by John Updike
Rabbit, Run Theme of Sex
Rabbit, Run devotes much attention to sex, and sex’s sometime counterparts, reproduction and/or marriage. Delicate issues (really delicate in 1959, when the novel is set) like prostitution, male and female orgasms, alcoholism, adultery, oral sex, spousal rape, homosexuality (though only briefly and ambiguously), birth control, sex before marriage, single motherhood, divorce, and abortion are explored. Sex in Rabbit, Run can be tender and loving and mutual, or fraught with anxiety and confusion, and often somewhere in between. It can be a healing act, or a weapon. It can be loving, or utterly selfish. Rabbit, Run explores these delicate sexual issues against the repressive backdrop of America in 1959.
Questions About Sex
- What do you think about the scene in Tothero’s room when Tothero watches Rabbit get undressed? Is Tothero gay or, like Rabbit says, just nostalgic for those locker room days? Do we have enough information to make a guess? Does Tothero’s sexual orientation matter to the book? Why or why not?
- Rabbit often thinks about his experiences with prostitutes in Texas. How do these memories inform the narrative? If these sections were cut from the novel, would this change how we think of Rabbit? Why or why not?
- Are any of the characters motivated to have sex, for reasons other than sexual pleasure? If so, what motivates them?
- Do you think Janet had an affair? In Chapter Seventeen, Rabbit tries to reach orgasm by “fit[ing] [his penis] lengthwise between her buttocks” (17.11). Janice stops him and he leaves. Would you consider his act attempted rape? Why or why not? His act hurts her stitches? Is it assault? Could she now, or in the 1950s have reported it as such?
Chew on This
Through the character of Ruth, Updike argues that the way men in the 1950s are taught to think about sex is harmful to both themselves and the women they encounter.
Rabbit’s obsession with the female orgasm is motivated not by his interest in a woman’s pleasure, but by the belief that the female orgasm proves he is good in bed.