Rabbit, Run

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For the 1939 song, see Run Rabbit Run
Rabbit, Run
First edition cover
Author John Updike
Country United States
Language English
Publisher Alfred A. Knopf
Publication date
November 12, 1960
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 265 pp
Followed by Rabbit Redux

Rabbit, Run is a 1960 novel by John Updike. The novel depicts three months in the life of a 26-year-old former high school basketball player named Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom, and his attempts to escape the constraints of his life. It spawned several sequels, including Rabbit Redux, Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest, as well as a related 2001 novella, Rabbit Remembered.

Plot summary[edit]

Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom is 26, has a job selling a kitchen gadget named MagiPeeler, and is married to Janice, a former salesgirl at the store where he worked who is currently pregnant. They have a two-year-old son named Nelson, and live in Mount Judge, a suburb of Brewer, Pennsylvania. He believes that his marriage is corrupt and something is missing from his life: having been a basketball star in high school, Harry finds his middle-class family life unsatisfying. On the spur of the moment, he decides to leave his family and drive south in an attempt to "escape". However, after getting lost, he returns to his home town. Not wanting to return to his family, he instead visits his old basketball coach, Marty Tothero.

That night, Harry has dinner with Tothero and two girls, one of whom, Ruth Leonard, is a part-time prostitute. Harry and Ruth begin a two-month affair and he soon moves into her apartment. During this time, Janice moves back into her parents' house and the local Episcopal priest, Jack Eccles, befriends Harry in a futile attempt to get him to reconcile with his wife. Nonetheless, Harry remains with Ruth until the night he learns that she had a fling with his high school nemesis, Ronnie Harrison. Enraged, Harry pressures Ruth into performing fellatio on him. The same night, Harry learns that Janice is in labor, and he leaves Ruth to visit his wife at the hospital.

Reunited with Janice, Harry returns home with her and their daughter, named Rebecca June. Harry attends church one morning and, after walking the minister's wife Lucy home, interprets her invitation to come in for a coffee as a sexual invitation. When he declines the invitation for coffee, stating that he has a wife, she angrily slams the door on him. Harry returns to his apartment, and, happy about the birth of his daughter, tries to reconcile with Janice. He encourages her to have a whiskey, then, misreading her mood, pressures her to have sex despite her postnatal condition. When she refuses and accuses him of treating her like a prostitute, Harry leaves, yet again, in an attempt to resume his relationship with Ruth. Finding her apartment empty, he spends the night at a hotel.

The next morning, still distraught at Harry's new departure, Janice gets drunk and accidentally drowns Rebecca June in the bath tub. The other main characters in the book except Harry soon learn of the accident and gather at Janice's parents' home. Later in the day, unaware of what has happened, Harry calls Reverend Eccles to see how his return home would be received. Reverend Eccles shares the news of his daughter's death, and Harry returns home immediately, although in a somewhat aloof way. Tothero later visits Harry and suggests that the thing he is looking for probably does not exist. At Rebecca June's funeral, Harry's internal and external conflicts result in a sudden proclamation of his innocence in the baby's death. He then runs from the graveyard, pursued by Jack Eccles, until he becomes lost.

Harry returns to Ruth and learns that she is pregnant by him. Though Harry is relieved to discover she has not had an abortion, he is unwilling to divorce Janice. Harry abandons Ruth, still missing the feeling he has attempted to grasp during the course of the novel; his fate is uncertain as the novel concludes.


  • Harry Angstrom - a.k.a. Rabbit, a 26-year-old man. Married to Janice Angstrom. He was a basketball star in high school and begins the novel as a kitchen gadget salesman.
  • Miriam Angstrom - a.k.a. Mim, Rabbit's 19-year-old sister.
  • Mr. Angstrom - Rabbit's father.
  • Mrs. Angstrom - Rabbit's mother.
  • Janice Angstrom - Rabbit's wife.
  • Nelson Angstrom - Harry and Janice's 2-year-old son.
  • Rebecca June Angstrom - Harry and Janice's infant daughter.
  • Mr. Springer - Janice's father. A used car dealer.
  • Mrs. Springer - Janice's mother. She is harshly critical of Harry when he leaves Janice.
  • Jack Eccles - a young Episcopal priest. He tries to mend Harry and Janice's broken marriage.
  • Lucy Eccles - Jack Eccles's wife. She blames the lack of love in her marriage with Jack on his job taking up too much of his time.
  • Fritz Kruppenbach - the Angstroms' Lutheran minister. He tells Jack Eccles that Harry and Janice are best left to themselves.
  • Ruth Leonard - Rabbit's mistress[1] with whom he lives for three months. She is a former prostitute[2] and lives alone in an apartment for two people. She is weight-conscious.
  • Margaret Kosko - a friend of Ruth's. Probably also a prostitute. She is contemptuous of Tothero.
  • Mrs. Smith - a widow whose garden Rabbit looks after while away from his wife. She is 73 years old.
  • Marty Tothero - Rabbit's former basketball coach. He was popular in high school but got dismissed from his job due to a 'scandal'. He cheats on his wife but gives marital advice to Harry. After suffering two strokes, he becomes disabled.
  • Ronnie Harrison - One of Rabbit's former basketball team-mates. He has slept with Margaret Kosko and Ruth Leonard.

