Literature Study GuidesRabbit RunPart 1 Section 5 Summary

Rabbit, Run | Study Guide

John Updike

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Rabbit, Run | Part 1, Section 5 | Summary

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Summary

On Tuesday afternoon Rabbit goes to Jack Eccles's house to meet him for a game of golf as promised. Lucy, Jack's wife, answers the door. Although he doesn't understand her reference to Freud, Rabbit immediately feels in control of her and slaps her on the behind.

When Eccles appears, he and Lucy begin to quarrel about his playing golf. Their quarrel sharpens when Eccles brings up her atheism and implies she hasn't left her heart "open to Grace," as he requested before their marriage. Lucy is upset their three-year-old daughter, Joyce, is asking her about death, and Eccles tells her, "If you had ... my faith in the supernatural, these perfectly natural questions wouldn't upset you." While Rabbit waits for Eccles, he muses about Lucy, thinking she's a "bitch" who would "want her own," but "in spite of herself he loves her."

As Rabbit and Eccles drive to the golf course, Eccles mentions he's seen Janice at her mother's house, hanging out with Peggy Fosnacht. This reminds Rabbit of Fosnacht Day, a local holiday, and he reminisces to Jack about how his maternal grandfather used to indulge him on that day. In turn Jack tells Rabbit about his paternal grandfather, the Bishop of Providence, who identified himself as a "Darwinian Deist." In contrast, Eccles's father was orthodox in his ways, nearly Catholic. Eccles says he thinks hell is real: it is "separation from God" described by Christ. Hell would be an "outer darkness," he tells Rabbit, adding "What we live in you might call ... inner darkness."

Rabbit expresses his thought that behind the visible and material world, "there's something that wants me to find it." Eccles then begins to mock Rabbit's self-proclaimed spiritual drive, implying Rabbit is a ladies' man rather than a mystic. Rabbit feels offended, tension builds, and Jack admits he is depressed. Rabbit views with distaste what he considers Eccles's cry for love and pity.

As they begin their golf game, Eccles throws Rabbit's game off by giving him inept coaching. Eccles grows giddy as his mediocre game outpaces Rabbit's poor one, and Rabbit becomes despairing and angry. In a kind of waking nightmare, the nonhuman world before Rabbit becomes animated. He imagines the golf clubs are Ruth and Janice, and the bush in which his ball gets trapped is his mother.

When Eccles asks again why Rabbit left Janice, Rabbit explains "there was this thing that wasn't there." Rabbit wants Eccles to tell him what the "thing" is, but Eccles tries to argue it doesn't exist, adding Christianity is not a quest for the "rainbow" of fun and exciting experience, but rather it is about humbling oneself in service. Eccles blurts out Rabbit is an immoral coward who "worship[s] nothing but his own worst instincts." Rabbit takes the next shot in anger, preparing to flee this "mess." Ignoring Eccles, he swings, and the ball seems to take on an intelligence of its own as it makes its way to the hole. Rabbit is triumphant, for the ball has just demonstrated the missing thing Rabbit couldn't describe and Eccles doubted: "That's it!" he tells Eccles.

Analysis

In this section Updike provides a fuller picture of Jack Eccles through his interactions with his wife and with Rabbit. Both interactions are marked by tension, the root of which is the gap between what Eccles pretends to be—an authority and a leader in matters spiritual and otherwise—and what he actually is—a clergyman who question his own Christian faith.

Jack and Lucy married despite his pursuit of a ministerial position and her atheism. Lucy is more inclined toward Freud than to God, although her comment to Rabbit reveals she views truth not as an absolute but as a relative entity grounded in an individual's subjective experience. "I think Freud is like God; you make it true," she tells Rabbit. Rabbit does not know who or what Freud is, but readers familiar with basic psychoanalytic concepts like repression, self-deception (lying to oneself about one's true motives or actions), defense mechanisms (psychological patterns that arise spontaneously to protect the conscious mind from experiencing anxiety and guilt), and the Oedipus complex (a son's unconscious sexual fixation on his mother and accompanying hostility toward his father) will not have a hard time attaching these ideas onto Rabbit's character.

However immature and neurotic Rabbit may be, this section demonstrates Eccles isn't far behind. Whereas Rabbit feels no obligation to anyone and flouts his responsibilities, Eccles has chosen a helping profession that positions him as a spiritual leader and moral authority for his community. Instead of the dignified, serious, consistent behavior both Lucy and Rabbit expect of such a man, Eccles alternates between goofiness, self-deprecation, and hostility disguised as moral self-righteousness. Eccles's behavior reflects the insecurity and despair at the core of his own personality. In front of Rabbit he ridicules Lucy's atheism and implies she has wronged him by not having received grace by now. His words are meant to diminish her, but they stem from Eccles's uncomfortable awareness of his own failings.

Eccles's character shows situational irony because he is a leader crying out for someone to lead him. Before taking his final stroke on the golf course, Rabbit realizes Eccles's mocking questions about "the thing that wasn't there" in Rabbit's life mean Eccles doubts not only Christian doctrine but God's very existence. Rabbit understands Eccles wants him to confirm in some way, if he possibly can, "that it is there, that he's not lying to all those people every Sunday," just as he wants his wife to prove to him grace is real by receiving it herself. Ironically enough, this is exactly what Rabbit does, moments later. He hits the ball straight to the hole, with an improbable beauty, power, and intelligence of motion that Rabbit recognizes immediately as the "thing" his marriage lacks. It is this he now searches for, having known it as a youth on the basketball court. Somehow, in the presence of this unbelieving man of God, he believes he might be iust approaching it.

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