Study Guide

Rabbit, Run Fear

By John Updike


He feels frightened. When confused, Janice is a frightening person. (1.38)

Funny how Rabbit’s fear of Janice leads him to make her even more confused by pressuring her to explain herself. He tries to be nice, but it just doesn’t work.

Your fear trills like an alarm bell you cannot shut off, the louder the faster you run, hunchbacked, until distinctly, with a gasp of the clutch, a near car shifts gears, and the stumpy white posts of the guard fence dawns behind the pine trunks. (1.67)

Hmm…this memory he has (of willingly losing himself to nature for the relief of escaping back to civilization) while running to pick up Nelson at the beginning of the novel sounds an awful lot like what he actually does at the end of the novel, after he tells off Janice and runs away from Rebecca June’s funeral.

Laws aren’t ghosts in this country, they walk around with the smell of earth on them. Senseless fear cakes over Rabbit’s body. (1.92)

One question to ask here is whether the adjective "senseless" which is used to describe Rabbit’s fear is the narrator’s judgment or Rabbit’s. That could lead to either an interesting discussion on narrative voice, and/or a discussion about how knowing a fear isn’t justified doesn’t always help us stop being afraid.

So this road of dread is a lover’s lane. (1.121)

Rabbit’s fear is intense as he drives down this road on his supposed journey down south, the first time he leaves Janice. It’s ironic that the road that scares him is a road is a "lover’s lane" when he’s fleeing love gone bad. The road also leads to a crossroads. At the end of the lover’s lane Rabbit comes to a highway, and can choose to continue his journey south, or head north, back to his home. He sees no signs to guide him, and head back home.

"I think you would like it if she [Janice] was there."
"No, I wouldn’t," he tells Ruth. "I’m scared of her."
"Obviously," Ruth says.
"There’s something about her," he insists. "She’s a menace."
"This poor wife you left. You’re the menace, I’d say." (4.84-4.88)

As free and easy as Ruth tries to be, she considers his leaving Janice a criminal act.

Yet, there’s a tremor; and in seeing that Harrison is afraid of him, Rabbit loses interest. (9.5)

Is this another reason Rabbit and Janice don’t get along, because she’s afraid of him (remember the locked door)? Do we see signs of fear in Ruth when she interacts with Rabbit?

He is certain that as a consequence of his sin Janice or the baby will die. (12.20)

Here we get at perhaps the extremes of Rabbit’s fear. If this held true for every man that leaves his wife, we’d be living in a far less populated world. How does this fear comment on the society in which Rabbit was raised?

The noise [of Rebecca June crying] spreads fear through the apartment. (16.1)

Well, that hasn’t changed since 1959, but hopefully we are more equipped to deal with it now. Though one point of the section is that, even when we know what we could do to make things better (like take a walk), we let something stand in the way (like sex).

Again and again she comes up to the sound of him saying Roll over and can’t squeeze through it, can’t not feel panicked and choked. (17.10)

A nice example of how the mind won’t let us let go of the things that bother us until they are resolved. In this case, a discussion with Rabbit about Janice’s, dare I say it, feelings was in order. Part of the problem is that they could not talk about the things that bothered them in a productive way.

Of the things he [Rabbit] dreads, seeing his parents is foremost.

This is just before the funeral. Perhaps the fact that his parents do not turn against him when they see him leads him to question the extent of his guilt.