The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner Themes

Alan Sillitoe

Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Themes of rebellion and isolation dominate this story. As Smith grapples with his life’s meaning and direction, he comes to understand and defend his defiance of authority.

Smith rebels to retain control over his life and to ensure that conformity will not suppress his individuality. The result of his actions is isolation—in the form of removal to Borstal. Once at Borstal, his isolation is enforced: He runs a five-mile morning course alone, while the rest of Borstal is still asleep. The physical isolation of running encourages Smith to think, which, in turn, leads to an emotional isolation that is intense and resolute.

For Smith, the concept of individuality is understood only in terms of black and white; there are no shades of gray. Ultimately, the issue is whether one can retain individuality—the key to feeling alive—while belonging to a society that imposes laws and restrictions.

Smith views society according to definitions of social class, simply the haves and the have-nots. Only if one lives by the limitations of his class is one living honestly. Smith recognizes that his meaning of the word “honest” differs from the Borstal governor’s, but he resents the authority’s efforts to deny him his own perceptions.

Perhaps Smith’s most significant discovery is this interpretation of an “honest life.” It is running the race, not winning it, that is important, because running causes him to think, to...

(The entire section is 496 words.)