Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Grace Paley is known as one of the most politically committed writers in the United States, and this story was written to promote social change. The story avoids didacticism and does not exhort the reader to adhere to a specific political ideology, but it reveals Paley’s ardent feminism and her fervent concern for racial justice.

Paley’s narrator, Faith, is experiencing a midlife crisis. Her journey to her childhood neighborhood can be seen as an imaginative quest for her roots and a new sense of direction, now that she finds herself adrift in the uncharted seas of middle age. Long-distance running is a metaphor for her sense of inadequacy and her need to take action and search for a creative outlet for her vast energy and untapped talents. She has spent much of her life “lying down or standing and staring” and now feels the need to run. Divorced, with two grown sons who feel little need for a mother, Faith believes that she has reached the age in which society has little use for a woman.

By returning to her old neighborhood and living with a socially underclass African American family, Faith is tacitly expressing her solidarity with fellow victims. She hopes to transcend the barriers of race and class and affirm her liberalism, but she is only partially successful. Despite the differences in class and race, Faith and Mrs. Luddy do achieve a limited friendship for the several weeks they live together, based largely on their common...

(The entire section is 566 words.)

The Long-Distance Runner Themes

White Flight
“The Long-Distance Runner” suggests the effects of “white flight,” a term coined in 1967 to describe the...

(The entire section is 631 words.)