Author: John Updike
Title: Rabbit Redux
Publish Date: September 1969
Page Length: 400 pages (approx.)
John Updike's Rabbit Redux, published in 1969, is a thought-provoking novel that delves into the complexities of race, gender, and societal upheaval in 1960s America. Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, Updike masterfully weaves a narrative that explores the lives of its primary characters, while also shedding light on the changing political and social landscape of the time. Throughout the novel, Updike engages readers with his rich prose and infuses the story with a sense of palpable tension and uncertainty.
The story follows the life of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, a former high school basketball star turned car dealer, who is now in his thirties and struggling with middle-age disillusionment. The novel is divided into six sections, each depicting a significant phase in Rabbit's life.
Section One introduces us to Rabbit's household, which consists of his wife Janice, their young son Nelson, and an African American teenager named Skeeter. The household undergoes a wrenching upheaval when Janice engages in an affair and Rabbit finds solace in a sexual relationship with Ruth, an African American woman. This section highlights Rabbit's underlying racist attitudes and the increasing tension caused by societal changes.
Section Two takes a step back from Rabbit's personal life and delves into broader political issues. Rabbit's sister, Lucy Eccles, introduces Jill, a young radical who idolizes singer James Brown and embraces the counterculture movement. Jill's arrival amplifies the dissent within the household, mirroring the wider political unrest and racial tensions of the era.
In Section Three, Rabbit's attempts at finding stability crumble as he loses his job and eventually his home due to racism and financial turmoil. Through Rabbit, Updike portrays the struggles of the working class, exploring the impact of economic hardships on individual lives.
Section Four sees Rabbit, Jill, and Skeeter go on a road trip to South Carolina. This journey serves as a catalyst for Rabbit's internal reflection and personal growth. Along the way, Rabbit confronts his biases and evolves, fostering a greater understanding and empathy for the racial struggles faced by those around him.
Section Five brings Rabbit back to his hometown of Brewer, Pennsylvania, where he confronts a disillusioned and declining society. The presence of a militant black group, led by a charismatic preacher named Springer, prompts Rabbit to consider the power of religious faith and confront his own shortcomings.
The final section, Section Six, brings Rabbit full circle, returning to his family and the consequences of his choices. Updike emphasizes the cyclical nature of life and the difficulty of personal transformation within the larger socio-political context. Rabbit's path to redemption remains uncertain, leaving readers to ponder the complexities of his journey and the broader themes explored throughout the novel.
Throughout Rabbit Redux, Updike adeptly explores themes of racism, gender roles, political unrest, and the disillusionment that permeated American society during the 1960s. By delving into Rabbit's personal struggles, the novel offers a critique of societal norms and challenges readers to question their own biases and preconceptions.
Updike's evocative storytelling and nuanced character development make Rabbit Redux an important literary work, shedding light on the human experience amidst a backdrop of historical and cultural change. Stemming from the confluence of personal and political upheaval, the novel underscores the timeless relevance of introspection, understanding, and personal growth to navigate a rapidly evolving society.