by John Updike
Rebecca June Angstrom
Rebecca is another example of a minor character that packs a punch. We don’t get to know her because she dies before she’s a month old, but she’s an important character precisely because of that fact. Her death forces us, the readers, to examine our views on marriage, divorce, birth control, but most of all on guilt and blame. From Janice’s own point of view we see her drown the baby. Yet this is just the beginning of the inquiry into her murder. Everybody who knows her is put on trial. Rabbit actually thinks he did it, even though he was miles away. When Mr. Springer tells him the cops have found no evidence that Janice abused the baby before her death, that the cause of death is accidental drowning, and that Janice won’t be brought up on charges, Rabbit asks, “Why don’t they just lock me up?” When Mr. Springer tells him to relax, Rabbit feels “disgusted to feel the net of the law slither from him.” He thinks, “They just won’t do it for you, they just won’t take you off the hook.” Meaning, he’d prefer the ultimate “trap,” jail, to living with the guilt. Because he thinks he’s so guilty, as do Ruth and Lucy, and probably others, we are forced to consider alternatives to Janice’s guilt.
Rebecca’s death also presents an important milestone in Rabbit’s struggle between childhood and adulthood. Until his daughter’s death he never really suffered. This very real suffering places the responsibility of parenthood in an entirely new light, and perhaps leads Rabbit to alter his focus from himself to his son at the end of the novel.
And even though Rebecca is only around for a few chapters, we can bet her ghost will haunt all the Rabbit books to follow.