Critical Overview

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In her essay “Salvation Is the Issue,” Bambara says, “Of all the writing forms, I’ve always been partial to the short story. It suits my temperament. It makes a modest appeal for attention, allowing me to slip up alongside the reader on his/her blind side and grab’m.” When her first collection of stories, Gorilla, My Love, which included the story “Raymond’s Run,” was published in 1972, it succeeded in “grabbing” the critics: the stories were lauded as “among the best portraits of black life to have appeared in some time” by the Saturday Review.

Bambara has been praised for her ability to capture the cultural richness of African American communities, particularly as it is reflected in the voice of African American people. Charles Johnson has noted Bambara’s ear for language and dialogue in his study Being and Race: Black Writing since 1970 (1988). He comments that “Bambara’s strength is snappy, hip dialogue and an ever-crackling narrative style that absorbs all forms of specialized dictions.”

The close connection between Bambara’s characters and their communities has also been a recurring theme among her critics. In a 1983 article, Nancy Hargrove commented on “Raymond’s Run” as a “story of initiation,” in which Hazel Parker, “perhaps the most appealing and lovable of Bambara’s young narrators” in Gorilla, My Love, discovers “the value of human solidarity, of love for family and friends.” Martha M. Vertreace connects Hazel’s development and growth to a more specifically tribal tradition within the community, in which children pass through different stages of “identity formation.” She suggests that in “Raymond’s Run,” Hazel is at the level of “artisan,” when “solutions to problems fall within one’s personal control.” By learning to trust and cooperate, Hazel and Gretchen together will benefit “the community, represented by Raymond.”

Susan Willis also sees Hazel’s and Gretchen’s “mutual appreciation” as prefiguring “the crucial role that all teachers will play in Bambara’s later writing.” Moreover, their connection, Willis asserts, is important in establishing a “bonding between women” which opposes the dehumanization of women in a society dominated by males. Willis also suggests that Hazel’s recognition of Raymond’s potential should be viewed not so much as “altruism” on Hazel’s part, but as a representative of a “black community” that “would embrace all its members, allowing each to fulfill a self-sustaining and group-supporting role.”

In his article on “Raymond’s Run” (1990), Mick Gidley takes a slightly different approach by analyzing the narrative complexity of Bambara’s “exuberantly straightforward story.” He considers the different levels of Hazel’s narration that establish her own identity but also invite the reader to “question the teller’s version of things” and tell the story not only of her own but of Raymond’s life. He probes the complexity of Hazel’s relationship with Raymond, suggesting that when she sees Raymond “rattling the fence like a gorilla in a cage,” she “wants to bring him over the fence into the race of life.” In her 1996 preface to Bambara’s Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions, Toni Morrison sums up Bambara’s abilities with this comment: “Although her insights are multiple, her textures layered and her narrative trajectory implacable, nothing distracts from the sheer satisfaction her story-telling provides.”

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Essays and Criticism