Rabbit and Angstrom[edit]

A rabbit is "a person likened to a rabbit, typically in being timid or ineffectual; a poor or novice player"[3] and "a runner who intentionally sets a fast pace for a teammate during a long-distance race."[4]

Besides its other associations, Updike may have chosen the name Rabbit for his character for its echo of Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt, whose main theme "focuses on the power of conformity, and the vacuity of middle-class American life." This is unlikely, however, as Updike claims not to have read Lewis's novel until after he wrote Rabbit at Rest.[5]

Updike said in interviews that the name Angstrom was inspired by his reading of Kierkegaard and meant to suggest 'stream of Angst'.

References to other works[edit]

  • Previously, Updike had written a short story entitled Ace In The Hole, and to a lesser extent a poem, Ex-Basketball Player, with similar themes to Rabbit Run.[6]
  • In his senior year at Harvard, Updike submitted to his writing instructor "Flick," an early version of "Ace in the Hole." Updike later sent "Flick" to The New Yorker where it was rejected.[7]
  • John Updike said that he wrote Rabbit, Run in response to Jack Kerouac's On the Road, and tried to depict "what happens when a young American family man goes on the road – the people left behind get hurt."[6]
  • The screenplay for 8 Mile by Scott Silver opens with a quote from Rabbit, Run: "If you have the guts to be yourself...other people'll pay your price," and the main character is nicknamed "Rabbit."[8]
  • The last song on the 8 Mile OST is called Rabbit Run, a song about writer's block from the perspective of rap artist Eminem, who plays the main character Jimmy Smith, Jr. in the film 8 Mile, whose nickname in the film is Rabbit.
  • The philosopher Daniel Dennett makes extended reference to the Rabbit novels in his paper "The Self as a Center of Narrative Gravity".[9]
  • The title matches the popular World War II-era song Run Rabbit Run.

Literary significance[edit]

The text of the novel went through several rewrites. Knopf originally required Updike to cut some "sexually explicit passages," but he restored and rewrote the book for the 1963 Penguin edition and again for the 1995 Everyman's omnibus edition.[10]

Though it had been done earlier, as in William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying and Albert Camus' The Fall, Updike's novel is noted as being one of several well regarded, early uses of the present tense. Updike stated:

Time magazine included the novel in its Time 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.[12]

Film adaptation[edit]

In 1970, the novel was made into a film directed by Jack Smight and starring James Caan as Rabbit, Carrie Snodgress as Janice and Jack Albertson as Marty. The script was adapted from the novel by Howard B. Kreitsek, who also served as the film's producer;[13][14] the poster reads

3 months ago Rabbit Angstrom ran out to buy his wife cigarettes. He hasn't come home yet.[15]


  1. ^ Jack De Bellis, The John Updike encyclopedia (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000), 171.
  2. ^ Frank Northen Magill, Dayton Kohler, Laurence W. Mazzeno, Masterplots: 1,801 plot stories and critical evaluations of the world's finest literature (Salem Press, 1996), 5436.
  3. ^ Oxford English Dictionary: Rabbit, n1, II, 3a
  4. ^ American Heritage Dictionary: Rabbit
  5. ^ Updike, John. "The Key-People." More Matter. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999. 231-241
  6. ^ a b Interview with John Updike at Penguin Classics
  7. ^ Begley, Adam (2014). Updike. Harper Collins. p. 94. 
  8. ^ Silver, Scott: 8 Mile, screenplay, 2002.
  9. ^ The Self as a Center of Narrativer Gravity
  10. ^ John Updike, "Introduction" to Updike, Rabbit Angstrom: A Tetralogy (New York: Knopf, 1995), p. ix.
  11. ^ The Art of Fiction, John Updike
  12. ^ "All Time 100 Novels". Time. October 16, 2005. Retrieved May 22, 2010. 
  13. ^ Rabbit, Run at the Internet Movie Database
  14. ^ New York Times Movies entry for the film adaptation
  15. ^ The Internet Movie Poster Awards: Rabbit, Run


  • Updike, John (November 12, 1960). Rabbit, Run (1st ed.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 

External links[edit]