Literature Study GuidesRabbit RunPart 1 Section 3 Summary

Rabbit, Run | Study Guide

John Updike

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Rabbit, Run | Part 1, Section 3 | Summary



Alone in the restaurant with Ruth, Rabbit gives her some money. He says it is for her rent and expenses, but they both understand he is paying to have sex with her.

They leave the restaurant and walk to her apartment. Once inside Rabbit surprises and angers Ruth by grabbing her tightly. She tells him to get out, but he pleads with her. He is a lover, he insists: "I've been loving you so much all night...I had to get it out of my system." Ruth remains bristly and unconvinced.

She goes to the bathroom to put in a diaphragm to protect against pregnancy. When Rabbit objects, she remarks he's acting as though they're married, bossing her around so much. Emboldened by alcohol, Rabbit wants to pretend they are indeed married and calls it their "wedding night." Ruth wants to get it over with, but he insists she present herself completely naked and without makeup. He becomes paternal with her, washing her face with a washcloth as she struggles. Without makeup, Ruth seems ugly to Rabbit.

As he undresses her, his perception shifts, and she becomes the idealized image of beauty. During the foreplay, he wants to merge completely with her and is frustrated by his inability to do so. However Rabbit feels sadness during sex and remarks afterward, "You were a beautiful piece." The sex is transcendent for Ruth, who hasn't had such an experience, "like falling through," for a while.

That night Rabbit dreams he is in the kitchen of his parents' house with his mother, father, and a girl. As the girl opens an icebox, Rabbit realizes the chunk of ice inside appears to be made of cells and is in fact alive. Rabbit's mother tells him to close the door, but when he blames the girl for opening it, Mrs. Angstrom agrees her "good boy wouldn't hurt anyone." She begins to chastise the girl, and Rabbit feels tortured by the "grief" he feels for the girl. The girl seems for a moment like his sister, but when his mother leaves, the girl becomes his wife, Janice. As Rabbit tries to soothe Janice's tears, her face begins to melt and drip into his hands.

Rabbit wakes himself screaming. It is Sunday morning, and he and Ruth have sex again. He watches her dress, and "her accepting his watching her flatters him, shelters him." He and Ruth have now "become domestic."


Although it is an encounter between a professional sex worker and a paying customer, Rabbit prefers to interpret the evening as his and Ruth's wedding night. This delusion, spurred on by the alcohol he drank at dinner, is resistant to Ruth's verbal and physical insistence otherwise. For Rabbit, truth lives in his head, and his actions reflect his selfish discounting of other perspectives. That Rabbit feels this is a "wedding night" has nothing to do with feelings he has for Ruth. It is more about the ways he understands his experience with her in the context of his real marriage to Janice. "He makes love to her as he would to his wife," massaging her to accommodate Janice's resistance to sex, and shutting his eyes as he would with Janice: "Janice was shy of his eyes so Ruth heats in his darkness."

As with Janice, Rabbit gives orders to Ruth and dominates her physically whenever he can. He doesn't take seriously her lack of consent or her discomfort. He attacks her with a hug that feels as though he's trying to kill her, and he ignores her explicit orders to leave her apartment. In fact his behavior foreshadows his later encounter when he forces himself on Janice. Rabbit acts as if he owns Ruth, who notices this behavior and sardonically remarks about marriage being a man bossing a woman around. Not picking up on her meaning, Rabbit is delighted she has just enunciated his own view of marriage. He takes her comment as a license to treat her as a passive object meant only for his own satisfaction.

Rabbit has fled domesticity with Janice because it felt like a trap, but his flight has come full circle. By the end of this chapter, Rabbit has shifted from conquest of Ruth, through a symbolic "marriage," to a new domesticity with her. Blinded by lust and alcohol, Rabbit lacks the ability to realize he is merely repeating the past with a new woman. The only sign of conscience at abandoning his responsibilities to Janice comes in highly symbolic form at the end of the dream when Janice's weeping face melts into his hands. All of his self has been focused on possessing Ruth's body, but even at the moment he attains what he has sought, the sense of disappointment begins creeping in. He reflects there is "something sad in the capture" as he enters Ruth's body, and his orgasm "sobs," being an expression of his despair. The sorrow and fear that accompany Rabbit's shift back from the wild animal who gives free rein to his impulses of escape and procreation to a domesticated animal locked in his hutch set him up to repeat the pattern once more, fully here with Ruth as his new dominated woman.

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