HomeLiterature Study GuidesRabbit RunPart 2 Section 10 Summary

Rabbit, Run | Study Guide

John Updike

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Rabbit, Run | Part 2, Section 10 | Summary

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Summary

Back from church Rabbit finds his lust for Janice dampened by the baby's constant crying. The entire family senses a warning in Rebecca June's cries, but cannot understand it. Rabbit keeps pushing Janice to relax with a drink, which makes her suspicious. When it gets dark, Rebecca June stops crying.

Janice finally allows Rabbit to fix her a drink. In bed that night, he insists on having sex with her, despite her exhaustion, clear opposition, and the doctor's order to abstain for six weeks after giving birth. Rabbit becomes angry when Janice tells him he is using her. "I'm not your whore, Harry," she says. He responds by telling Janice what matters is how he feels, and he doesn't care to imagine her feelings. He forces himself on her and leaves.

Alone once again Janice feels miserable and deeply hurt. Since childhood Janice has felt anxiety because nobody really knows anyone else's feelings. She begins to drink steadily and at the same time to be aware of a presence with her in the house. She tries to ignore the presence, as it makes her self-conscious. By the time morning comes, she is quite drunk. The baby's diaper needs changing, but Janice congratulates herself on realizing she is too drunk to change it without harming the infant.

At 11 a.m. her father calls because Rabbit hasn't shown up to work at the car lot. Janice lies and says Rabbit had a work appointment out of town. Her mother immediately calls back and chastises Janice for being drunk. Sensing Rabbit has left Janice again, Mrs. Springer scolds her daughter because she keeps "bringing us all into disgrace." Despite Janice's protest, Mrs. Springer announces she'll be at Janice's apartment in 20 minutes.

The house is a mess, and the baby's diaper is still dirty. Janice frantically tries to clean the house before her mother's arrival. As she runs around straightening up, Janice resents both her mother and her daughter for being impatient and demanding. Janice fills the bathtub, intending to clean the infant. When she puts Rebecca in the water, the baby sinks. By the time Janice is able to catch hold of Rebecca, the baby has drowned. Janice knows "the worst thing that has ever happened to any woman" has just happened. Her "sense of the third person with them widens enormously," and her mother's knocking sounds at the front door.

Analysis

In this section the narrator presents Janice's perspective for the first time. Janice's long internal monologue suggests she is a complex, sensitive, and perceptive woman—certainly a contradiction of Rabbit's view of her as a "mutt" and "dumb" and Mrs. Angstrom's assertion Janice is a scheming manipulator. Janice has suffered because she has shouldered the blame for Rabbit's abandonment. Essentially passive, fearful, and used to traditional roles of dominant males and submissive females, she feels the stinging situational irony in their situation: "it was his bad deed yet she was supposed to not have any pride afterwards to just be a pot for his dirt."

Janice has suffered from anxiety and a sense of not being good enough since her mother made her feel that way as a child. In his blatant refusal to consider her feelings, Rabbit has triggered a sense of loneliness and alienation that have made Janice feel "panicky," a feeling she has had since she was young. Janice's thoughts reveal she feels as Rabbit does about their marriage: it has been a big disappointment. Although she thought being away from her critical, overbearing mother would finally bring her happiness and self-confidence, she finds herself locked into a difficult domesticity with Rabbit, a "conceited lunk who wasn't good for anything in the world," according to her father. While Rabbit flees in search of something he had in his youth and lost, Janice has never had the thing she always wanted. Trapped by her responsibilities, bearing the blame for her husband's discontent in addition to her mother's, Janice confronts the hopelessness of her situation by drinking.

The section ends as Janice realizes she has just drowned Rebecca June. However, Updike presents the events leading to the drowning in a way that suggests the blame for the infant's death is not Janice's alone. The accident seems clearly a result of Janice's being drunk, but she is drunk only after her husband urged her to start drinking, forced himself on her, and left her alone. The accident also results from Janice's frantic rushing, brought on by fear of what her mother would say about a messy house and an infant who has soiled herself.

In addition the constant shadowy, unknown presence inhabiting the house, begins soon after Rabbit returns from church. This presence "seems to grab Rebecca," causing her to cry. After Rabbit leaves, Janice becomes self-conscious, anxious, and despondent in response to this presence. Watching TV static Janice has "a feeling of some other person standing behind her." As she struggles to take off Rebecca's diaper, Janice speaks cruelly to her daughter, "feeling that the sound of her voice is holding off the other person who is gathering in the room." This "third person" becomes larger and larger in Janice's perception as she goes through the first anguished moments of understanding that her newborn daughter has now died. The presence, or person, seems to have taken the baby's life, just as much as human events have conspired to produce the accidental drowning. The text leaves open the possibility that Rebecca's death is willed by a supernatural entity that occupies the home, using the characters to bring about the outcome.

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