Before Squeaky participates in the fifty-yard dash at the annual May Day races, she is primarily focused on her running career. Squeaky spends the majority of her day training to maintain her speed and reputation as the fastest kid in the neighborhood. Squeaky's main goal in life is to defeat her new rival, Gretchen, and win first place. Although Squeaky is primarily concerned about her running career, she must look after her mentally disabled brother with special needs.
Squeaky travels everywhere with her brother Raymond, makes sure that he stays out of trouble, and defends him from ignorant, cruel people, like Mary Louis and Rosie. Although Squeaky loves Raymond, she views him as a burden and sometimes an afterthought. The reader can sense that Squeaky feels like her life would be significantly easier if she did not have to constantly look after Raymond.
During the big race, Squeaky becomes aware of Raymond while she is running and recognizes that he could make a good athlete. Squeaky comments,
And it occurs to me, watching how smoothly he climbs hand over hand and remembering how he looked running with his arms down to his side and with the wind pulling his mouth back and his teeth showing and all, it occurred to me that Raymond would make a very fine runner.
By the end of the race, Squeaky is no longer concerned about her running career but is instead focused on becoming Raymond's coach. Squeaky thinks outside herself and embraces the idea of helping Raymond achieve his own goals. She also entertains the idea of asking Gretchen to help her train Raymond and no longer views her as a competitor. Squeaky's perception of Raymond has transformed, and she is willing to put his needs and goals ahead of her own. This is a story about selflessness, altruism, and sacrifice. Following the May Day race, Squeaky is all about helping Raymond achieve his goals and experience success.
In the beginning of the story, Squeaky, the narrator of Toni Cade Bambara's short story "Raymond's Run," states that all she has to do in life is mind her brother Raymond. She does not have a lot of chores, like other girls. She does not have to hustle like her other brother, George. Anything else that has to get done, Squeaky says, her father does. Squeaky's brother Raymond is mentally challenged, and the job of taking care of him often interferes with Squeaky's passion—running.
"And as anybody can tell you, tell you, I’m the fastest thing on two feet. There is no track meet that I don’t win the first-place medal. I used to win the twenty-yard dash when I was a little kid in kindergarten. Nowadays, it’s the fifty yard dash. And tomorrow I’m subject to run the quarter-meter relay all by myself and come in first, second, and third. The big kids call me Mercury cause I’m the swiftest thing in the neighborhood."
During the race, Squeaky sees something that changes her perspective on what is important. She is completely focused on the race, mentally and physically. She is keeping an eye on her biggest competition, Gretchen, when she sees her brother on the other side of the fence doing something she'd never seen him do before:
"To the right, a blurred Gretchen, who’s got her chin jutting out as if it would win the race all by itself. And on the other side of the fence is Raymond with his arms down to his side and the palms tucked up behind him, running in his very own style, and it’s the first time I ever saw that and I almost stop to watch my brother Raymond on his first run. But the white ribbon is bouncing toward me and I tear past it, racing into the distance till my feet with a mind of their own start digging up footfuls of dirt and brake me short. Then all the kids standing on the side pile on me, banging me on the back and slapping my head with their May Day programs, for I have won again and everybody on 151st Street can walk tall for another year."
Though Squeaky believes she has won, the race is actually so close that it takes the officials a few minutes to declare the winner. While waiting, Squeaky sees Raymond climb the fence to get to her and notices, seemingly for the first time, what great athletic prowess Raymond has. An idea forms in Squeaky's mind—she will train Raymond and make him her champion. She has found a new purpose in life and it does not even matter to her if she lost the race. With this newfound purpose, Squeaky's world expands, and she is able to look at Gretchen (who did come in second place) with the respect due to a worthy adversary. She even wonders to herself if Gretchen might like to help her train Raymond. Squeaky has decided to give herself to develop her brother's talents, rather than seeing him as merely a burden.
At the beginning of the story, Squeaky runs for herself. It brings her pleasure and a sense of pride. You can hear this when she describes the joy of running as she narrates the story.
However, as the story continues, Squeaky spends more and more time with her brother Raymond who has special needs. Running is not the same for her because she must watch out for her brother, and this distresses her; it holds her back.
However, by the end of the story, Squeaky comes out of herself and her running surrounds the experiences of her brother Raymond and what running means to him.
This is a story that speaks to growing up, to becoming more responsible, doing that which we may not want to do, giving of ourselves for the good of others, and being gracious about it. It becomes a matter of caring for someone else rather than looking for pleasure and success for what we can accomplish on our own. It is about taking pleasure in helping someone else accomplish something important, and believing that that is the greatest reward.