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“US culture is riddled with stories of men who yearn to be free – by Updike’s time, all that was left was the mock heroism of suburban tragicomedy”. In 1960, John Updike, at the age of 28 published his novel “Rabbit, Run” which was mockery (or the expression of deep empathy) toward the post-war American society of that time. The novel also unveils the true image of “American Dream” along with ordinary people’s desperation, unsuccessfulness and failure. “My subject is the American Protestant small-town middle class. I like middles. It is in middles that extremes clash, where ambiguity restlessly rules” Said Updike. Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom can be compared with two characters as a bridge between failure and success, despair and hope, death and life. Particularly in terms of identity, love, lust, and religion. These two characters are Meursault from Alber Camus novel “The Stranger” and Forest Gump from the movie “Forest Gump”.
Firstly, it is important to note why the author chose particularly “Rabbit” as a nickname and “Angstrom” as a last name. Both of them have symbolic meanings that can be understood in a variety of ways. According to the novel, rabbit could refer to him as a person who looks like a rabbit, or it could be a symbol of someone who is constantly having sex like rabbits do. (If not having sex, at least he has lots of sexual thoughts), it could also symbolize Harry as a rabbit who is constantly running and searching for the hole to hide from his predators as he as a “Rabbit” is extremely gentle. Moreover, within his last name (Angstrom) can be decoded the word Angst. While reading the novel, lots of anger is identified in this character, In addition, Angstrom means too little. The author may have wanted to symbolize the idea that every person is too little on the earth (even the biggest ones) but those who are already little (with their social or economic status) seem to be tinier.
The reader, from the very beginning of the novel, finds out that Harry runs away from his home and heads to the South, where he believes the sandy beaches, the heaven is waiting for him but of course the reality is the same everywhere, and it doesn’t matter whether one goes to the south or to the north. You are you wherever you go. Harry cannot realize that he can’t run away from himself, instead, he blames his wife and the society. And it is easily noticeable that he is alienated with Jennis and with the whole society. Alienation could be something that could be causing his “Angst” and “Rabbit Syndrome”. Not only Rabbit but all of the characters are alienated from one another: mothers from children, husbands from wives, people from God, people from themselves. The novel arises the question of what is identity and in this direction (and in many other directions) it can be compared with the main character of Camus “The Stranger”, Meursault. Although the novel is set in a different country, the theme of alienation and the loss of identity is universal. Meursault is his last name, that is the only thing the readers know about this self-destructive man. Nothing else is mentioned about his name or age, which may be an indirect message from the author that this character is struggling with finding his identity. In the end the reader gets to know with the fact that he is going to be executed on the scaffold for murdering a person (or for not crying on his mother’s funeral). The final part, just before he is executed is the moment when he finally feels the connection with the society, he finally feels something, and that something is hate. (“I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.”) The society plays a huge role in the process of formation of ones feelings (or in demolishing them) that influence their actions. Both “Rabbit” and Meursault can be considered as the victims of the unacceptable coldness of the society. However, Rabbit does not seem to realize that. In case of Camus character, the opposite can be thought. As for the Forest Gump, he is kind of a heroic character (American). He is the person who was involved in nearly every tension of 60s and 70s of America including the war of Vietnam (perhaps he was a child in 50s). However, unlike these two characters, Forrest is heroic, idealized character who is full of love, kindness, who believes in goodness and manages to turn every misfortune into his power (that is something Rabbit doesn’t have and that is why he is into what he is).
Another important theme is love and lust. Sex plays one of the most important parts in Harry’s life (not love). Every time he says “I love you” equals to “I lust you”. Even if he’s thinking about basketball, he is thinking about sex too, he even cheats on his wife several times. The way he treats women he sleeps with is full of selfishness and indifference and sometimes brutality. Rabbit thinks of satisfying his sexual needs no matter what women want. He is dominant in sex but he isn’t dominant in everyday life, moreover, he is weak and passive, the fact that he is being intolerant toward women in sex life could be because of the psychological stress from the outward world which oppresses him so as a result he oppresses women in bed. He even ‘punishes’ Ruth (his lover) by making her satisfy him with oral sex. Additionally, right after Jennis gives birth to her second child the first thing he wants to do with her is to make love to her, not taking her illness into consideration, he even made her drink alcohol when she was alcoholic and making her drink was the last thing to think about. Finally, Jennis gets drunk and accidentally drowns her newborn baby. Who is the one to blame? Alcoholic Jennis? Narcissist Harry? Maybe young minister Ecless who interfered in their private life with the “will of God” and wasn’t supposed to do so. While thinking about this issue, every character has his or her own part in this tragedy and all of them share their own guilt in it. On the other hand, Meursault, also lusts and doesn’t love Mary, he is a character who hasn’t said “I love you” during the whole novel and has been cold to Mary who loved him. However, Unlike Rabbit Angstrom, he clearly realizes that this is just a romance he enjoys. When Mary offers him to get married, he agrees because he doesn’t care unlike Rabbit who had to marry Jennis because she got pregnant. Rabbit lusts like Meursault, but he feels more than him, that is why Rabbit, as a bridge between Meursault and Forrest Gump, as a bridge between death and life can change his course to a better way.
God is faith or faith is God. Being too religious drives one crazy, and experiencing spiritual crisis damages an individual even more, because he or she doesn’t know what to believe in and loses the hope for life. Rabbit believes in God but he doesn’t know what to see in God, like in the rest of the things. For religious people, God represents hope and even in the most desperate situations, they believe that the God will help. However, Rabbit seems to experience religious crisis (along with other crises) that accelerates the fact that “he runs”. On Sunday, Rabbit went to church, perhaps he was seeking for his spiritual salvation, but it didn’t make any effects, the next day he becomes the man of angst again and becomes one of the reasons why his child gets drowned. In the novel, even the minister, Ecless seems to have the same spiritual crisis. That could be another issue of middle-class post-war society, and generally of the humanity. So why do people believe in God if God doesn’t do any good for them or is it God who doesn’t do good for us or is it us who should move our hands and legs instead of just believing. As for the Camus “The Stranger” the main character is an atheist. Even on his last day he refuses to talk to the priest. Perhaps he has spiritual crisis like Rabbit and he is angry with God so he lost faith in him. Whatever it is, the fatality of those who experience spiritual crisis is very sad and tragic. (As has been mentioned, Forrest Gump survived with the sense of kindness and hope for goodness, there wasn’t much accent put on his religion). So, the questions are, would anything change in their lives if they were religious? Do all of us need religion to survive spiritually?
The life is the eternal cycle of our adventures that will always bring us back to ourselves. The only thing we, as human beings should do is to try to return better. The phrase “Run Forrest, Run!” is very close to “Rabbit, Run”. When Forrest gets attacked by his peers, he runs with the braces on his legs, he realizes he can do better without braces, breaks them off and runs, runs, runs. Perhaps the constant running of “rabbit” will also pay off and he may realize something very important, like Forrest did. Rabbit, as a man with inclination toward self-destruction still has a chance to follow one path out of two. One is the tragic path of Meursault, and the other is the path of Forrest, the path of breaking the braces as ‘chains’ and the path of ‘becoming’.
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