Places: The Rabbit Angstrom Novels

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Rabbit, Run, 1960; Rabbit Redux, 1971; Rabbit Is Rich, 1981; Rabbit at Rest, 1990

Type of work: Novels

Type of plot: Domestic realism

Time of work: 1950’s-1980’s

Places DiscussedBrewer

Brewer. Rabbit Angstrom Novels, ThePennsylvania town in which the novels are centered. Updike’s fictionalized version of Reading, Pennsylvania, serves as the principal location for much of the action of the Rabbit novels. Rabbit’s family lives in and around the city, a manufacturing town whose glory days have passed by the time Rabbit reaches adulthood. Updike takes great pains to describe the cityscape in meticulous detail, allowing readers to develop a clear sense of the place that seems to Rabbit to be both a magnet and a trap: He is constantly drawn to the city as “home” and concurrently repelled by it, feeling as if he is unable to reach his full human potential as a result of his imprisonment in this middle-class community. As Rabbit grows older, however, he comes to accept the fact that he can survive in this city; perhaps this feeling is reinforced by his promotion within his father-in-law’s automobile dealership to a position that allows him to become modestly wealthy. Like so many middle-class Americans, however, as soon as Rabbit earns enough, he leaves the aging northeastern city for the land of eternal youth, Florida.

Mount Judge

Mount Judge. Suburb of Brewer in which Rabbit Angstrom and his wife, Janice, live in a tiny row house. Rabbit feels trapped here, and the novel describes the rooms and the streets outside as confining. While much of the action of the novel involves Rabbit fleeing his home, the symbolic significance of this location makes it essential to understanding the novel. Within the Angstrom home occurs one of the central ironic actions of the novel: the death by drowning of Rabbit and Janice’s baby daughter. Hence, the home is seen as a place not where life is fostered but rather where it is snuffed out prematurely.

Penn Villas

Penn Villas. The second home Rabbit and his wife own is a typical American suburban villa. Living in what might be called a version of Levittown, Rabbit is transformed from a man on the run into someone to whom things happen. Most of the action of Rabbit Redux takes place in his home. There he admits a wandering “hippie,” Jill Pendleton, and she in turn brings into the home Skeeter, an African American radical. By having these social misfits invade Rabbit’s house, Updike is able to contrast the ordinariness of middle-class American life with the turbulent activities that were tearing apart the United States in the 1960’s.

Springer home

Springer home. Because the Angstrom’s lose their home in a fire, they are forced to live for a time with Janice’s parents. Updike takes this opportunity to show how relationships among parents, children, and in-laws create anxieties in middle-class Americans and also how loving parents like the Springers see themselves as providers for their children and grandchildren. Rabbit often suffers anxiety stemming from Mr. Springer’s generously bringing him into the automobile dealership. These feelings conflict with the resentment he feels regarding his dependence on his in-laws. Living in their home is a tangible sign of that dependence.

Springer Motors

Springer Motors. Automobile dealership owned by Rabbit’s father-in-law, Fred Springer. The dealership is significant in all the Rabbit novels. Fred Springer is a typical middle-class American pursuing the American Dream. His automobile dealership provides not only financial comfort but also employment for others, including Charlie Stavros, at times Rabbit’s friend but at other times Janice’s lover. Eventually the dealership becomes the source of Rabbit’s income, allowing him to establish a retirement home in Florida.

Deleon

Deleon. Florida town that is the principal setting of the final novel in the tetralogy, Rabbit at Rest. Deleon is the place at which Rabbit goes into semiretirement. His relocation to Florida, Updike suggests subtly, is a metaphor for all America: Constantly at odds with the fact of their aging, Americans seek a land of eternal youth. Further irony is created by the choice of retirement communities: Valhalla, the name of the hall of the gods in Norse mythology.

Basketball courts

Basketball courts. Scenes of the opening and closing scenes in the tetralogy. The opening scene of Rabbit, Run takes place on a basketball court, where Rabbit, in his twenties, plays a pickup basketball game to demonstrate his youthful prowess. The action is significant and symbolic: Throughout the four novels, Rabbit continually struggles with the fact of his own aging. With skillful irony, Updike repeats the scene at the end of Rabbit at Rest. On a basketball court in Florida, Rabbit collapses and dies of a heart attack while playing a pickup basketball game. The symmetry of setting suggests the sense of closure that Updike wishes to achieve in his four-volume saga of middle-class America.

BibliographyBoswell, Marshall. “The Black Jesus: Racism and Redemption in John Updike’s Rabbit Redux.Contemporary Literature 39 (Spring, 1998): 99-133. Boswell explores the ramifications of race in Updike’s Rabbit Redux. He argues that, in spite of the ambiguity of Updike’s portrayal, the novel does make a significant contribution to the continuing discussion about race in America.DeBellis, Jack. “ The Aweful Power’: John Updike’s Use of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in Rabbit Redux.” Literature and Film Quarterly 21 (July, 1993): 209-217. DeBellis argues that Updike often incorporates allusions in his novels that refer or comment upon specific traits in his characters. In the case of Rabbit Redux, Updike relates the quest theme in the novel to the developing personality traits of Janice and Harry.Detweiler, Robert. John Updike. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Asserts the central theme of Rabbit, Run is an ironic search for the nonexistent Grail, and classifies Rabbit Redux as a quest novel. Calls Rabbit Is Rich a novel of lost opportunities and second chances, of ghosts and new life.Doner, Dean. “Rabbit Angstrom’s Unseen World.” In John Updike: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by David Thorburn and Howard Eiland. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1979. Compares Rabbit, Run to Updike’s short story, “Ace in the Hole” (1959), whose protagonist was also a former high-school basketball star. Focuses on Rabbit’s religious nature, observing that of all the people gathered at the baby’s graveside, Rabbit is the only one who believes in God.Greiner, Donald J. John Updike’s Novels. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1984. Points out that Updike used three Rabbit novels to record the tone of a decade: religious speculation in Rabbit, Run, political concerns in Rabbit Redux, and economic practicalities in Rabbit Is Rich.Newman, Judie. John Updike. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988. One chapter, “The World of Work,” deals with the major themes of the first three novels: work, technology, and sex.Schiff, James A. John Updike Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1998. Schiff endeavors to understand Updike’s entire body of work, putting individual works in context for the reader. Schiff provides commentary on works that have largely been ignored by the public, as well as books that have received little critical attention. Includes a critical analysis of the Rabbit Angstrom novels.Updike, John, and James Plath, ed. Conversations with John Updike. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1994. A collection of interviews given by Updike between 1959 and 1993. A revealing portrait of Updike’s background and personality; his views on life, sex, politics, and religion; and his evolution as a writer.Uphaus, Suzanne Henning. John Updike. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980. Discusses the religious images Updike used in Rabbit, Run to show the contradictions of Rabbit’s character and the confusion and uncertainty of contemporary society. Argues that although the characters are portrayed realistically and convincingly, the historical emphasis of Rabbit Redux causes them to become agents of history.
Categories: Places