Style and Technique
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.