by John Updike
Eccles is about the same age as Rabbit, and they get pretty close at moments. Eccles even tells several people he "loves" Rabbit. He’s Rabbit’s self-appointed guide to responsible adulthood. To his mind, responsible adulthood for Rabbit means getting back together with Janice. Eccles’s belief that marriage is the Alpha and the Omega of adulthood seems even stronger after Rebecca June’s death. Where do we get this information? Right from his sweet lips. He says, "I think marriage is a sacrament, and that this tragedy, terrible as it is, has at last united you and Janice in a sacred way."
He even recommences Project Unite Rabbit and Janice immediately after Rabbit runs from the baby’s funeral by calling Ruth, looking for Rabbit, and innocently filling her in on Rabbit’s recent activities.
Most of the characters in the novel are a little suspicious of Eccles’s obsession with Rabbit and his life. Lucy even accuses him of neglecting some of his other parishioners in need, in favor of hanging out with Rabbit. Frankly, we are a tad suspicious too. Here are a few of the theories floating around which try to explain his enthusiasm.
It could be said that Eccles lives vicariously through Rabbit, grooving on his infidelity and devil-may-care attitude. Perhaps he atones for his own fantasies by forcing Rabbit onto the straight and narrow path. Like Rabbit, he is a trapped character, trapped inside the trappings, if you will, of being a minister (the whole robe and collar thing), which he thinks prevent him from really reaching the people. But unlike Rabbit, he’s afraid to risk making a change. Perhaps his continued involvement in the situation after the baby’s death is just a failure to admit defeat. He doesn’t want to face the thought that, if he hadn’t tried so hard to get Janice and Rabbit together, Rebecca June might still be alive. So he redoubles his efforts. If he can get Rabbit and Janice together again with no resulting tragedy, his conscience will be clean on that score.
Or if you ask the prophetic Reverend Kruppenbach, Eccles is just a big buttinski, and his messing around in Rabbit and Janice’s life will lead to no good, which it does. Kruppenbach thinks Eccles "meddling" in the Angstroms’ and Springers’ lives are a cover up for a lack of real spiritual fire.
There is also some initial suggestion that Eccles’ interest in Rabbit is sexual. Like with Tothero, there is a question of sexual orientation. When Rabbit and Eccles are at that golf course, after Eccles uses his depression as an excuse for his grumpiness toward Rabbit, "The thought flits through [Rabbit’s] brain that Eccles is known as a fag and he has become the new pet." But this is the last we hear of it. It’s not clear if Rabbit actually heard that rumor from someone, or whether he comes up with it on his own. Regardless, if Eccles is gay, things are much more complicated. If you think being a single, or singe-divorced mother in 1959 was bad, trying being a gay, married minister. But there’s a bright side: here’s a perfect excuse to break out those first episodes of R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet.
Eccles is a complicated character who adds lots of nuance and depth to the novel. What we think of him has lots to do with what we think about Rabbit, about who we think is guilty for Rebecca June’s death, and about what the novel says to us about marriage.