Literature Study GuidesRabbit RunPart 1 Section 2 Summary

Rabbit, Run | Study Guide

John Updike

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Rabbit, Run | Part 1, Section 2 | Summary

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Summary

That morning, a Saturday, Rabbit encounters an older Tothero, who addresses him as "the great Harry Angstrom." When Rabbit tells him he's left his wife and home, Tothero suggests Rabbit could have prevented Janice's alcoholism by drinking with her and is disappointed in what he calls Rabbit's immaturity. He agrees to let Rabbit sleep for the day in his cot in the attic of the Sunshine Athletic Club. In exchange he makes Rabbit promise they'll find a way to help Janice. Tothero can't believe his "greatest boy would grow into such a monster." Rabbit undresses in front of Tothero and gets into the cot, remembering how Tothero used to stand "in locker rooms watching his boys change clothes."

Around 6 p.m. Tothero wakes Rabbit up. Tipsy and overexcited he tells Rabbit, "I've got a girl for you!" They are going to meet a prostitute Tothero sees regularly, and she is bringing a friend. Tothero gives Rabbit a shirt to wear and tells him how honored he is Rabbit returned to him after years, needing his help. Rabbit "feels freedom like oxygen everywhere around him." He feels so calm, he thinks "he is the Dalai Lama." This feeling shifts to shame about himself and Tothero, as he realizes the men at the Sunshine Athletic Club consider Tothero "a fool." Tothero's empty platitudes and over-long silences reduce Rabbit's esteem for his once-beloved coach.

Rabbit and Tothero meet Margaret Kosko and her friend Ruth Leonard at a Chinese restaurant. Rabbit immediately dislikes Margaret, thinking she "is just another Janice." He and Ruth strike up a rapport after discovering they graduated from high school the same year, 1951. They all drink, even Rabbit, whose attention is focused on Ruth. Both women are dismissive and contemptuous of Tothero, who drunkenly gives a sentimental speech about what it means to be a coach. The food arrives, and Rabbit and Tothero reminisce about Rabbit's glory days on the basketball team. Rabbit realizes Tothero's memory of him is inaccurate and keeps correcting him.

When Margaret makes a sarcastic comment about Rabbit, Tothero calls Margaret a tramp. She slaps him, leaving his face in a lopsided smirk, a "sickly mixture of bravado and shame and, worst, pride or less than pride, conceit," which Rabbit "can't bear to look at." As Tothero and Margaret leave together, Rabbit refuses Tothero's offer of a place to stay.

Analysis

This section begins when Rabbit has completed his first futile attempt to escape from his life. He returns to where he started, although not to his home and marriage. Instead he finds the man who understands and had a hand in his greatness: his high school basketball coach. Unable to get what he seeks from Tothero, whom Rabbit now sees as less of a hero, Rabbit shifts his attention to Ruth Leonard. For the rest of the novel Rabbit will follow this pattern. Confused flight is always followed by some kind of return. Having returned, Rabbit is propelled toward his next flight when he is unable to find the solace and meaning he seeks in the wisdom of authority and in sexual conquest.

Just as the plot is patterned through Rabbit's flight, return, and seeking, Rabbit's internal experience is also patterned. His mood and outlook rapidly shift between the extremes of shame, depression, and despair to elation and overconfidence. These shifts are sudden and occasioned by small external cues, which Rabbit interprets as significant. The prospect of meeting a girl is one such cue. What seems confusing and uncertain in a moment becomes clear, as Rabbit's "deeper instincts flood forward, telling him he is right." The problem is Rabbit's instincts are as malleable as his moods, and with Tothero clearly unable to continue as a mentor, Rabbit has only instinct and mood to guide him. In this way Rabbit's inner instability destabilizes not only his life but also the lives of all those close to him.

Rabbit's disillusionment with Tothero in this chapter signifies the gap between youthful perceptions and adult reality, between the idealized past and the disappointing present. This perception is accentuated by Tothero's lopsided, foreshortened physical appearance. The gap is conveyed as well by the way the men in the Sunshine Athletic Club, Ruth, and Margaret react to Tothero. Rabbit watches Tothero reveal himself a buffoon, his unawareness of the others' contempt accentuated by his use of alcohol. Tothero's speech—composed of sentimentalities, platitudes, long pauses, and casual racism and misogyny—further emphasizes Rabbit's lack of a competent authority figure to direct him.

Tothero does, however, lead Rabbit to Ruth Leonard, a woman who will play a major role in the novel. In contrast to Tothero, who fawns and blabbers drunkenly, Ruth is frank, collected, and unimpressed. She is also a prostitute, which means Rabbit has a way to access her sexuality, whether or not she likes him. Wanting to possess Ruth, Rabbit is glad his birthday is several months before hers, because "you can't feel master, quite, of a woman who's older." Ruth's biblical name, too is significant. Although its opposite, ruthless, is more frequently used, ruth means both "compassion" and "remorse."

Rabbit's need to dominate and possess women substitutes for the sense of mastery he used to feel playing basketball. Mastery is signified, in part, by the envious attention and respect of others, which Rabbit had on the court but does not get from his wife or from his job. But as Rabbit stands with Ruth, waiting to be seated, he "is elated to think that a stranger passing outside the window ... would see him with a woman."

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