What is the difference and the similarity between Squeaky and Gretchen?
In Toni Bambara's "Raymond's Run," Hazel Elizabeth Deborah Parker (Squeaky) and Gretchen are competitors who live in the same neighborhood. They start their relationship as rivals but later begin a friendship.
Gretchen is the "new girl" in the neighborhood who has generated a rumor that she is going to win the first-place medal in the May Day race. This rumor stirs the competitive Squeaky to strive even harder to be able to beat her. Another motivator for Squeaky to want to defeat Gretchen is the fact that Mary Louise, a girl that Squeaky defended from beatings by others in Harlem when she first moved from Baltimore, has now decided to befriend Gretchen, and "talks about me [Squeaky] like a dog." Consequently, Squeaky thinks of Gretchen as a foe.
Despite the defection of her friends and Gretchen's confidence in winning the upcoming race, when they meet on Broadway, Squeaky causes Gretchen to back down. When Rosie makes derogatory remarks about Raymond and Gretchen puts her hands on her hips and is "about to say something," she hesitates and then says nothing. Previously, however, Gretchen has confidently issued "a smile, but not a smile" as a challenge to Squeaky.
When Squeaky arrives at the park on May Day, she immediately looks around for Gretchen. As the race is about to begin, Squeaky sees Gretchen at the starting line, stretching and kicking her legs out in the manner of a professional runner. Undeterred by such a display of confidence similar to her own, Squeaky, nevertheless, runs past Gretchen who has her chin jutted out "as if it would win the race all by itself." The finish is close between Squeaky and Gretchen, but after the times are verified, Squeaky emerges as the winner. Afterward, Squeaky sees Gretchen who has also overshot the finish line in her supreme effort to win. As Gretchen walks back with her hands on her hips "like a real pro," Squeaky acquires respect for Gretchen because she realizes that she and Gretchen are not that different: "...she's good, no doubt about it." Gretchen nods to congratulate Squeaky and she gives the winner "as real a smile as girls can do for each other." Seeing this genuine smile, Squeaky realizes that Gretchen has good qualities. In her newly acquired admiration for the girl, Squeaky then wonders if Gretchen would like to help her coach Raymond who has run outside the fence alongside Squeaky and demonstrated that he, too, can run fast.
Both Squeaky and Gretchen are similar in the sense that both are competitive girls who are focused on winning the race.
In the beginning, both are wary of each other. Squeaky dislikes Gretchen because a former friend has now taken up with the new girl. Mary Louise used to be Squeaky's friend, but she's now taken to gossiping about Squeaky behind her back. From the text, we can see that none of what Mary Louise says to Gretchen about Squeaky is complimentary. Gretchen's other side-kick isn't much better: Rosie is loud and often insensitive in her remarks about Raymond, Squeaky's mentally-handicapped brother.
However, one thing different between Gretchen and Squeaky is the way both girls relate to Raymond. Squeaky, being Raymond's sister, is very aware of her brother's presence in the background, whether before, during, or after the race. Even when she wins, Squeaky's thoughts center on Raymond; she thinks about coaching him and helping him to win medals. After all, she's won more than her fair share, but Raymond has none to his name. To Gretchen, however, Raymond is just another girl's brother. He doesn't figure much into her thoughts. The only thing she knows about Raymond is that Squeaky is extremely protective of him; she understands that Squeaky will never tolerate her treating Raymond badly (intentionally or unintentionally), so she keeps her distance from the boy.
So, Squeaky and Gretchen are similar in the way they approach winning but dissimilar in the way they relate to Raymond.