Study Guide

Rabbit, Run Fear

By John Updike


Fear pervades Rabbit, Run, though the novel does provide moments of relief. The main character, Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom thinks he’s caught in a contracting and expanding "trap," or "web," or "net." He runs to counteract the fear this trap produces, though he’s usually running, literally, in circles. Fear drives Rabbit to run, and to be still – to leave, but to always return. He’s afraid the trap he’s stuck in is the trap of mediocrity; he’s sure something better awaits him. So he runs. Yet, he has obligations to others, and he fears that abandoning them makes him a bad man. So he goes back and forth. And back and forth, until his final run at the end of the novel.

Questions About Fear

  1. Several times in the novel, Rabbit expresses fear of Janice. Why is he afraid of her? Do we believe his stated reasons? What does or doesn’t make his reasons credible?
  2. Why does it make Rabbit afraid when he thinks of his Tothero living in The Sunshine Athletic Club? Is his fear for himself or for Tothero, or for somebody else entirely, or for some combination of people? How do we know?
  3. Tothero tells Rabbit that during (World War Two) the skin on his wife’s face suddenly began to resemble "the hides of a thousand lizards stitched together." He continues, "That sense of it being in pieces horrified me, Harry." What exactly is going on here? Rabbit meets Mrs. Tothero at the hospital, and finds her skin relatively normal. Does this moment inform other Tothero moments in the text? Which ones, and how does it work?

Chew on This

Rabbit, Run argues that the idea of marriage as a sacred institution breeds a culture of fear in 1950s America.

Rabbit’s fear of his mother is the root cause of his selfish actions.

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