The People Left Behind Get Hurt

June 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

Friday’s Final Jeopardy! was near and dear to my heart. I knew the answer right away:

1950s Novels
John Updike wrote Rabbit, Run partly in reaction to this more carefree novel that was published 3 years earlier.

A: What  is On the Road?

In his introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Novels, Updike explains his decision to expand on the character theretofore sketched in a short story, “Ace in the Hole,” and poem, “Ex-Basketball Player”:

To this adolescent impression of splendor my adult years had added sensations of domestic interdependence and claustrophobia. Jack Kerouac’s On the Road came out in 1957 and, without reading it, I resented its apparent instruction to cut loose; Rabbit, Run was meant to be a realistic demonstration of what happens when a young American family man goes on the road – the people left behind get hurt. There was no painless dropping out of the Fifties’ fraying but still tight social weave. Arriving at so prim a moral was surely not my only intention: the book ends on an ecstatic, open note that was meant to stay open, as testimony to our heart’s stubborn amoral quest for something once called grace. The title can be read as a piece of advice.

On the Road was published in 1957. The year before, Congress passed the Federal Aid Highway Act that launched the Interstate Highway System under President Dwight Eisenhower. Gas was cheap and cars were becoming cheaper, so it was only natural for fiction to look at the intensity between stations, of running toward and running away and traveling to a place where your past is not a weight on your character. Kerouac’s novel is not absent of moral awareness; through the eyes of Sal Paradise we do see Dean Moriarty abandon his wife and daughter, paths fracture and separate, and there is a message that the rush of going will continually dissatisfy. Rabbit’s wish is different from Sal’s and Dean’s. He doesn’t run to hide from his past, but to find a hole where it can be revisited again, on his own terms.

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