Literature Study GuidesRabbit RunPart 3 Section 11 Summary

Rabbit, Run | Study Guide

John Updike

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Rabbit, Run | Part 3, Section 11 | Summary

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Summary

Mrs. Springer calls the Eccles house with news of the baby's death and asks Eccles to find Rabbit. Just then Rabbit calls Eccles from a drugstore in Brewer, wondering if something is amiss at his house. After leaving Janice Rabbit spent the night in a hotel and the next day window-shopping in Mt. Judge. "Something held him back all day" from returning home. He now realizes he was hoping "to find an opening" to another place where "there was something better for him" than the dreary duties of parenthood and work. Now Rabbit realizes this "something" has "murdered his daughter."

He goes to the Springers' house. Mrs. Springer slams the door in his face, but Eccles lets him in. Mr. Springer tells Rabbit he doesn't place the entire blame on Rabbit, for he and his wife share some responsibility for failing to nurture Janice properly. They must all move forward; Rabbit is still part of their family and still has his job. Rabbit is grateful to keep his "end of the bargain."

Rabbit returns to the apartment. Although he has let the water out of the tub, he is frightened he will enter the bathroom to find "a tiny wrinkled blue corpse" in the bathtub. He asks for forgiveness "silently to no one."

The next morning, Tuesday, Rabbit returns to the Springers and tells Janice the baby's death was his fault, not hers. Tothero comes to visit Rabbit, claiming he warned Rabbit and begged him to return to Janice. When Rabbit asks Tothero what he should do, Tothero ignores the question and persists in demanding confirmation he warned Rabbit about this outcome. Tothero tells Rabbit, "You're still a fine man. You have a healthy body." Rabbit is saddened by the visit and glad when Tothero leaves.

Eccles tells Rabbit the funeral will be the next afternoon. When Rabbit asks Eccles what he should do, Eccles advises he be good to his family and appreciate what he has. But Rabbit objects: what about "that thing behind everything?" Eccles reminds Rabbit he doesn't believe such a thing exists. He tells Rabbit the tragedy has "united" him with his wife "in a sacred way."

Early Wednesday morning Rabbit dreams he understands death and will share this knowledge by starting a new religion. Waking up, however, he no longer has this understanding. In fact "he realizes that he has nothing to tell the world." As he and Janice return from the Springers' to their apartment to dress for the funeral, Rabbit feels panicked by deep questions about the circumstances of his life. He feels as if he is watching himself from outside, as if he stepped outside "to watch the engine run" and realized he was merely "a vibration" that "now can't get back in."

Back at the Springers' house Rabbit once again earns the family's scorn by cruelly criticizing Janice for wearing her mother's dress since she has nothing of her own that fits. He sits and waits for the funeral, dreading his mother's reaction and wishing she were dead. He rides to the funeral home with the Springers, and his parents soon arrive. His mother rushes up to him, exclaiming, "Hassy, what have they done to you?" The Springers ignore this, and as the two families try to mingle calmly and courteously, Rabbit feels the outer world matters less and less. Eccles gives a eulogy for the deceased infant. Despite this stiff delivery, Rabbit feels the truth of the Biblical words about eternal life and is moved to tears.

Around 4 p.m. the funeral party moves to the cemetery on the slopes of Mt. Judge. By now Rabbit has passed through grief to a kind of elation, sure his daughter is in heaven. He feels strong now. As the casket is lowered, "the sky greets him." However the sight of Janice's grief-filled face prompts him to snap once again: "Don't look at me ... I didn't kill her." He explains to the crowd, "You all keep acting as if I did it. I wasn't anywhere near. She's the one." The look of horror on his mother's face "blinds" Rabbit with "a suffocating sense of injustice," and he begins to run up the mountainside.

He loses Eccles's pursuit as he runs into the woods. As the woods grow thicker, he becomes frightened by "a whisper ... all around him." The whisper grows louder as he stumbles upon the ruins of a house. He is horrified as he realizes the dark woods were once home to people like him and therefore were "self-conscious." Aware of a voice trying to speak to him, Rabbit feels "lit by a great spark ... whereby the blind tumble of matter recognized itself." He runs from this sense of the "encounter a terrible God willed" all the way to the Pinnacle Hotel. It is 5:40 when he phones the Eccles residence, and Lucy hangs up on him.

