Kierkegaard, Updike, and the Zigzag of Angst
For a time, I thought of all my fiction as illustrations of Kierkegaard.—John Updike
“I like middles, ” Updike has remarked. “It is in middles that extremes clash, where ambiguity restlessly rules.” In Rabbit, Run, Updike's character, Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, is a man in the middle, a middle-class father sandwiched between the competing demands of sensuality and society, the sacred and the profane. But Rabbit's middle position is also the source of his vitality. For Joyce Markle, this vitality marks Rabbit as one of Updike's characteristic “life-giving” heroes, and certainly the novel provides ample evidence to support this reading.1 As Mrs. Smith, an elderly character from Rabbit, Run, remarks, “That's what you have, Harry: Life. It's a strange gift and I don't know how we're supposed to use it but I know it's the only gift we got and it's a good one” (224/192). Because this life-gift, this vitality, arises from the tension of his middle position, Rabbit can only maintain it by moving, as in a game of fastbreak, back and forth from one goal to the other, never resting on one side lest his vitality wane and his gift for life atrophy.
This back-and-forth movement lies at the center of Updike's odd in-____________________