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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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