The following was written as an essay by Joseph Levin, graduate of Boston U. Joe was not paid or compensated in any capacity for his work, and is placed here with his explicit permission. Before proceeding, pleased be warned: This essay can potentially contain spoilers, depending on your point of view.
On Rabbit in the Road – A Treatise
If you’re reading this, I hope you’ve already read the novella, Rabbit in the Road. I plan on doing some name-dropping and this will be riddled with spoilers; if you don’t care about such trivialities, please continue this journey with me.
I plan on taking you through my reading of Rabbit in the Road, my analytical interpretation of this work. It’s more or less fresh in my memory, like leftovers in the fridge. Before we forget about them, let’s go have lunch.
Rabbit in the Road starts off simple and idyllic. Bevie is a clerk in a store, with simple and modest aspirations. This simplicity sets up the story (which is decidedly complex) well enough to make you feel comfortable.
Get ready for discomfort.
As the story continues, the tension really builds and builds as Bevie sits, stranded and helpless, on a train. Then, quite literally in a crescendo of ruddy mess, her world is destroyed. Her past is gone, whether she realizes it yet or not (she doesn’t). Like a phoenix, she arises from this moment with enhanced abilities; such abilities lay the foundation for this story. You’re tempted at this point, to be lulled into a comic-book sense of security. Don’t succumb! This is not a dualistic story about good versus evil. This is a story about evil begetting evil.
That’s right, I’m letting you in on the secret early. Bevie is evil. She just doesn’t know yet (and maybe you didn’t either). Now I’m being too harsh, she’s villainous to be sure, but this is story is about her descent into Hell. I’m tempted to make a Dante reference here, but instead I’ll leave you with: “Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate.” The beginning is the best you’ll see Bevie, and she only worsens hence.
After achieving her powers, she lacks awareness of them. Yes, she is aware of their existence, but she does not understand what happens to her with each use. She becomes dependent on her abilities; they let her feel happy, they let her escape her pursuers. She has some nifty roguish abilities inherent to herself, but her extrasensory powers are too much a crutch for her. She remains blissfully unaware of this as she marches down her path. Behind a guise of normalcy, or want of normalcy, she breaks and destroys lives. Her remaining humanity causes her to weep at such atrocities she commits, but she remains committed to her talents.
After boyfriend number two perishes, at least when she learns about it from the G-men, does she try to understand more about her maladies.
This introspective search carries the book to new heights, while she herself reaches new lows. This section was my favorite of the story: her meeting with a man named Shurlock.
Shurlock, you see, calls himself a shaman. Or is he a hermit? At any rate, he’s definitely an oracle. Apollo’s Oracle at Delphi take heed: the Oracle of South Dakota cometh. Bevie seeks from Shurlock her self-awareness. Like any good oracle, Shurlock presciently and obtusely tells her her fate. During this revelation, two very important events occur (Bevie, typically, learns from neither). They happen upon a coyote in the wild and a rabbit crosses their path in the road. Get ready for symbols!
Bevie has never before seen a coyote, and she thinks its a dog at first. Shurlock responds with his oracle: a coyote cannot change its nature and become a dog, it will always remain a coyote. For the discerning reader, the coyote and dog are symbols of Bevie’s degredation of character.
Dogs were one of the first domesticated animals in society. Here, then, the dog can be read as a symbol of civilization, of peace and tolerance, of happiness and urbanity. The coyote, distinctly, is voracious, ferocious, and animalistic. It eats, it feeds, it lives on the fringes of society. You’d be tempted to play with it were it not keen on biting off your face. Bevie, through prodigious use of her powers, has transformed into the coyote. She’s scruffy, unkempt, living as a drifter. She’s no longer part of society, no longer welcome. Her dependence on her powers have made her so, and she grows more animalistic with each use. She doesn’t see this, like her other bestial friend the rabbit.
The rabbit in the road has blindly leapt in front of their car, and remains confused. Instead of doubling back and returning, animals tend to persist in their course and try to make it. Sometimes they do succeed and sometimes they’re roadkill. Bevie, likewise, persists in her path in spite of her confusion. She continues to become the coyote, to lose her humanity. She has used her powers heretofore for all the wrong reasons: personal gain, celebrity, self-preservation. She rarely uses her strengths selflessly. However, she’s not wholly evil throughout the story, there are moments of goodness. She rescues and protects the little girl in the Church. Unfortunately, these moments are sparse, and her descent deepens.
Rightfully so, Shurlock is disgusted with her ignorance as she departs. She has not heeded his message, and blindly pursues nothing. She is enslaved to her addiction to power, just like her foil Ray. In fact, her and Ray have that much in common (despite her protestations). They want and lust after power, he more overtly so. She finishes the story having fully lost herself to herself, eliminating her only friends and rescuers. In fact, the newspaper interview at the end only reinforces this point: she has abused her powers to dupe the world and become, selfishly, a successful musician. Her success disgusts me and it should disgust you. She has not earned her success, she’s bought it with polluted currency. Her soul is oppressed by the miasma of her powers, and she welcomes it openly.
Shurlock saw all this, but he’s a soothsayer and not a doer. We can only hope that in any further installments of this story, we get the hero to combat her villainy. Bevie has both won and lost, and we the readers are better for having borne witness.