Law and Conversation

May 13, 2011

Fairness in fiction: Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom

In my last post, I originally wrote that Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, the fictional protagonist of John Updike’s classic and beautifully written “Rabbit” tetralogy, and his family are absolutely dreadful, without any qualification.

Then I worried that I sounded overly judgmental.

It’s not that I’m worried about hurting Angstrom’s fictional feelings ;-) .  But as a lawyer and former administrative law judge, and now as a professional writer, I’ve striven to look at matters involving real people from all different points of view. (Even more than that, trying to see where another person’s coming from is the right thing for anyone to do in most situations, I think.)

Most legal disputes involve not black and white, but shades of gray. People are only human and, accordingly, behave imperfectly, and everyone involved in a matter, whether litigant, lawyer, witness, juror, or judge, has at least a slightly different point of view. That’s one reason that there’s always uncertainty when a case goes to trial, and one reason why lawyers and mediators usually urge their clients to settle their differences outside of court.

So I fretted that maybe I wasn’t being fair to these fictional beings. I decided to amend my post by saying that from Updike’s description of their circumstances, the reader could understand, if not excuse, why the characters are as dreadful as they are.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about Updike’s creations some more, especially in the second volume, “Rabbit Redux,” in which, as I wrote some time ago, Rabbit and others reach new depths of dreadfulness. You know, I really don’t think Rabbit’s background explains the degree of his deplorable choices and shameful behavior in that book. I’m not sure there is an explanation, or whether there needs to be one. Maybe Rabbit just is what he is, to use a contemporary cliche.

Would any other “Rabbit” readers like to weigh in on the matter?  “Redux” was a hard read for me.

Via Nathan Bransford comes this link to photos of The Book Surgeon’s intriguing artworks carved from books. Eugene has some other pretty amazing photos on My Modern Metropolis, too.

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