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Course Hero. "Rabbit, Run Study Guide." March 16, 2018. Accessed December 18, 2018.


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Rabbit, Run | Plot Summary

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The novel begins with an excerpt from the writings of 17th-century French thinker Blaise Pascal. It presents three ideas: grace, circumstance, and "the hardness of the heart," suggesting that the story which follows arises out of the interplay among them.

Part 1

Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom is a 26-year-old former high school basketball star who feels disappointed and trapped by adulthood. He lives in the town of Mt. Judge, a suburb of the city of Brewer, Pennsylvania, with his pregnant wife Janice and their two-year-old-son Nelson. The novel opens on a Friday, the day before the first day of spring, in 1959. On his way home from his job demonstrating a vegetable-peeling gadget, the "MagiPeel," Rabbit stops to watch boys play basketball in the street. He remembers his own youth, and when he joins in their game, he experiences once again the ease, simplicity, and mastery—the exhilaration—he used to feel on the court. When he returns home, however, the messy apartment and dreary responsibilities of his life feel like a trap in comparison. His wife in fact disgusts him, because he thinks she is stupid and passive, and he resents her daily drinking. Leaving the house on an errand, Rabbit finds himself instead driving down the highway, intending to go toward the Gulf of Mexico. Unable to decide on a route or arrive at a destination, Rabbit drives in a giant circle and returns to Brewer in the early morning hours. Uncertain about what to do with his life and his family responsibilities, Rabbit plans to seek advice from the man he used to venerate: Marty Tothero, his former basketball coach.

Encountering Tothero that morning, Rabbit immediately realizes the old man is not the wise guide Rabbit once took him to be. Rather he is addled and incoherent, and Rabbit feels ashamed on realizing Tothero is disrespected and mocked by his peers. Tothero says Rabbit can sleep in his cot in the attic of the Sunshine Athletic Club—now his home—if Rabbit promises they'll work together to solve the problem of Rabbit's marriage. However that evening Tothero, drunk and excited, tells Rabbit they are meeting two prostitutes for dinner at a Chinese restaurant. One prostitute is Margaret Kosko, whom Tothero sleeps with regularly, and the other is her friend Ruth Leonard, whom Tothero has never met. The women's contempt of Tothero and his blustering, foolish attempt at making a wise speech confirm Rabbit's newfound disrespect for Tothero. Rabbit's attention shifts instead to Ruth, and under the pretense of helping with her utility bills, Rabbit pays her for sex. Throughout the encounter Rabbit forces Ruth to submit to his desires, even wiping the makeup off her face and forbidding her from using contraception. He tells her it is their wedding night. Although standoffish and cynical, Ruth finds she enjoyed the sex. The following morning Rabbit wakes, feeling he has entered a new phase of domesticity with Ruth.

It is Sunday, and seeing the church outside of Ruth's bedroom window, Rabbit prays for forgiveness. He decides to move in with Ruth, even though she doesn't want him to. He returns to get his things from his apartment, where the disarray suggests Janice and Nelson have left suddenly. Attempting to sneak out of his neighborhood unnoticed, he is intercepted by the Episcopal minister, Jack Eccles, driving up in his car. Janice's mother has asked Eccles for help persuading Rabbit to return to Janice. Rabbit senses he is stepping into a trap by opening up to Eccles but cannot resist the man's invitation to play golf together the following Tuesday. Rabbit returns to Ruth, elated with a sense of his own power. He tells her he made her and the entire universe and then urges her to climb to the top of Mt. Judge with him. On the mountain top Rabbit's expectation of experiencing a new level of spiritual understanding turns to fear when all he senses is the silent air of the mountain.

On Tuesday Rabbit goes to Eccles's house to meet and then play golf. Eccles's self-assured atheist wife, Lucy, lets Rabbit in. Rabbit is immediately attracted to Lucy and certain he has power over her. In fact he slaps her backside before Eccles appears. Eccles drives them to the golf course on Mt. Judge. A mediocre player himself, he attempts to coach Rabbit, who plays abysmally. Becoming frustrated with his inability to connect his will to the golf ball, Rabbit imagines his clubs are Janice and Ruth who are preventing him from hitting the ball skillfully. As they play, Rabbit and Eccles discuss why Rabbit left Janice. Rabbit claims it is because his marriage was missing something crucial, which his experience with basketball has shown him exists and is possible to attain. Eccles scoffs but is unable to dissuade Rabbit from believing something meaningful is hidden beneath the surface of things. Eccles actually lacks faith in God, and Rabbit realizes that instead of guiding Rabbit toward the thing he seeks, Eccles hopes Rabbit will confirm its existence for him. Disgusted, Rabbit stops following Eccles's coaching advice and immediately hits a glorious hole-in-one. The ball seems animated by a sublime intelligence as it seeks and reaches its goal. Rabbit is triumphant with this physical demonstration of the important thing he has been speaking of.

