Hazel Parker's Attempt to Deny ‘‘false roles of femininity''
In her preface to the anthology in which ‘‘Raymond’s Run’’ first appeared, Tales and Stories for Black Folks, Bambara notes that her stories are intended to present black young people with an opportunity ‘‘to learn how to listen, to be proud of our oral tradition, our elders who tell tales in the kitchen.’’ Bambara suggests that both the form and the content of the stories, their language and their potential lessons, have something to reveal about the strengths of the African-American community. ‘‘Raymond’s Run,’’ and other stories published in Bambara’s first collection Gorilla, My Love, have been admired for the construction of vibrant African- American voices and communities. Young Hazel Parker, in ‘‘Raymond’s Run,’’ self-confidently addresses the reader in her own particular colloquial voice. Her voice reflects her character. Moving through her community of Harlem, New York City, she appears, as Alice Deck has observed about many of Bambara’s characters, ‘‘comfortably familiar with the people and each building, street lamp, and fire hydrant. . . .’’ In the course of the story, however, Hazel is faced with a source of discomfort. Interestingly, it turns out to be someone who is most like herself: a young, confident African- American girl.
From the beginning of ‘‘Raymond’s Run,’’ Hazel’s voice and behavior reflect her strength. At the same time, her first words comment on her role as a female. Direct and outspoken, she tells the reader about herself: ‘‘I don’t have much work to do around the house like some girls. My mother does that.’’ She informs the reader of her responsibility for ‘‘mind[ing]’’ Raymond, her mentally-challenged brother who is ‘‘much bigger and older’’ but ‘‘not quite right.’’ In defining herself this way, Hazel suggests that although she does not help her mother with the housework, she has taken on a caretaking role often associated with women. This idea is immediately negated by her declaration that ‘‘if anybody has anything to say to Raymond, anything about his big head, they have to come by me.’’ She asserts that, though small and thin, she would rather act against taunts from others than ‘‘[stand] around with somebody in my face doing a lot of talking. I much rather just knock you down and take my chances even if I am a little girl with skinny arms and legs.’’ Although she is nicknamed ‘‘Squeaky,’’ Hazel is no mouse. Rather than seeing her job of looking after Raymond as a self-sacrificing female role, Hazel undertakes it with responsibility and pride. Furthermore, she enters traditional male territory by adopting the role of warrior in defense of Raymond, and she implies that she does it better than her brother George who previously had the job of ‘‘minding’’ Raymond and had been unable to prevent the insults of ‘‘a lot of smart mouths.‘‘
Hazel also claims space in the traditional male territory of athlete with her dedication to running. As she simply states, ‘‘I run. That is what I’m all about.’’ To become the champion runner she is, Hazel has taken every opportunity to practice. When she is out with her mother, she ‘‘high-prance[s] down 34th Street like a rodeo pony to keep my knees strong,’’ despite her mother’s embarrassment. While looking after Raymond, she practices her breathing and pacing while he plays his own games of being a stagecoach driver. ‘‘I never walk when I can trot, and shame on Raymond if he can’t keep up,’’ she states. Feminine modesty is not characteristic of Hazel. She is proud of what she has accomplished and proclaims her skill to herself and to anyone else: ‘‘I’m the fastest thing on two feet,’’ ‘‘I’m the swiftest thing in the neighborhood,’’ ‘‘I am Miss Quicksilver herself.’’
In practicing as an athlete, Hazel differentiates her attitudes and behaviour from what she sees as two models of...
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