Rabbit, Run

Rabbits are stupid creatures. They’re grazers, chewing on pasture; their huge eyes scan the sky for danger (just about any predator is bigger than them and far more imposing).  They run fast but not far, dashing away when threatened yet incapable of aiming at any lasting end: they don’t roam far. Rabbits don’t just run; they breed incessantly, fucking furiously is their path to immortality. Maybe it’s this oblivious helplessness, the gentle hedonism, that makes them so appealing. Maybe it’s that they’re just puffs of white fur with cute ears. Either way, they’re just so darn cute and we can’t help but love them.

The rabbit is a rather unheroic beast, yet that’s the spirit animal John Updike chose for Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, the main character of Rabbit, Run. Harry was once a high school basketball star. He set his school’s scoring record as a junior and then broke it again as a senior. It took four years for someone else to break it in turn. Now (as of 1960 in Rabbit, Run) he’s a twenty-five year old father of one and husband to a pregnant wife. He’s a salesman of the Magi-Peeler kitchen appliance. He’s also basically a rabbit.

Ok, not really. This isn’t Watership Down (or Redwall: funny, the continued anthropomorphism of rodents in fiction). Harry’s just a person with strangely-rabbit like qualities. Updike revels in the sheer wit ofmatching Harry’s characteristics to his rodent namesake’s special traits, delighting in rabbit-like mannerisms (“Now, Harry, don’t wrinkle your nose.”) as well as his rabbit’s soul. Harry, you see, shares all of those qualities I wrote about above. He’s obsessed with sex; he instinctively runs from adversity. He shares the rabbit’s wide-eyed appreciation of nature, is a grazer rather than a predator, his inner gaze somehow always half-turned towards the sky, towards finding the deeper meaning in the brutal ordinariness of life around him. He’s a sensitive creature but not a strong or imaginative one. When he feels the oppressive ordinariness hemming him in, the only thing he can think to do is run away. Ignorant of destination, he never wanders far. He’s a domestic animal at heart. Continue reading