The Long-Distance Runner Questions and Answers
by Grace Paley

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Where is the turning point in Alan Sillitoe's short story "The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner"?

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Smith, the main character in the story, experiences sudden revelations while running. A particularly important turning point is when he decides what he should do in the race for which he has been selected by the governor of Borstal, the reform school where he has been sent after being implicated in a theft. He decides to lose although he can easily win the race. Winning could give him privileges at the reform school and a possible career at the end of his sentence. Yet, winning would be against Smith's principles. Smith decides to lose the race because he realizes that winning it would not be, ultimately, to his advantage, but to the advantage of the governor of the reform school, an oppressive institution which Smith hates. To Smith, it is the act of running, not winning, that is important because it makes him realize what are his principles and values, and his idea of honesty. These are radically different from those held by larger society. By deciding not to win the race, Smith succeeds in resisting the erasure of his identity, the aim of institutions like Borstal.

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