The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner Analysis

Alan Sillitoe

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Like its main character, the language of the story is aggressive, determined, defiant. Colloquialisms and profanities reflect the bold and contemptuous disdain that the poor have for the more advantaged. Speaking of the governor, Smith declares: “It’s dead blokes like him as have the whip-hand over blokes like me, and I’m almost dead sure it’ll always be like that, but even so, by Christ, I’d rather be like I am.”

The author employs two types of storytelling that keep the reader and protagonist linked until the story’s end. In a manner similar to stream of consciousness, Alan Sillitoe makes the reader privy to the unfolding of Smith’s deepest thoughts, ensuring compassion and sympathy with his motives. In addition, he uses straight narrative to fill in the pieces of Smith’s past and information about his family and his life in Nottingham.

The race is symbolic of internal and external life forces. Apart from representing the obvious conflict between the governor and Smith (for the governor the race will bring acclaim and recognition, although for Smith it is the means by which to strike back at authority), this contest contrasts Smith’s physical and mental energies. As he races toward the finish line, where he will prevent his own progress, his mind races toward continued self-analysis and esteem.

As he achieves self-definition, Smith embraces the loneliness of the long-distance runner with enough courage to allow another runner togo right slap-up against that bit of clothes-line stretched across the winning post. As for me, the only time I’ll hit that clothes-line will be when I’m dead and a comfortable coffin’s been got ready on the other side. Until then I’m a long-distance runner, crossing country all on my own no matter how bad it feels.

Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Although the title of The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner is drawn from the first and longest story in the collection, the nine stories are essentially independent, related only in the most general terms: by contextual references such as to Borstal Reformatory, by similar inner-city slum environments, and by thematic concerns. A majority of the stories utilize first-person narration, and not coincidentally those stories are generally the most substantial and successful in the collection. The third-person stories lack the specificity, immediacy, and naturalness, and thus the power, of the first-person narratives.

Also significant to the success of the first-person stories is that, in all but one instance, the narrator is a teenage youth grappling with the kinds of situations doubtless experienced or directly observed by author Alan Sillitoe in his own inner-city slum upbringing. These events include burglary of a business and subsequent imprisonment (“The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner”); participation in the suicide attempt of a despondent, unemployed man whose wife has left him (“On Saturday Afternoon”); observation of another young man’s attempt to survive a domineering mother and an even more demanding wife (“The Disgrace of Jim Scarfedale”); and enlistment in a ghetto gang and involvement in the gang’s territorial skirmishes with rival groups (“The Decline and Fall of Frankie Buller”). Only “The...

(The entire section is 563 words.)