He goes to Ruth, who is hostile and knows about the baby's death. Guessing she is pregnant, he is pleased and encourages her to have the baby because it feels right to him. "Who cares? That's the thing. Who cares what you feel?" Ruth exclaims, exasperated. She tells him he's responsible for his child's death. In fact he is "Mr. Death himself ... worse than nothing." He is preoccupied with a fear she has already had an abortion, but she tells him she was unable to go through with the procedure. Saying her parents know about the pregnancy, Ruth gives Rabbit an ultimatum: either divorce Janice and marry her, or she will abort the fetus and cut him out of her life forever.

Preoccupied with hunger and lust, Rabbit barely listens. He waits for her to finish, then announces he'll get lunch for them. Outside the apartment Rabbit finds the situation more complicated, and he begins to weigh his options. As he walks, the outer world seems to become weightless, and his internal experience seems the only real thing. As he stands on the curb, poised at the decision to run or return to his responsibilities, the houses "twitch and shift in the corner of his eye." Propelled by this illusion, Rabbit runs, again.

Analysis

The question of who is responsible for Rebecca June's death looms large throughout this final section. Initially Rabbit accepts all the responsibility. His feelings of guilt appear alongside his sense of shock and despair at the news. However, during the course of the funeral, Rabbit experiences a rapid catharsis. By the time the funeral is over, he is relieved of all feelings of guilt and sorrow, elated in the certainty everything is now all right. His smug and selfish spiritual pride has resolved—and absolved—all questions of his own guilt.

But Janice is not selfish and has not experienced such catharsis, and seeing she is still grieving angers Rabbit. Having neither love nor empathy for anyone else's grief, he lashes out at his wife and accuses her publicly of killing his child. He feels justice and truth demand Janice's guilt and his innocence be acknowledged by all. Expecting his mother to be on his side, as always, he is unable to bear her horrified reaction. Instead of considering his mother's opinion might be accurate, Rabbit feels himself the victim of a great injustice. In a desperate and unthinking attempt to keep his pride and sense of security intact, Rabbit turns and runs from his daughter's grave. In doing so he signals rejection of his position as an individual with any part to play in human society. Always a fan of the easy way out, Rabbit prefers to reject everyone and everything he knows rather than take a serious look at himself.

Rabbit seeks the woods, expecting to find in nature a space empty of all consciousness except his own. However, to his horror, Rabbit feels a consciousness and presence that seems to be pursuing him, attempting to communicate with him. The apex of this horror occurs when he stumbles across evidence indicating the woods were once inhabited by people who, like himself and like those he has just run from, possessed self-awareness. Rabbit is experiencing the presence of what might be called God, the "thing behind everything" he has always known was there. But instead of this encounter lifting Rabbit's ego, as he expects, he cowers in terror before it. This act confirms Rabbit's spiritual, mystical posturing has been nothing more than reflections of his deluded ego. Faced with what he has sought, Rabbit lacks the strength to bear it. He is not God but rather a cruel, selfish, immoral, and weak human being. Worse, there is no escape, for he has been seen and judged by God.

Rabbit distracts himself from this hellish despair by turning his thoughts, once again, to sex. However, the consequences of his actions await him at Ruth's. The situation has become complex, and Rabbit is unable to force her into easy submission to his sexual will. He is also unable to persuade her to keep their baby and that Janice, not he, is responsible for Rebecca June's death. Ruth pinpoints the assumption at the heart of Rabbit's monumentally selfish and irresponsible behavior: how Rabbit feels matters more than anything else in the world. Rabbit brushes off her words, as usual, and assumes he will sleep with her after he brings them lunch.

However, as he leaves the apartment, Rabbit is less certain of returning to Ruth. He sees two paths before him: "the right way" of complexity and duty and the "good way" of simple flight in search of something he likes better. "Goodness lies within, there is nothing outside," Rabbit decides. Unconsciously, instinctively, he begins to run. This flight recalls the manner of Rabbit's initial flight at the beginning, when his unconscious instinct rather than his rational awareness sends him driving away from Mt. Judge rather than returning home to Janice. Like the creature he is, Rabbit's body moves on instinct, his mind catching up with his instinct only after it has propelled him in one direction or another.

This circularity underscores how Rabbit's quest for deeper truth and meaning has pushed him farther away from truth and understanding. His quest has led him to abandon respect for external authority, caused him to damage the lives of those close to him, and left him convinced he is always the center and meaning of his own universe.

Updike suggests humanity's drive to find meaning in life is easily thwarted by another very human drive, the impulse to avoid complexity, suffering, and unpleasantness. A healthy society would have guides possessing the authority and ability to direct the seeker along the difficult path toward true understanding. But when a society abandons traditional collective values to embrace the shiny, shallow pleasures and freedoms of individualism and consumer choice, such spiritual quests are almost certain to backfire, as they have in the unhappy life of Rabbit Angstrom.

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