Study Guide

Rabbit, Run Identity

By John Updike


So tall, he seems an unlikely Rabbit, but the breadth of his white face, the pallor of his blue irises, and a nervous flutter under his brief nose as he stabs a cigarette into his mouth partially explain the nickname, which was given to him when he too was a boy.

Get a load of all the meat in this quote! We learn that the name Rabbit was "given" to him (by some unknown naming entity) before we learn the name he was given at birth. And we are made to know that he is literally a rabbit – possibly suggesting that he has become more and more animal as he interacts more with the world.

Rabbit picks up his folded coat and carries it in one hand like a letter as he runs. (1.10)

This brief sentence lights on major facets of Rabbit’s identity – animal, neatness, running – and we can see how these work together compellingly. Keep in mind the image of Rabbit running with a letter. You’ll need it later on, when we see him run home to Janice from church, with, um, a different kind of package.

"At my mother’s? The car’s at your mother’s and the kid’s at my mother’s. Jesus. You’re a mess."
She [Janice] stands up and her pregnancy infuriates him with its look of stubborn lumpiness. (1.34-35)

Charming Rabbit. His hostile speech and gaze establish that Janice’s presence intrudes on his sense of positive identity, and certainly hers as well. What a briar patch. In short: get thee to a marriage counselor or a judge (or *hint* a priest).

Well you’re a big bunny," Ruth remarks.

This little line is significant. It’s Rabbit and Ruth’s first meeting. Right away she acknowledges that he is his name, and in so doing, that she gets him. It says she identifies with him. (Warning folks, this does not work with all names and nicknames.)

"Who looks at coaches? They don’t do any good do they?" [says Ruth].
"Don’t do any good? A high-school team is all coach; isn’t it?" [says Rabbit].
Tothero answers, "It’s all boy, Harry. You can’t make gold out of lead." (2.101-103)

Though Rabbit seems to dig his own burrows, and to not rely on other members of Team Bunny to help him, he also wants an authority figure to help him decide what to do. And that, you see, is part of what he is running from.

For the damnedest thing about the minister was that, before, Rabbit at least had the idea he was acting wrong but now he’s got the idea he’s Jesus Christ out to save the world just by doing whatever comes into his head. (7.24)

The Jesus stuff, Ruth got straight from the bunny’s lips, but that’s beside the point. Her concern over Rabbit’s lack of autonomy is consistent with her identity as an atheist, in contrast to Rabbit’s. She thinks Rabbit is a follower, and Eccles a leader. Her sense of positive identity lies in being neither.

He [Eccles] seems to hear that she [Mrs. Springer] is going to call the police to arrest him. Why not? With his white collar he forges God’s name on every word he speaks. (8.9)

Eccles’ identity is breaking apart, though he doesn’t necessarily feel like a criminal all the time, but definitely while embodying the traditional role of minister.

He [Rabbit] feels underwater, caught in chains of transparent slime, ghosts of urgent ejaculations he has spat into the bodies of mild women. (12.28)

Not just here, but in much of the novel, The Trap that Rabbit is always squirming to get out of threatens to take over his identity, while poisoning it with guilt. He can’t figure out how to integrate his need for freedom and his sense of duty.

She had talked with Peggy and Reverend Eccles and prayed and had come to an understanding that marriage wasn’t a refuge it was a sharing and she and Harry would start to share everything. And then, it was a miracle, these last two weeks had been that way.
And then Harry had suddenly put his whore’s filthiness into it and asked her to love it and the unfairness makes her cry aloud softly, as if startled by something in the empty bed with her. (17.8-9)

Of course, we are getting Janice on the pretty end of a drinking binge, overburdened, traumatized by Rabbit, her post-pregnancy body, and her newborn – but Rabbit, Run only gives us one section from her point of view, and we do what we can, which is, for starters, to notice that she is trying desperately to separate her identity from Rabbit’s – she’s realizing that they can’t "share everything."

Rabbit comes to the curb but instead of going to his right and around the block he steps down, with as big a feeling as if this is little sidestreet is a wide river, and crosses. He wants to travel to the next patch of snow. Although this block of brick three-stories is just like the one he left, something in it makes him happy […]. (24.106)

This is Rabbit, at the end of the book, about to run again. His identity is neatly split, in this moment anyway, between its need for movement and change and its need for permanence and familiarity.