him to bring back smokes.
He takes her tone as forgiving, but once outside he feels trapped.
He splits as it's getting dark, walking downhill to his folks place, occasionally touching trees and stuff that he passes.
He gets to the Corner of Wilbur Street and Potter Avenue.
The two telephone poles that hold insulators remind him of how he used to like climbing them in hopes of hearing adult conversations through the wires, like an entrance to a secret world.
He walks along Potter, crossing the street at the next corner, and remembers falling into a gutter that used to be filled with the watery refuse of an ice factory when he was messing around trying to catch the eyes of girls.
He used to walk home Margaret Schoelkopf, full of life, who had spontaneous nosebleeds and a drunk dad and whose parents made her dress out of fashion.
He walks past the back of box factory, employer of middle aged women, and past the face of a beer outlet.
Past a farmhouse – abandoned, made of stone. One of the oldest buildings in Mount Judge. It used to rule half the land in the town and now it’s fallen to ruin, its yard taken over by nature and junk. He soon comes to the Sunshine Athletic Association, a place that scares him and which he’s been to before, visiting his old coach, Marty Tothero, influential in town before he got fired over some scandal.
He did dig Tothero though, a man who was second only to Rabbit’s mother in influencing Rabbit.
We interrupt this program for a geography lesson. We proudly present the Mt. Judge-Brewer area:
Mount Judge is on the east side of the mountain.
West Mt. Judge looks down on Brewer.
The town of Mt. Judge and the city of Brewer meet on a southbound mountain highway that leads to Philadelphia, which is fifty miles away.
A two-mile-long stretch of mountain will always prevent Brewer and Mr. Judge from becoming one city.
At the bottom of the mountains human kind is leaving its mark, but the top is acres of virgin forest. Rabbit remembers being lost in those woods and being scared and rewarding himself for finding the way out, with candy and the view of red orange Brewer.
Now we are back in the present, where it’s getting dark, and it is “just a few minutes after six a day before the vernal equinox” (1.70).
Rabbit remembers being a caddy. Then he starts hurrying, turns left of Jackson Road, the site of the hutch (a story brick one) of his youth, in which he dwelled for twenty years.
The Angstroms envied their neighbors’ patch of land: it was on the corner and had a side yard, and more light. The Angstroms felt trapped and cramped by the Bolgers.
Our sneaky bunny sneaks up on his hutch, jumping over the hedge, then scampers down the grass patch between his house and the other neighboring one.
The Zims used to live there. (And now we are in Rabbit’s memory.) Mrs. Zim used to scream at her exotically beautiful daughter Caroline whenever they were together, from first thing in the morning.
At night Mr. Zim would fight with Mrs. Zim, defending Caroline.
There was neighborhood gossip about which Zim would murder which other Zim.
Caroline was seen as “cold-blooded,” always smiling, never letting on about her homelife.
Rabbit’s mother thought that Caroline and her mother should straighten up, or they would drive off their “protector.”
She was wrong; the Zim’s moved away together to Cleveland, Ohio.
The Angstroms didn’t think they would miss the Zims, but did.
See, Mr. Zim used to cut the strip of grass between their two houses and the new neighbor (a Methodist) only cut his half!
Mrs. Angstrom couldn’t handle this and so their half of the strip became overgrown.
The city told them to mow it, but Mrs. Angstrom said it was her “flowerbed,” embarrassing Rabbit.
Rabbit and his dad ended up getting it up to code on the sly, making Rabbit feel guilty and afraid his parents would fight.
He hated the arguments; they choked him off, sapped him, caused him to retreat.
He couldn’t believe it when Mr. Angstrom told Mrs. Angstrom that the Methodist did it.
His mom wanted to sue “the holy-roller” for cutting up her flowerbed. End memory.
He goes around to the kitchen window and peeps in.
He sees his son in the highchair and, for a minute thinks it is his young self, and becomes jealous of that self, being fed by his mother, who smiles when Nelson eats.
His dad’s just home from work, is wearing an ink marked shirt and is smiling at Nelson, but looks old when he stops.
His sister, Miriam, is dressed up in black and gold clothes, and offers the baby some of her food. Nelson tries to take her spoon. Pop laughs and Mim smiles.
Rabbit remembers giving her rides on his handlebars.
