What is Chapter 1 of The Runner about?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Chapter 1 of Cynthia Voights's The Runner acts as the exposition to the novel: the protagonist, seventeen-year-old Samuel "Bullet" Tillerman, who lives in Crisfield, located on the Eastern Shore of Maryland is introduced to the reader. Bullet is a cross-country runner who seeks independence from his overbearing father who has already run off Johnny and Liza, Bullet's siblings. 

The narrative begins with Bullet rushing from the house after his father has ordered him to get his mid-neck length hair cut. He runs to the shore where the old dog of Liza tries to join him; however, Bullet repels her by yelling at her while hurling oyster shells. Then, as he runs in practice for a cross-country race, he thinks of his sister, whose dog represents her "overdose...of stupid softheartedness." After first having run along the shoreline, Bullet cuts inland to more rugged ground since cross-country races take runners through much difficult terrain and he needs to practice his running on many surfaces. Bullet reflects that a cross-country runner "had to be fast....have endurance and quick reflexes, and be smart." When he again reaches the beach, Bullet sprints as the final part of a cross-country race is a final strip of smooth terrain. Hot, tired, and sweaty, Bullet glances at the sun that "hung red, just above the watery horizon as if it were subdued down into the water" and decides to go swimming with his clothes on.

Again as he swims, Bullet is preoccupied with thoughts of his domineering father, who he feels loves to give orders.

The old man was a nothing, nothing but right answers and holding on to his precious farm

that really belongs to his wife's family and now to her because her sister left to marry a wealthy man. But, the father has claimed it, along with his claim to an understanding of history, science, mechanics, farming, and hunting. Vowing not to let anyone such as his father get "close to boxing him in," Bullet trains to be "really good" so he can leave home. He reflects that nobody really knows now what he is like--except maybe Patrice, for whom he works on the dock so that he can save money for things he wants. Patrice "didn't mind him for what he was."

As the first chapter draws to an end, Bullet returns to thoughts of his mother, who can "still read him" just as he can read her, too. 

But they ever talked about that, not in any way. Because it didn't make any difference.

Read the study guide:
The Runner

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