Last Updated on January 11, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 764
Toni Cade Bambara was born in 1939 in Harlem, the district of New York City which provides the setting for “Raymond’s Run.” She was given the name Miltona at birth but decided at the age of six that she preferred to be known as Toni. As an adult, Toni Cade added the word Bambara to her surname to signify her connection to the West African Bambara people. This concern with nomenclature is reflected in “Raymond’s Run.” The narrator, Hazel Elizabeth Deborah Parker, is known to all as Squeaky, and her real name is not revealed until comparatively late in the story. The moment of revelation is significant. Squeaky is registering for the fifty-yard dash and objects to Mr. Pearson’s condescending use of her nickname. She recalls that Mr. Pearson used to be angry when the children called him “Jack and the Beanstalk” because of his long, lanky frame and decides that “he’s got no right to call me Squeaky, if I can’t call him Beanstalk.” She therefore insists that he record her full name on the list of competitors.
This insistence is characteristic of Squeaky’s assertive nature. Even though her nickname might be regarded as insulting, referring as it does to her squeaky voice, she does not object to it when it comes from other children. However, when she is dealing with an adult, who expects to be addressed respectfully as Mr. Pearson, she feels that she would be letting herself down if she did not demand similar respect for herself. Toni Cade Bambara was an activist as well as an author, strongly influenced by the Civil Rights Movement, Black nationalism, and feminism. Much of her life was spent in trying to achieve equal treatment for marginalized people. Squeaky reflects these concerns in her assertiveness and competitiveness.
Squeaky does not initially express any interest in or affection for her brother, Raymond, but she is always prepared to defend him as a matter of family honor. She is a small Black girl from a poor family, and her life is a constant struggle not to appear weak or helpless. When she sees Gretchen and her sidekicks approaching on Broadway, her first instinct is to duck into a candy store to avoid them. However, she decides to confront her adversaries because she has “a reputation to consider.” She continues pugnaciously:
I’m ready to fight, cause like I said I don’t feature a whole lot of chit-chat, I much prefer to just knock you down right from the jump and save everybody a lotta precious time.
As Squeaky notes, she has said this already. Despite her ability as a runner, aggression is her preferred response to danger, because she has always had to appear tough in the midst of a challenging environment. Along with this assertive attitude, Squeaky consistently displays a steely determination to win. She is continually practicing and is scornful of those who, like Cynthia Procter, make an elaborate pretense of indifference to success. When she starts a race, she tells herself: “Squeaky you must win, you must win, you are the fastest thing in the world.”
However, Squeaky has another side to her nature, which she has learned to suppress but which finally comes to the fore at the end of “Raymond’s Run.” This aspect of her personality is hinted at earlier in the story. Before the race, she lies on her back and looks at the sky, trying to pretend that she is in the country. However, this is impossible “because even grass in the city feels hard as sidewalk.” This yearning for a place where everything is not so hard also emerges in Squeaky’s dreams of “flying over a sandy beach in the early morning sun, kissing the leaves of the trees as I fly by.”
The story concludes and reaches its dramatic climax when this repressed side of Squeaky’s character takes over. In the confusion at the end of the race, she suddenly realizes that she does not care who won. Her relationship with Raymond matters more than her need to beat Gretchen, and in the light of this epiphany, her antagonism toward Gretchen disappears as well. This does not mean that Squeaky’s earlier attitude was wrong. The author herself is an activist and a fighter, who knows that life is a struggle. However, the struggle is not everything, and the end of the story offers a remarkable vision of harmony, in which competition gives way to cooperation, with resentment and animosity suddenly disappearing in a revelation of shared humanity.