After Rabbit notices that his mother isn’t smiling, but feeding the baby with her mouth set, he concludes that “this home is happier than his” and leaves back the way he came.
(It’s okay to cry now.)
He runs to his car, but gets scared when he doesn’t have the key.
He hopes Janice was “sloppy” by leaving it in the car, instead of “sloppy” for not giving it to him. He thinks how little he knows her and how dumb she is. She is dumb.
He sneaks to his car, wanting to avoid Mrs. Springer, and thinking how the Springers are pushy and how Mr. Springer made him buy the expensive car, event though he had one.
He finds the keys in the car and drives off, fast. He runs a stop sign.
The he stops when he sees he’s headed for Philadelphia, where he doesn’t want to go.
He doesn’t want to go the other way either, through Brewer at rush hour, because he never wants to see Brewer again.
So he keeps going and the highway gets wide and he turns on the radio.
Rabbit feels clean and wants a cigarette. He feels cleaner when he remembers he quit.
He relaxes a little, listening to the music, until dinner music comes in, reminding him of Janice’s bad cooking.
He wants to think happy thoughts, but feels like he’s about to shoot a basket with one hand and that he will fall from a high place into a void when he shoots.
When he tries to imagine the happy scene at the Angstrom House, he instead pictures Nelson crying. Then he remembers sleeping with Janice in her friend’s bed.
He tries to hide the memory by thinking of Mim, and giving her rides on his bike, and her telling him she loved him.
He thinks Janice is probably trying to find him now, and that she’s dumb.
He asks her forgiveness.
He nears the lights of Philadelphia, a place he hates because it’s polluted. He wants to go to the deep South, to drive straight through until noon the next day, to the Gulf of Mexico, and fall asleep on the beach.
Unfortunately, he’s going East, toward industrial pollution and dense population.
He realizes that South is to the right, and then miraculously, a sign for Route 100 to Westchester Wilmington, a town which is owned by the du Ponts, and he wonders what it’s like to be that rich. He feels trapped by this road and randomly turns off it to the right.
He fantasizes about naked du Pont women and thinks naked women are like millions of dollars.
He ruminates about the ways different kinds of women are different when having sex.
He’s heading west now on Route 23.
He stops at about 7:30 at a hardware store/gas station for a fill up.
The middle-aged attendant comes out, and Rabbit asks him to fill the tank with regular.
Rabbit finds out from the man that he is only sixteen miles away from Brewer, even though he drove forty. But it seems really far away, and smells older, yet more virginal.
He starts asking the man where different directions would take him, and asks for a map.
Rabbit feels like a fugitive when he can’t tell the man where he’s going, and feels like he’s in a place where the law is heavy.
Thinking the attendant was too suspicious of him, he decides he’ll drive until he “was halfway to Georgia,” then pays three dollars and ninety cents for his gas.
When Rabbit pays he sees the guy has farmer hands (farmers don’t like sneaky rabbits) and is paranoid that the guy is on to his criminality.
Rabbit wants to run off, but instead counts his “lettuce,” seventy three bucks, as today was pay-day. The farmer comes back with the change and says he only has maps of New York City.
Rabbit heads for his car and feels the farmer behind him. When he gets in, the farmer is there at the window. He tells Rabbit he has to know where he’s going before he can get there.
Rabbit realizes the man has been drinking and disagrees.
He drives straight, toward Lancaster, not feeling clean anymore.
The icky experience with the farmer colors the rest of the landscape creepy.
He stops to eat at 8:04 in Lancaster.
He borrows a map and reads it while he eats a couple of burgers.
He sees he’s been going “more west than south.”
He decides to go from Lancaster to Maryland via 222, and then take 1 to Florida. He eats some pie (like Mom’s – with cinnamon) and pays.
He feels better as the food was good, the burgers better than in Brewer.
Now he drives through to Oakland, Maryland.
We are given a long paragraph that lists every song and commercial and news bulletin Rabbit hears. (See Shmoop "Shout-Outs" for the list.)
He gets to Route 1, feeling more and more confused. He gets another map and reads it by a Coke machine.
It’s 10:10 p.m. and Rabbit’s is driving west, his mind and the “animal” inside fighting over whether to go west or south.
The landscape gets less cultured as he drives, and then he crosses the Potomac.
Fighting sleep, he stops for coffee at almost midnight in Frederick.
