Most critics agree that John Updike's crowning achievement is the fictional creation of his "Everyman"--Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom--whose exploits Updike recounted through four successive novels encompassing four decades of American life from the placid 1950's through the turbulent 1980's.
As Updike himself put it, "the character of Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom was for me a way in -- a ticket to the America all around me … These four related novels became a kind of running report on the state of my hero and his nation . . . At some point between the second and third of the series, I began to visualize four completed novels that might together make a single coherent volume, a mega-novel."
In this 8-week SDG, we will follow Updike's "Everyman," the way he envisioned him, through the course of all four novels, chronicling Rabbit's saga from callow youth to old age. As Rabbit and the people around him change, these characters take on the contours of our common existence.
When we first meet him in Rabbit, Run (1960), the book that established John Updike as a major novelist, Rabbit is playing basketball with some boys in an alley in Pennsylvania during the end of the Eisenhower era, reliving for a moment his past glory as a star athlete. Through Rabbit's seemingly ordinary journey, Updike lays bare with effortless style, the enchantments and disenchantments of American life.
With his eye for detail and enormous understanding of human nature, Updike distills nearly forty years of postwar life into the story of an American era -- from the economic growth of the 1950's, through the increasing confusion of the 60's and 70's, on into the encroaching materialism of the Reagan years. In recounting Rabbit's frustrations and ambiguous triumphs, his longings and loves, his betrayals and reconciliations, Updike has written our representative American story.
As we read these four major novels (two of which won the Pulitzer Prize), we'll find much to think about and discuss as we encounter a complex portrait of American life in the last half of the 20th century.
The Rabbit novels, for all their grittiness, constitute
John Updike's surpassingly eloquent valentine to his country, as viewed from the unique perspective of a corner of Pennsylvania.
—Joyce Carol Oates, THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
*Please note 8-week schedule below -- we have a few interruptions due to Thursday afternoon programs at the Skirball.