Sex in "Rabbit Redux" by John Updike

Essay by pachellesHigh School, 11th grade May 2006

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The return to John Updike's famous character Harry Angstrom, better known as Rabbit, occurs after a gap of ten years from the previous book. Rabbit, now definitely past his prime, has lost his athleticism, his sex life, and the excitement he once sought. Sex is a very central subject in Rabbit Redux; the book's main conflict occurs around it, and the characters often reflect on it. For each, sex means something unique, and the feeling associated with it changes over time. Whether they try to make it religious, an escape, or avoid it in general is a reflection of the characters' mental state at a certain point in their lives.

"Harry...all huddled into himself, stupid to keep her [Janice's] sex locked up all these years...he's too fastidious, hates sex really..." (49) Rabbit, who ten years ago hungered for sex and seemed to have an insatiable appetite, does not crave it anymore, associating it with death.

He seems vaguely frightened of his wife's own body, regarding it as "giving life and death". This is understandable, however, because the tragedy of his lifetime hit a decade earlier when Janice, his wife, accidentally drowned their infant girl when drunk and despairing. Irritatingly, though, Rabbit can't seem to let the incident go. Though he thinks Janice has "forgotten", remarking callously that "nature and women forget", he still aches with the pain of receiving that fateful phone call with the news. Thanks to the third-person omniscient perspective of the novel, the reader can realize that Janice, of course, hasn't forgotten. She is still haunted by what she's done and mourns it, but she's also able to move on. Rabbit's obsession with the baby's death bars him from enjoying sex during much of the novel's beginning. When he tries to explain to Janice the...