Study Guide

Rabbit, Run Transience

By John Updike


Running. At the end of this block of the alley he turns up a street, Wilbur Street in the town of Mt. Judge, suburb of the city of Brewer, fifth largest city in Pennsylvania. Running up hill. (1.11)

Since Rabbit is running "home" right now, is this a good example of his transience? We think so. His cramped apartment at the top of Mt. Judge always feels like a trap, and he’s always trying to wriggle out of it. The home he’s running to in this scene is a good symbol of what keeps him on the move for most of the rest of the novel.

Rabbit freezes, standing looking at his faint yellow shadow on the white door that leads to the hall, and senses he is in a trap. It seems certain. He goes out. (1.62)

This is another moment that might not look like transience at first glance – but other than when he goes to pick up his clothes and drop off the car the next day, this is the last time he’ll be "home" for over two months. So it’s a pivotal moment in the novel, driving forward the action.

The thought of his [Rabbit’s] old coach crouching in there [The Sunshine Athletic Club] frightens him. (1.67)

While Rabbit is afraid to get caught in a trap by staying still for to long, he also yearns for a place he is comfortable enough to stay – part of him wants a permanent home. That his coach, with whom Rabbit’s identity is all wrapped up, lives in a place which represents a failure to establish a home is at least part of what scares Rabbit.

Harry’s boy is being fed, this home is happier than his, he glides a pace backwards over the cement and rewalks the silent strip of grass.
His acts take on decisive haste. In darkness he goes down another block of Jackson. He cuts up Joseph Street, runs a block, strides another, and comes within sight of his car, its grid grinning at him, parked the wrong way on this side of the street. (1.20)

One compelling aspect here requires us to go back several pages and examine Rabbit’s memories of growing up in this burrow. It’s different from his life with Janice for sure – there is no indication (let us know if we missed something!) that either of Rabbit’s parents were alcoholics. On the other hand, that same sense of fear, of pettiness, of cramped (though not disorganized) angst ridden living is palpable in his memories. His childhood home mirrors and contrasts his adult "home" – it strengthens his resolve to run from both it and his life with Janice and Nelson.

He doesn’t drive five miles before this road begins to feel like a part of the same trap. The first right offered him he turns right on. A keystone marker in the headlights says 23. A good number. The first varsity game he played in he scored 23 points. (1.77)

Isn’t this something we all do? We do it both when we decide what to buy and when we decide who to be with. Is this mediocrity or worse? Would the next road or the one after that have been better? Ahh…the signs look good – we must have decided correctly.
Rabbit’s thought process could be considered superstitious, but again, isn’t this part of living in a technologically advanced society, learning to read the variety of information presented to us, and then to cull it for applicability to our own lives? Is the information Rabbit "reads" on the road sign actually relative to his life in the way he thinks it is?

"You were never in Texas," she says.
He remembers the house on that strange treeless residential street. The green night growing up from the prairie, the flowers in the window, and says, "Absolutely I was." (2.133-2.140)

Rabbit’s mind is transient, too. His mind travels to Texas rather frequently, particularly this house, where he contracted prostitutes when he was in the Army. He does seem comfy here with Ruth though, and funny, as they match one another’s tough talk. His mind may be traveling back to Texas but his body is all here.

Ruth was wrong; he does not want to see Janice.
The bare possibility makes him so faint that when he gets out of the car the bright sun nearly knocks him down. (4.109-4.10)

Sure, you could use this to talk about fear in Rabbit, Run. And fear is a major aspect of Rabbit’s transience: fear of Janice, fear of home, fear of transience itself.

"Now if I were to leave my wife," he [Eccles] says, I’d get into a car and drive a thousand miles." It seemed almost like advice, coming calmly from above the white collar.
"That’s what I did!" Rabbit cries, delighted by how much they have in common. (4.72-4.73)

Is Eccles just saying this to get close to Rabbit? It doesn’t jive. This guy worships marriage. Maybe Rabbit brings out his latent transient desires. If so, it’s ironic – Eccles’ mission in Rabbit, Run is to root for Rabbit in his life with Janice.

Out of all his remembered life the one place that comes forward where he can stand without the ground turning into faces he is treading on is the lot outside the diner in West Virginia after he went in and had a cup of coffee the night he drove down there. (15.51)

This seems pretty way out. He felt completely alienated in the diner and when he was in the parking lot, so why does it seem like such a happy place now?…Oh yeah, because he was so alienated. Perhaps if we are completely alienated from everyone, we will have no responsibilities but to ourselves. At this moment, Rabbit feels like such a menace to society that extreme alienation is a relief.

Rabbit comes to the curb but instead of going to the right and around the block he steps down, with as big a feeling as if this little sidestreet is a wide river, and crosses. He wants to travel to the next patch of snow. (20.106)

Has Rabbit embracing guiltlessly his inner homeless guy? Will he return to Ruth? Go back to Janice? Move into the Sunshine Athletic Club? Find out in the sequel, Rabbit, Redux.