Some distance away he sees spray-painted on the back of one of the concrete benches in the mall of trees a slogan SKEETER LIVES. If he could go closer he could be sure that’s what it says.
-John Updike, Rabbit is Rich, 424
So there is life after death of a sort. … Skeeter lives.
–John Updike, Rabbit at Rest, 562
In the sequel to Updike’s Rabbit, Run, called Rabbit Redux, Harry takes in a pot-dealing African-American kid named Skeeter who brings chaos, death, and (interestingly) philosophy into Harry’s home. Skeeter is gone by the end of the second book and presumably dead by the third.
And yet in the third and fourth books, Skeeter makes a reappearance in Harry’s mind and in Mt. Judge spray paint.
Rabbit Redux was one of the most difficult books for me to read–there’s so much sex, violence, betrayal, abusive language, and racism. I felt overwhelmed through every page of it, wanting to put it down, but caring too much about Harry to stop reading.
I’ve been curious about who this character Skeeter is for Updike, if he comes resurrected in the latter two of his Rabbit novels. Can Skeeter dare be a Christ figure–after all the death he brought to the Angstroms?
One of my instructors, Dan, last year talked about literary Christ figures as being an impossible label. He said, “There are no such things as Christ figures because when you have characters, whether it be in fiction or life, we are not Christ and yet we reveal–we reveal death and harm and we reveal goodness and beauty.”
At first this really bothered me, because he didn’t seem to understand the idea of a literary Christ figure, a person who is not Christ but is doing something Christ-like. But then I found myself agreeing to a point, as I thought about Skeeter, the most unlikely of Christ figures–a character I never saw as loving, compassionate, selfless, or sacrificial like Christ or like a traditional Christ figure.
But what if Updike intended Skeeter to be a savior of his stories, somehow. Maybe there’s something we can learn about his resurrection, even though he caused so much pain for Harry and his son.
Skeeter as a character plays into Harry’s racism; Skeeter plays into my own racism. As I read the book, I felt guilty for hating this character, because of the stereotype he was living out–the violent, drug-dealing black man. But as I’ve been learning from theologian James Cone (see my last post), maybe I need to see Christ as a black man. Maybe I need to see Christ as a minority, as part of a misunderstood and prejudged social class.
If my Christ were black or poor or a part of another marginalized group, how might my understanding of the Triduum change? Would I see Christ’s death like a lynching? Would I see the resurrection as hope for the poor and outcast? What would I do with Holy Saturday? I have a feeling seeing Christ in this way would change everything; it would change how I live beyond Easter too. (At least, I hope it would.)
The loveliest lynchee was our Lord.