Toni Cade Bambara plunges the readers into two days of Hazel Parker’s life in “Raymond’s Run.” The story is an upbeat portrayal of Harlem where the author herself lived.
The setting of the story is Harlem in the 1970s. The narration is first person with the protagonist “Squeaky” Hazel Parker the narrator. The quality of Bambara’s writing that enthralls the writer comes from the idiomatic language used by the characters.
The story introduces the narrator Squeaky as a young black girl with attitude. As she walks down the street in Harlem with her mentally challenged brother Raymond, the reader learns that Squeaky’s main responsibility is to take care of the brother. She guards him continually from going into the street and jumping into the gutters. While she walks, Squeaky prepares for the May Day Race that she has won for several years. In the neighborhood, she is known as “the fastest thing on two feet."
The narrator and her brother come upon her rival Gretchen and Squeaky’s former friends. Gretchen, new to the neighborhood, potentially could beat Squeaky. One of the ex-friends begins to tease Raymond; sharp-witted Hazel quickly retaliates and avoids a confrontation with the girls.
Intensifying the action
The next day is the race. Mr. Pearson, one of the teachers, knows Squeaky. He starts to write down her entry form with the name Squeaky. Hazel insists that he write down her full name instead: Hazel Elizabeth Deborah Parker. She does not appreciate his teasing when he implies that she ought to let someone else win this year.
Squeaky places her brother in a swing while she runs the race. She thinks to herself that next year Raymond would not fit into the swings.
I put Raymond in the little swings, which is a tight squeeze this year and will be impossible next year. Then I look around for Mr. Pearson, who pins the numbers on. I ‘m really looking for Gretchen...
Racing envelops Squeaky. The race begins, and the race is over before she knows it. Her body took her past the finish line. Gretchen ran hard as well. Neither girl is sure who won the race.
The announcer comes over the speaker and says that Hazel Parker won, with Gretchen coming in second.
Raymond gets Squeaky attention by rattling on the fence like a gorilla in a cage who wants out. She observes him and wonders how good a runner that Raymond would be since he is able to keep up with her when she races. She can always retire from running and coach Raymond.
Gretchen and Hazel see each other after the race. This time they exchange real smiles. Typically, Squeaky ends with the idea that maybe instead of practicing being flowers at the May Pole, they should do something like learn how to be respectful people.
The kids in the neighborhood also call Squeaky the name “Mercury.” This is an allusion to the Roman god of speed.
“I’ll high-prance down 34th Street like a rodeo pony.” In one of Squeaky’s visions, she sees herself marching down the street as though she is fancy pony that someone would ride in the parade.
A theme found in the story concerns the treatment of the mentally challenged. Children do tease Raymond. Squeaky’s approach is to try to threaten them back or attack them. Obviously, parental intervention would help both Squeaky and the kids who tease Raymond.