Literature Study GuidesRabbit RunPart 2 Section 9 Summary

Rabbit, Run | Study Guide

John Updike

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Rabbit, Run | Part 2, Section 9 | Summary

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Summary

Rabbit lives in the apartment with Nelson while Janice is recuperating in the hospital. He resigns as Mrs. Smith's gardener and accepts a job selling used cars for Mr. Springer. Upon his resignation Mrs. Smith tells Rabbit his presence has been keeping her alive.

When he and Nelson visit Mrs. Springer, Rabbit feels he is back in her good graces. Yet when he visits his mother and father for the first time since leaving Janice, his mother's anger baffles him until she expresses concern for Ruth's welfare. When she criticizes Nelson's small hands by attributing them to Springer genetics, Rabbit likes both his mother and son less. At the playground with Nelson, Rabbit realizes his quest for something else is futile, because what he seeks is here, buried within his hometown. His life at home alone with his son and no female presence is a new and disorienting experience for him as they await Janice to return from the hospital with the new baby. As the novel has fully explored Rabbit's sexual life as part of his seemingly endless energies, the section includes his turning to masturbation as a means of gaining release from tension.

When Janice returns home, Rabbit is fascinated by the appearance of her lactating breasts and waits to sleep with her because he is grateful and proud she has accepted her purpose of breeding and feeding his young. At Eccles's urging, Rabbit happily attends church. He goes to the service feeling lucky and intending to give thanks, but his attention shifts from the dry, irritatingly repetitive service to a woman in front of him who turns out to be Lucy Eccles. After the service Rabbit declines Lucy's invitation for coffee. In his refusal he makes it clear he believes she is propositioning him for sex, which he would gladly accept were it not for his renewed commitment to his wife. She slams the door in his face, and Rabbit, excited by her refusal, returns home perversely determined to have sex with Janice.

Analysis

In this section Rabbit's quest reaches several turning points. He has been looking for something he cannot name, but his observation of Nelson at the playground leads him to understand the quest as useless. Realizing he has been searching for the glory of his youth, he realizes his youth is forever lost. His son's life has taken Rabbit's youth away, and now it is Nelson's turn to experience what Rabbit has been trying to recreate. In becoming a parent Rabbit has handed the ease, bliss, and innocence of youth to his son.

Having dropped his quest for lost youth, Rabbit can now shift his attention away from despair and toward objectifying his wife to feed his appetites. It pleases Rabbit to imagine her as "a white, pliant machine for loving, hatching, feeding," and his pleasure is increased by his notion she thinks of herself in the same way. However he does not make the connection between his lust for impregnating women and mourning his youth, forever lost to parenthood.

Rabbit's attempts at participating in religion as a way to give shape and structure to his spiritual impulses are weak and half-hearted. In fact his effort ends as soon as he sits down in the church and sees the back of a woman's head. Rabbit makes no differentiation between the ecstasies of his lust and the ecstasies attached to nonsexual experiences. One is as good as the other, and, more important, Rabbit can experience the ecstasy of lust with great ease any time he likes. As the narrator notes, although Rabbit barely listens to Eccles's sermon, its message of suffering, hard work, and dedication as necessary to spiritual growth would not appeal to Rabbit. A weak-willed pleasure seeker, "he lacks the mindful will to walk the straight line of a paradox." Hedonism—and avoidance of pain, whether emotional or spiritual suffering—is Rabbit's central flaw, which explains his inability to commit and his patterns of fleeing and returning.

Rabbit's male-dominated world revolves around him—his desires, his needs, his views—and he projects them onto others. Seeing Lucy as desirable he easily "flatters himself" she desires him as well. Her invitation to coffee is thus a flattering confirmation, to Rabbit, of Lucy's intentions.

What doesn't occur to Rabbit is Lucy is a more forward-looking woman who actually looks toward the more liberated 1960s than the conventional 1950s, which Rabbit's actions and emotions reflect. That Lucy is the minister's wife and offering friendship don't occur to Rabbit in his frame of mind, and he doesn't understand how he has offended her.

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