Study Guide

Rabbit, Run Visions of America

By John Updike

Visions of America

So there is some space between the old stone brick house and the Sunshine Athletic Association, a tall thin brick building like a city tenement misplaced in this disordered alley of backsides and leftovers. (1.66)

The Sunshine Athletic Association is a scary place, both for Rabbit and us. At the risk of gross oversimplification, we say the Sunshine Athletic Club is place for old men who aren’t happy at home, or who have no home. Rabbit’s old coach lives there, even though he has a wife. This vision of America speaks to some our deepest fears and concerns – homelessness and the elderly, and as technology offers us a more global identity, it’s easy to travel from the Sunshine Athletic Club in America 1959, to the world, today.

He had thought, he had read, that from shore to shore all America was the same. He wonders, Is it just these people I’m outside, or all of America? (1.114)

One thing to ponder here is how much the difference between what "he had thought" and "read" and what America really is and was contributed to his alienation. Then we have to ponder how much the difference between what we read in Rabbit, Run and what America really is and was will contribute to our alienation.

The apple-and-orange colored light of a small grocery store shows the silhouettes of some kids hanging around the corner. The supermarkets are driving these little stores out of business, make them stay open all night.

In spite of the weird grammar in the second sentence, we can unearth a wealth of touchy issues – we could argue for example, that supermarkets, by forcing out the small stores, contribute to homogenization in America. Or the reverse, that the supermarket promotes diversity through variety, on a scale with which the small store could never compete. Don’t stop, maybe we are on a roll…What about the idea that in "ethnic" neighborhoods the drama burns in a more exterior manner, while in "white people" neighborhoods, like the ones Rabbit is so comfortable and so uncomfortable in, the heat and drama is more interior, and when it leaks out, whoa…Sound controversial? We hope so.

"I’m a farmer’s daughter. Mr. Angstrom, and I would rather have seen this land gone under to alfalfa," [said Mrs. Smith]. (6.5)

Working in Mrs. Smith’s massive garden is "a heaven" to Rabbit and, to us at first glance, a refreshing contrast to the urban sprawl and decay and corporate takeover he so disdains. But Mrs. Smith has a different take. She only keeps it going in honor of her late husband, and, as the world’s hungry keeps getting hungrier, Mrs. Smith’s argument for sustenance farming in America continues to be highly relevant.

"I don’t suppose when I say ‘the war’ you know which one I mean. You probably think about that Korean thing as the war," [said Mrs. Smith].
"No, I think of the war as World War Two," [said Rabbit].
"So do I! So do I! Do you really remember it?"
[…]
"Our son was killed."
[…]
"It was a good war. It wasn’t like the first. It was ours to win, and we won it. All wars are hateful things, but that one was satisfying to win." (6.8-6.27)

Once again, Mrs. Smith hits us with our deepest fears and concerns. No small talk allowed. We can try putting Mrs. Smith’s vision of America at war in dialogue with current visions of America at war. If you are studying, say, aspects of World War Two for another class, this is a perfect opportunity to get all interdisciplinary on your teachers.

Club Castanet was named during the war when the South American craze was on […]. It’s in the south side of Brewer, the Italian-N**** Polish side, and Rabbit distrusts it. (9.1)

This gives us a chance to look at the agony and irony of American xenophobia, in 1959, and today. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

Hope has vanished, he is hanging on out of despair, when the gnawing ringing stops, the metal is lifted, and openness, an impression of light and air, washes back through the wires to Eccles’ ear. (10.5)

Man, Eccles sure can make phone calls dramatic. This is also a nifty vision of America, technology in the service of God’s work (or what Kruppenbach would call "Devil’s work" or "meddling"). We can think of how much more religion and technology interact in today’s America.

Her mother says, "Yes you say stop when you keep bringing us all into disgrace. The first time I though it was his fault but I’m not so sure any more. Do you hear? I’m not so sure."
Hearing this speech has made the sliding sickness in her so steep that Janice wonders if she can keep her grip on the phone. "Mother," she begs. "Please." (17.43-17.48)

Whew. Good old mom. We recently saw a "news" program speculating whether Elliot Spitzer’s "disgrace" (he was the New York governor who got busted for visiting a call girl) was a result of his wife’s failure to satisfy him sexually. Is this a vision of America, or is the rest of the world like this, too?

"I think marriage is a sacrament, and this tragedy, terrible as it is, has at last united you and Janice in sacred way." (19.92)

It seems that Rebecca June’s death has only strengthened Eccles resolve that marriage is the thing, both the American dream and God’s dream. Rabbit, Run interrogates ways in which these visions of the American Dream impact families and individuals – a debate which rages even more strongly in America today.

He [Rabbit] tries to picture how it will end, with an empty baseball field, a dark factory, and then over a brook in a dirt road, he doesn’t know. He pictures a huge vacant field of cinders and his heart goes hollow.

Though Rabbit is a basketball man, here, as he envisions with dismay America crumbling, he evokes the sport most often associated with America and the American dream: baseball. If he’d have just stuck to baseball, none of this would have happened.