What's the theme of “Raymond's Run”?

One could argue that the main theme of “Raymond's Run” is that appearances can be deceptive. On the face of it, it doesn't seem that Raymond has what it takes to be a runner like his sister. But during the big race, Raymond shows his potential on the other side of the fence from the running track.

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I would argue that the themes of this moving short story are sibling love and priorities. Hazel Elizabeth Deborah Parker, better known as Squeaky, is committed to looking after her brother Raymond, who is described as “not quite right.” Right from the outset, we learn that Squeaky is fiercely protective of her brother. She does not allow anyone to tease Raymond “about his big head.” When she and her brother go walking around town, she ensures that he doesn’t get into any trouble and makes it clear to everyone they encounter that if anyone is thinking of messing with Raymond, they are going to have to go through her.

We learn that Squeaky is a talented runner. She is to participate in the fifty-yard dash which forms part of the May Day program, and she is determined to beat her archrival, Gretchen. At the start of the race, Squeaky notices Raymond getting into position “on the other side of the fence” as though he is going to run too. In the midst of the race, she notices Raymond running “in his very own style,” and she is so taken with the sight that she states she “almost [stopped] to watch [her] brother Raymond on his first run.” Suddenly, beating Gretchen seems less important.

Here, we see Squeaky’s priorities begin to shift from her own running career to the potential she sees in her brother. While waiting to hear whether she or Gretchen had won the race, she realizes that her talents could be put to great use if she had to retire as a runner herself and dedicate her time to training Raymond as a runner. It is her love for her brother that makes her see that while she has won many races, her brother has achieved little and has nothing “to call his own.” It is Squeaky’s love for her brother that makes her want to change her priorities and his fortunes.

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Though Raymond accompanies his sister Squeaky on her regular runs around the neighborhood, that hardly makes him a good runner. He may be able to keep up with her, but under the specific conditions of an actual race, it would almost certainly be a different matter altogether.

It comes as something of a surprise, then, to find that Raymond actually has some serious potential as a runner. We discover this on the day of the big race when Squeaky observes her brother on the other side of the fence from the track running along the sidelines.

His running style may be somewhat unorthodox, with his palms tucked up behind him, but he certainly has a lot of raw talent. So much raw talent, in fact, that Squeaky reckons she could coach him to become a successful runner like herself.

If there's one lesson to be learned from all of this, it's that you can't judge a book by its cover. No one, least of all Squeaky herself, would've taken Raymond for a talented runner. But Raymond has shown her and everyone else that appearances can so often be deceptive. All he needed was an opportunity to show what he could do.

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The universal theme of the short story “Raymond’s Run” by Toni Cade Bambara is finding your identity so that you can respect yourself and others. Hazel Elizabeth Deborah Parker, also known as Squeaky, is the protagonist in the short story. She is a young, school aged girl who bases her whole identity on her athletic prowess as the fastest runner, and one of the toughest girls in her Harlem neighborhood. She practices her running and breathing day in and day out while she tends to her disabled brother. Everywhere they go she protects her brother from the older children in the neighborhood who are cruel to him because of his disability. She sees him as Raymond, her disabled brother, not as a person. Squeaky shows her disdain for another student, Cynthia Proctor, who pretends she does not have to practice her piano lessons, study for tests or spelling bees to be successful. Squeaky’s whole existence is based on practicing her running and breathing with Raymond in tow.

The story climaxes at the annual May Day Race. Squeaky has new competition in the race from Gretchen P. Lewis who recently moved to the neighborhood. Squeaky realizes that her brother is running the race right along with her although he is on the other side of the fence because he cannot be an official race entrant. The fence is symbolic of Raymond’s situation as a person with disabilities. Raymond is as fast as she is and runs with his own style. Raymond’s run makes her realize that although she takes care of Raymond as her disabled brother, she was overlooking Raymond as a unique person. In addition, after the run and while taking in the sights at the May Day celebration she becomes introspective. She sees Gretchen as a friend, not as competition. They exchange a genuine smile, which is something that cannot be practiced. Hazel Elizabeth Deborah Parker finds her identity as a caring, compassionate person; she finally respects herself and others for their unique qualities.

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