Several important themes run through Toni Cade Bambara’s gripping Raymond’s Run. The most important theme is the significance of familial relationship in life. Here it's about the selfless and intimate bonding between a brother and a sister.
The story presents a moving tale of deep love and understanding between two siblings, Hazel Elizabeth Deborah Parker and her brother Raymond Parker. While Hazel is unusually passionate about running, Raymond is a mildly abnormal as “he’s not quite right.”
We see how the little girl is so deeply attached to his brother who is slightly mentally retarded. She never leaves him alone lest anybody may cause him trouble.
She plays the role of mother, bodyguard, friend and sister towards him. Towards the end she is all set to assume another role for herself - that of a coach to Raymond.
She knows how great it feels to top a race. She’s never tasted defeat in racing.
“And I’ve got a roomful of ribbons and medals and awards. But what has Raymond got to call his own?”
In these lines we share a sister’s discomfort seeing his brother devoid of any such achievement. She feels sorry for her brother who has almost go no identity as an individual; no accomplishment in his name. She wants to make him feel special about himself.
Today when she is jumping up and down, everybody thinks she’s glad to win the race once again. But actually they are wrong; she is jumping because she’s discovered in Raymond the potential to be “a great runner in the family tradition.”
Moreover, though Raymond is unable to articulate his feelings for his sister, we know he loves her very much. To celebrate her victory, he climbs up the fences easily and quickly and then jumps off and comes running to congratulate her.
What we witness here is the indescribable bond of selfless love between two siblings that finds joy only in the happiness of one another. This, perhaps, is the most important and predominant theme in the story.
Second, the story is about the gradual development of the central character Hazel. Since the start of the story, we admire her for whatever she is. She is a very loving and caring sister. She is determined, fearless and bold, clear-headed and devoted and perseverant school going girl.
The development that we notice in her is that at first she remains rather aloof from others except Raymond. She doesn’t seem to be in good terms with her friends. Besides, to her Raymond has always been a sort of responsibility to look after; of course she loves him a lot.
Towards the end, she has developed further with more admirable qualities. She has grown fuller and more matured. Instead of just thinking about winning races herself, she wants to coach his brother, Raymond, as a successful runner. Moments ago she has discovered that Raymond is not merely an abnormal boy but one with enough potential to be groomed to be a great runner.
Besides, her rivalry with Gretchen seems to have transformed into a relationship of friendship and respect. She seems to have become more accommodative and more matured.
Another important theme is that true sportsmanship teaches one to respect one another. It is bereft of feelings of ill-will or malice. Nobody can doubt Hazel’s dedication for running. She’s either running or doing something to help her run better and faster.
In Gretchen, Hazel finds her true competitor but she is never jealous of her. At the end when her name is announced as the winner, Hazel and Gretchen exchange smiles out of respect for one another. Gretchen too has got true sportsman spirit.