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In "Raymond's Run" by Toni Cade Bambara, and "A Small, Good Thing" by Raymond Carver, the themes may reflect some similarities, though the stories are very different.
In "Raymond's Run," Raymond has mental limitations, and his sister Squeaky (actually Hazel) spends a great deal of time running to get ready for a race—but also must watch out for her brother who cannot be left alone. Squeaky is concerned with beating Gretchen—her one real source of competition. However, as Squeaky runs and wins the race, she notices her brother running along side the track, and realizes that he is a better run than she is. From that moment, she promises to teach her brother to run so he can enjoy the pleasure it brings her, and she also plans that she and Gretchen will become partners in this—and that they can put away their competition for the good of Raymond.
In "A Small, Good Thing," the story opens as the mother orders a birthday cake for her son for the following Monday. However, when Monday arrives, Scotty is distracted and wanders into the street, where he is hit by a car. Although he at first seems just a little wobbly on his feet, when he is placed into the hospital, he starts to sleep and his parents worry about why he doesn't wake. The doctors are initially sure he will be fine, but when he does not improve, the parents and hospital staff begin to worry. Meantime, as each parent makes one trip home to walk the dog and get cleaned up, there is a caller on the phone, asking if they have "forgotten" their son. The first call alerts the reader that perhaps it is the baker calling about the forgotten cake—he doesn't not know about the boy's accident. The father and mother are so distraught that they can't figure out what the calls mean.
They return to the hospital, and in one last moment, Scotty awakens, looks at his parents, howls loudly, and stops breathing. The boy has died and the parents are beside themselves. They find it difficult to function or even go home. The phone call comes again about Scotty; and finally, when the parents have hung up again, the mother knows it's the baker, so they go to the bakery to face him.
At first the mother is threatening him, perhaps allowing her pain and anger to take over—she wants to punish the baker, not just for harassing them about the cake, but for their son's death (though he is in no way responsible). The emptiness of the baker's life and the loss of Scotty's parents bring them together and they begin to eat baked goods the baker has just made, and drink coffee. This small gesture unites these three people in a way where the small thing may be the baker's concern or his ability to calm their hearts with food that they need, and/or his words of camaraderie and support. Either way...
They talked on into the early morning, the high, pale cast of light in the windows, and they did not think of leaving.
Whereas the mother had felt the baker at first unfriendly, now she sees that he has his own pain, and their shared concerns allow them to connect with another who has known heartache.
In "Raymond's Run," Squeaky wants to be of help to her brother, and Gretchen and she form an unlikely alliance to help Raymond. In the second story, the baker (an unlikely friend) also sees the need of the parents and joins with them to make a difference in their lives.
This is the theme of the story: that unlikely people can find a common purpose in helping others, and find peace in doing so.
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