Part 2

The narrative skips ahead to the week before Memorial Day. Rabbit has taken a job Eccles got for him, tending the flower gardens of the elderly Mrs. Smith, who adores Rabbit. On Memorial Day Rabbit and Ruth go to the public pool. Rabbit feels on top of the world, but Ruth is troubled by her private suspicion she is already pregnant by Rabbit. Meanwhile Eccles visits Janice's mother and learns she is upset because Janice has brought shame on the family in allowing Rabbit to leave her. He visits Rabbit's parents and learns Mrs. Angstrom considers Rabbit a victim of the manipulative Janice, while his father is disgusted with his son's behavior and considers him an enemy. Finally he visits the senior Lutheran minister, Fritz Kruppenbach. When he asks for his opinion on the situation between Rabbit and Janice, Kruppenbach blasts Eccles for failing to take his job seriously. His only job is to strengthen his own faith, and this is the means by which he is to comfort his parishioners. Kruppenbach believes Eccles's meddling in his parishioners' lives is the devil's work. Believing Kruppenbach is right, and despondent over his own lack of faith, Eccles distracts himself by going to socialize with his youth group in town.

The evening of Memorial Day, Rabbit tags along with Ruth as she goes to meet her friends Margaret Kosko and Ronnie Harrison, a former teammate of Rabbit's, at a bar. Rabbit finds himself the odd one out and becomes frustrated as he realizes he is no more special to Ruth than Ronnie Harrison, who is commanding the women's attention. Rabbit becomes jealous when the conversation turns to Ruth and Ronnie's shared past and tries to cut Harrison down. After seeing his younger sister at the bar and realizing she no longer adores him or respects his authority, Rabbit orders Ruth to leave the club with him. He submits Ruth to a cruel interrogation about her sexual past with Harrison and demands she prove her loyalty to Rabbit by giving him oral sex, as she did for Harrison in the past. Ruth is disgusted by Rabbit but submits to his demands because she thinks she needs him, since she might be pregnant. After the humiliating sexual encounter ends, Eccles calls the house with news that Janice is in labor. Rabbit tells Ruth he is leaving, and unless she says something to him, he will never come back. She remains silent, and he runs to the hospital.

Rabbit spends several anguished hours in the hospital waiting room. Unable to distract himself, he is forced to reflect on his own actions. Feeling guilty and ashamed of his behavior, he becomes certain his selfishness will result in the death of Janice or the infant. When he sees Janice immediately after her delivery, she is high on painkillers. Her affectionate, forgiving, girlishly playful mood makes Rabbit question why he ever left, and he resolves to stay with her. He spends the night at the Eccles house and returns to the hospital the following day, where he sees his daughter through the glass of the nursery. He and Janice decide together to name the infant Rebecca June.

Rabbit lives at their apartment with Nelson while Janice recuperates in the hospital. He visits his parents and realizes his mother dislikes Nelson because the boy is "half-Springer." Also she wishes he would have left Janice, whom she never liked. When Janice comes home, Rabbit, in awe of her postpartum body, refrains from having sex with her. He accepts Eccles's invitation to attend church but spends the whole service lusting after Eccles's wife, who sits in front of him. He assumes Lucy Eccles is propositioning him for sex when she extends a friendly invitation to come to their house for coffee after the service. He makes this presumption clear in his refusal. Outraged and disgusted, Lucy slams the door in Rabbit's face. Titillated by her rejection, Rabbit returns home, determined to have sex with Janice for the first time in several months.

That afternoon Rebecca June's constant crying has Rabbit, Janice, and Nelson all on edge. Rabbit wants to leave, but his sexual desire for Janice prevents him. He follows her around trying to convince her to have a drink, hoping she'll get drunk and sleep with him. Because he has always criticized her drinking, and because she is now making an effort to stay sober, Janice refuses and becomes suspicious. Finally the baby stops crying, and Janice drinks a cocktail Rabbit prepares for her. They go to bed, where Rabbit forces himself on her: she is clearly opposed to it, and the doctor's orders prohibit it. When Janice voices her sense that Rabbit is using her, Rabbit becomes angry. Thinking his wife misunderstands love, he gets up in the middle of their encounter, insults her, and leaves the house.

