Throughout the book, Rabbit looks for the answer to this question although he does not consciously think of it in religious terms. He is on a quest for meaning, and his story is in some ways the oldest story in the world: people have been telling tales of quests for thousands of years.
Dean Doner wrote in John Updike: A Collection of Critical Essays that the novel is successful because Rabbit is symbolic of us all, and his search for meaning and purpose in his life reflects a uniquely twentieth-century view of this search. The things Rabbit flees from are the things that oppress many people in modern society: Doner summed them up as
an economy which traps a man into mean, petty, lying hucksterism; tenement-apartment housing which traps a man and his family into close, airless, nerve-shattering 'togetherness '; unimaginative, dirty cities which offer no release for the spirit; the ugly voices of advertising and television.
The book is also different from many older quest stories because, traditionally, the person on a quest is a purer soul than Rabbit is. Rabbit has a rudimentary awareness of sin—he thinks of smoking, gambling, and drinking as sins, in a Sunday-school sort of way—but does not connect the facts that he 's cheating on his wife and abandoning his child with the notion of sin. In his mind, his own search for self overrides the concept of sin: if he is truly being himself, everything 's okay, and he even says, "If you have the guts to be yourself, other people