Well, Rabbit did what was expected of him–secretly in everyone’s mind of course, as what was expected of him was that he behave responsibly, putting his family above his own passions and perplexities. This is perhaps the theme of Updike’s Rabbit, Run, rather than to consider it a moral: Decisions made must be carried through, regardless of the the fact that they may have been made in the ignorance of youth or the simple twists and turns life takes changes things, changes people.
While I might not feel that the characters were an allegory of family life of that period of time in America because they were too finely drawn, most readers can relate to Rabbit’s questioning of his life, his dissatisfaction with how things turned out. His wife is an alcoholic, yet Updike’s method of putting us into her head show us what led her there. Rabbit’s run to Ruth and his behavior with her was a need for ego-strokes that he felt he wasn’t getting any more, especially missed since his high school days when he was a hot-shot ballplayer.
There is a thread of generations, both Rabbit’s parents and his wife Janice’s play fairly important roles as figures of authority, symbols of "doing the right thing." There is a contrast in what they do and what they say; there is dishonesty for sake of appearances and sacrifices made for happiness and maybe that’s one of the reasons why they’re not so hard on Rabbit. They’ve all felt the urge, the realization that for what their lives have become, that’s all there is. Secretly they may have cheered him on yet felt guilty for doing so.
But is Rabbit deserving of their understanding, or even ours? I’m in no way a women’s libber and yet I couldn’t accept (though of course, even in fiction as in reality, accept I must) Rabbit’s lack of comprehension of anyone else’s feelings, of how his actions would affect their lives. It seemed more than a lack of caring and not on an emotional level since when something serious happened, such as the baby’s death or in facing people after deserting his wife, he seemed to know how he was supposed to act, was overly grateful for their help and forgiveness. But wasn’t it just so that he could feel good about himself? Isn’t this often what people do to fit back in among society?
Updike’s narrator has a voice that is totally inobtrusive to the story; in fact, in thinking about it now, it is so dispassionate that it makes me wonder how so much was told in such detail. Perhaps because this is a character-driven story the telling was perceived to be coming from within the characters themselves, making the narrator truly a relator of story.
There are symbols that Updike offers us to make of them what we will. The rose window of the church across from Ruth’s apartment; is it a source of comfort or a beacon as in the end of the story, Rabbit seeks it out for light. There are many references to his heart, and yet it’s hard for me to see it as a warm and living thing that means a love for fellowman; Rabbit is self-centered and even as he holds his son it is often for his own comfort rather than for the child’s.
The story here is simple: a young man, fed up with lost opportunity and feeling maneuvered by routine and responsibility makes his escape. He doesn’t go far, comes nearly back, hooking up with a hooker for a couple months. He lies to her of his love–or maybe he just doesn’t really understand what love should be–and leaves her in the middle of a night when he’s called out to witness the birth of his second child. Strange, he’s never called his wife to let her know where he’d gone, never needed to see his son. He easily accepts help from others: his former coach, Ruth, and his wife’s clergyman, Eccles. Eccles sees Rabbit as a personal challenge, trying hard to guide him yet we see his own sense of disillusionment in people and relationships.
There is no doubt that Rabbit can be understood; there is doubt that at least for now, he’s anything more that a real prick. Updike may have set us up for this, to make a moral judgement of a man who represents a realization and last grab for change, to make his own life better even at the expense to others. I’m not sure that Updike hasn’t made Rabbit a bit unlikeable just so we don’t relate too closely, so that we can still say, yeah, I understand but I’d never do that without at least…
An excellent read, excellent writing style and way of bringing the reader deeply into the brief time span of conflicts within a small group of people. I’m not sure, however, that I like Rabbit enough to find out how his life unrolls by reading the three subsequent novels in the series. Likely I will, but I’m reluctant right now to forgive Rabbit as easily as everyone else has done. Do I care? We’ll see.