Literature Study GuidesRabbit RunPart 1 Section 4 Summary

Rabbit, Run | Study Guide

John Updike

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Rabbit, Run | Part 1, Section 4 | Summary



The sights and sounds of the church outside the window prompt Rabbit and Ruth to discuss faith. Ruth says decisively she believes in nothing, but Rabbit "wonders if he's lying" when he says he thinks he believes in something. Rabbit argues, "if God doesn't exist, why does anything?" Ruth responds, "Why? There's No why to it. Things just are." Sensing Ruth's irritation at the conversation, Rabbit demands she articulate why she likes him. She likes him because he "hasn't given up," and even though he's a fool, he's "still fighting."

Rabbit decides he's going to move in with Ruth, and despite Ruth's hesitation, he returns to his house to drop off the car and gather his belongings. The disarray in the empty house suggests Janice has left suddenly. Leaving the key inside, Rabbit closes the locked door and tries to sneak back through the neighborhood without being noticed, but the Episcopal minister, Jack Eccles, intercepts him, asking where he's going. "Huh? Nowhere," Rabbit responds.

Eccles tells Rabbit Janice's parents called him the night Rabbit ran off, but Janice "seems much saner today." When Eccles begins to probe Rabbit's motives and intentions, Rabbit explains he was trapped in his marriage "glued in with a lot of busted toys and empty glasses and television going and meals late," until he realized he could simply walk away. Having been a "first-rate" basketball player, he could not accept a "second-rate" marriage. Eccles asks whether Rabbit thinks "God wants [him] to make [his] wife suffer." Rabbit responds by quoting Jimmie the Mouseketeer: "Do you think God wants a waterfall to be a tree?" Although Rabbit doesn't like Eccles, he agrees to play golf with him on Tuesday.

Back at Ruth's house, Rabbit tells her "I made you ... I made you and the sun and the stars." He bullies Ruth, who is reading, into walking up Mt. Judge. She has only high heels to wear and doesn't really want to go. Halfway up the mountain she trips, and Rabbit orders her to take off her shoes. He does the same "in a gesture of gratitude ... to share whatever pain there is," but while Ruth walks stoically, the rocks hurt Rabbit's tender feet. Atop the mountain Rabbit wonders what he expected to find there. He tries to see beyond the illusion before him to a truer reality but receives only silence and falls into existential doubt and fear. After he makes Ruth hug him, he feels better and then asks her, "Were you really a whore?" Ruth frees herself from his grasp and asks, "Are you a really a rat?"


This section shows the ways Rabbit defines himself in opposition to women. Because Ruth believes in nothing, Rabbit is compelled to say he believes in something, even though he isn't sure. Ruth's sense of absence, or negativity, began with her claim at the Chinese restaurant that she does nothing and continues when she describes her first sexual encounter with him as "falling through" to "nowhere." Even though he defines himself in opposition to it, Rabbit is attracted to his idea of the "nothing" Ruth signifies because it implies freedom and simplicity.

However, the church is a visible presence from the bed where Ruth encounters "nothing," and Rabbit's attention to the churchgoers and fixation on the church window suggest Rabbit, in the midst of it all, might be about to turn toward religion and faith in his quest for meaning and answers. Rabbit's religious mode begins with a sincere and silent prayer in which he asks Christ for help and forgiveness and to bless the people in his life.

However, as a result of the encounter with Eccles, Rabbit's spirituality shifts toward the egoic and delusional. Rabbit wonders why Eccles doesn't chastise him. Eccles is supposed to be a moral authority, and Rabbit's earlier prayer for forgiveness suggests he is aware he has done something immoral. Instead Eccles is friendly, even "giggly," and smokes cigarettes, something Rabbit has had the strength to give up. Eccles's interest in Rabbit's motivations and thoughts prompts Rabbit to speak freely and honestly. Yet Eccles's nonjudgmental listening invites Rabbit's contempt, and he categorizes Eccles as lacking moral authority. Instead of clarifying the distinction between right and wrong, Eccles seems more concerned with the details of his parishioners' life struggles. Rabbit parts from Eccles feeling he himself has the moral authority and spiritual connection Eccles lacks.

Rabbit's statement to Ruth that he made the universe is serious, for as soon as he says it, he seems to think it is true. Speaking with Eccles has only boosted Rabbit's narcissism. Rabbit's climb to the top of Mt. Judge is an attempt to demonstrate his divine power to himself as well as to Ruth, whom he badgers to follow him as if he were a prophet. But Rabbit doesn't see through illusions, and his cocky certainty turns to doubt and fear as he begins to wonder what he is doing and why. Instead of attempting to answer these questions seriously, Rabbit turns back to one of his favorite crutches: his ability to force women to serve his needs. Not only is he not a prophet or a god, but Ruth accuses him of being a rat. He does not deny this because he needs her at this moment. And perhaps his guilt allows him to believe he is indeed a rat—another animal image as part of his unknown humanity.

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