Janice, despondent, keeps drinking. Throughout the night, as she drinks, she continually senses a mysterious presence in the house with her, which frightens and makes her self-conscious. By morning, Janice is extremely drunk. Her mother then calls and, sensing Rabbit has left again, chastises Janice for bringing disgrace on the family. She tells Janice she will be at the apartment in 20 minutes, despite her daughter's protests. In a frenzy, Janice races around the messy house trying to restore a level of order acceptable to her mother. Janice curses the baby, who won't stop screaming and has made a mess in her diaper and on herself. Intending to bathe the baby, Janice fills the bathtub and carelessly drops the infant in. To her surprise the baby sinks and has drowned by the time Janice can get hold of her again. Just as she is realizing her baby's dead, Janice hears her mother knock at the door.

Part 3

After violating Janice and leaving, Rabbit has spent the night at a hotel and the entire day walking aimlessly through the shops in Brewer. When he calls Eccles to check whether his sense of something amiss at home is correct, Eccles tells him about the baby's death. Feeling guilty, Rabbit rushes to the Springers' house. Mr. Springer, whom Rabbit has always disliked, generously tells Rabbit the blame is not his alone and assures him he still has his job and his place in their family. When Rabbit sees Janice, he assures her she is not to blame—the fault is all his. Before the funeral Tothero pays Rabbit a visit at the Springer house. The old man has come not to offer condolences or support but to have Rabbit confirm that he, Tothero, bears no blame for the baby's death. Rabbit is confused by the old man's claims of giving warnings that went unheeded, but Rabbit agrees with Tothero just to make him leave. Rabbit anticipates the funeral with dread, particularly afraid of his mother's reaction, for he feels her disapproval will kill him.

When Mrs. Angstrom arrives at the funeral home, she rushes up to Rabbit as if he were the victim in need of comforting. Rabbit understands his mother is, in this way, absolving him from guilt. As Rabbit listens to Eccles's sermon, he moves through intense grief to a sense of elation, certain his daughter is now in Heaven. With this settled in his mind, Rabbit feels free to put the event behind him and turn back to his pursuit of pleasure. But moments after his daughter's burial in the Mt. Judge cemetery, Rabbit sees in his wife's face she has not cast off her grief and guilt as he has. Her feelings anger him, and he tells her and both their families they must recognize the truth: the responsibility for Rebecca June's death is solely Janice's. He expects his mother to agree, but her face shows she is horrified. Unable to bear his mother's disapproval, Rabbit turns and runs up into the thick, dark woods at the top of the mountain.

In the woods Rabbit senses a presence that disturbs him. He stumbles upon the ruins of an old homestead he encountered in his childhood and in horror realizes the silent wood is full of traces of the human consciousness that once inhabited it. Terrified, Rabbit runs to the Pinnacle Hotel. He tries to call Eccles to tell him everything is OK, but when Lucy hangs up on him, Rabbit tells himself he is better off without Eccles. He goes to Ruth's, and she chastises him for his extreme self-centeredness, which has resulted in his killing his daughter. Rabbit is pleased when he guesses Ruth is pregnant and encourages her to keep the baby. Ruth tells him either he can divorce Janice and marry her or she will abort the fetus and cut Rabbit from her life forever. Rabbit half-listens and then leaves to get them lunch. Once outside Ruth's apartment, he contemplates whether to run away or return. He realizes his self is the only real thing in a world full of illusory people and circumstances. Standing at the curb, poised on making a decision, Rabbit's body seems to make the decision for him, and he finds himself running as the novel ends, just as it started.

Rabbit, Run Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 Rabbit plays basketball with some boys in the street.

Rising Action

2 Rabbit suddenly leaves his pregnant wife and young son.

3 Rabbit visits Tothero and realizes the man is a fool.

4 After the first sexual encounter Rabbit moves in with Ruth.

5 After praying, Rabbit is trapped by Jack Eccles.

6 Golf allows Rabbit to show Eccles what he seeks.

7 Kruppenbach scolds Eccles for meddling and lack of faith.

8 After his daughter's birth Rabbit returns to his marriage.

9 Rabbit goes to church but is distracted by lust.

10 Rabbit rapes Janice and then leaves.


11 Drunk and despairing, Janice accidentally drowns the baby.

Falling Action

12 During the funeral Rabbit's grief resolves itself.

13 Rabbit announces Janice is the guilty one and runs.

14 Rabbit escapes to Ruth's from the horror of the woods.


15 Though pleased at Ruth's pregnancy, Rabbit runs away.

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