He feels alienated from the other customers in the café, and that they are aware of the difference. They got quiet when he came in and now are being too polite.
He has heard America was the same all over. Now he wonders if he’s only an outsider here, or if he’s an outsider in all of America.
On his way back to the car he thinks he’s being followed.
It’s a couple, making haste to their car, which has West Virginia plates, like all the other cars but his. He gets back in to the car, feeling low.
He drives and realizes he’s been mad since he left the diner and makes a bad move on the snaky highway, but regains his stance, speeding just a little.
He turns off the radio, wanting nothing but to sleep in the sand.
He’s angry he’s not gone far enough. The land stays the same, looking more and more like Mt. Judge country.
He feels like he’s in a thickening “net.”
His mind and the animal inside him are fighting about which way to go again.
His “instincts” don’t want him to, but Rabbit takes an unmarked road, which he is sure is a shortcut.
Rabbit realizes he’s on the wrong road, but is scared to turn around, and hope it won’t end.
He almost gets hit by an oncoming vehicle.
Then he realizes he’s on a lover’s lane, which does end, actually, at a highway on which Rabbit can turn north or south.
Rabbit pulls off to check the map. He’s confused and doesn’t remember the way he came.
He can’t find anything on the map but the Pennsylvania-Maryland border, the Mason Dixon line. He thinks of learning that in a school full of “tight girlish ass.”
He gets even more confused and the map turns into a “net he is somehow caught in.”
He tears it up, rolls the pieces into a ball, and tosses it out, scattering the pieces.
He’s mad about not following his instinct and not being in South Carolina yet.
He wants to smoke so he can find his instinct now, and decides to take a nap.
But a car comes up behind him and he remembers he’s in the middle of the road. He gets scared, feels chased, and gets on the highway, going north.
It was easier going back than leaving. The music is ad-free now and calms him.
He’s not tired any more, but in the zone, not caring, just performing the action.
He can get that way at the end of a basketball game, too.
Rabbit has a happy memory of a fat guy that made Rabbit feel all nice inside when he would cheer “Hey Gunner! Hey Showboat, shoot. Shoot!” He was that guy’s hero.
He keeps driving through and his brain is addled but receiving all the signs of modern life coming at it. He’s at one with the machine he’s driving.
He drives into Brewer from the side, as the sun is rising and nearly hits a stationary milk truck on Jackson.
He passes his parents’ house, turns onto Kegerise and parks at the Sunshine Athletic Club to wait for Coach Tothero to come out.
Rabbit wants to nap, but wants a quick getaway if necessary, and not to miss Tothero.
He is having trouble balancing sleeping and not missing Tothero. Plus he’s feeling vulnerable again.
He makes sure all the car windows are locked, and he relaxes, but can’t get comfy.
Then he starts thinking about his family, and then gets scared of police.
He thinks his night caused chaos, which is tightening the net he’s in the middle of.
And About how Janice was shy about being naked, but that she surprised him once.
He walked in when she was getting out of a steamy bath, and she was drunk and happy.
He wakes up, and sees Tothero walking away and starts to call him.
Tothero looks like a dwarf in too big clothes (a checkered sport coat and blue pants).
Tothero welcomes Rabbit, and Rabbit observes how he’s aged.
Rabbit first says he needs advice, but then says he needs sleeping quarters, explaining how he left home.
Tothero wants to give him advice but Rabbit is tired and scared, afraid Tothero is senile now.
He says Rabbit looks bad and agrees to let him sleep at the club, if he will listen to his advice in the morning, and that together they would find a way to help Janice.
Rabbit agrees but says he isn’t “interested” in his wife anymore.
They go into the club together, through a door that looks like part of the wall, and up rickety stairs to a very small room facing east.
Rabbit goes to the bathroom downstairs.
When he comes back and then he think Tothero wants to see him take off his clothes, so he does. He’s not into it, but is very into the idea of sleeping.
He thinks that Tothero isn’t gay, but just wants to bring back the locker room days.
Rabbit feels better and he loosens up.
He thinks of his first visit to house of prostitution in Texas, and how he was nervous, and how the girls not being huge beauties made it easier for him.
Rabbit didn’t like that the prostitute “faked her half.” He wanted to go again but hadn’t paid so didn’t get to. He thinks she was sweet.