Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 526

“Raymond’s Run” first appeared in 1971 in Tales and Stories for Black Folks, and was published in Redbook in June, 1971. In her works, Toni Cade Bambara seeks to portray the positive side of African American family life and the strengths of the African American community. In discussing her work, Bambara has said, “I work to tell the truth about people’s lives; I work to celebrate struggle, to applaud the tradition of struggle in our community, to bring to center stage all those characters, just ordinary folks on the block . . . characters we thought we had to ignore because they weren’t pimp-flashy or hustler-slick or because they didn’t fit easily into previously acceptable modes or stock types.”

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In “Raymond’s Run,” Bambara portrays a child’s world with sensitivity and understanding. Squeaky engages the reader’s interest because she allows the reader to see this world through her eyes. She is spunky and outspoken, tough, sassy, and bright, with a big reputation, but she is also a responsible and caring person. Other children in the story serve to further define Squeaky’s character. She is a hard worker and not ashamed of it. In contrast, her classmate Cynthia does not want anyone to know how hard she works. Cynthia practices the piano at home, but at school acts surprised that she is able to play Chopin waltzes. On the other hand, Gretchen, like Squeaky, is an honest competitor, who takes running seriously.

The story is set in the streets and parks of Harlem, the area in which Bambara herself grew up. Bambara places the action on specific streets as her characters race down Amsterdam Avenue, stroll down Broadway, and prance down 34th Street. Squeaky knows that she must be on guard, and survives in the neighborhood because she is always ready to protect herself and Raymond. This is a place where people may take Raymond’s allowance or ask where he got “that great big pumpkin head.” Squeaky does not go in for chitchat; she says she would rather “just knock you down right from the jump and save everybody a lot of precious time.”

Another characteristic of Bambara’s fiction is her portrayal of different generations interacting within a neighborhood. Squeaky’s neighborhood is peopled with characters of all ages. Old people sit in the sun “getting upset with the pigeons fluttering around them, scattering their newspapers and upsetting the wax-paper lunches in their laps.” Parents come to the park wearing corsages and breast-pocket handkerchiefs. Young men with baseball caps on backwards lean against the fence twirling basketballs on their fingertips.

Bambara’s characters typically are decent people who care about each other and respect other people for their unique contributions. Squeaky accepts Raymond for what he is, cares for him, and enjoys his company. For example, when she studies for her spelling test, she asks Raymond to quiz her even though it slows her down. She realizes that this builds his confidence, and believes that helping each other is important. Later in the story, she looks beyond his mental limitations to see his potential as a runner and vows to help him succeed.

Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 586

Identity
From the beginning, Hazel strongly voices her identity as an athlete—‘‘Miss Quicksilver herself’’— and establishes her outspoken assertiveness: ‘‘no one can beat me and that’s all there is to it.’’ At the same time, the story shows that Hazel’s identity has been and continues to be hard won. To become a good runner, she has had to persevere with her practicing, sometimes carving time for herself out of the hours she spends looking after her mentally challenged brother, Raymond. Caring for her brother is no easy task either, and in some ways sets her apart from others. Her confrontation with Gretchen’s ‘‘sidekicks’’ demonstrates her loyalty to her brother and her readiness to challenge those who would tease or belittle him. Although she scorns girls who dress up in white organdy for the May Pole dancing, it is also true that Hazel ‘‘can’t afford to buy shoes and a new dress you wear only once in a lifetime.’’

Nevertheless, Hazel’s belief in herself and her refusal to accept less than the respect she deserves is reflected throughout the story: in her willingness to strive to become an athlete despite the risk of failure or ridicule—‘‘I’m serious about my running and I don’t care who knows it’’; in her refusal to let anyone ‘‘get smart’’ with Raymond; in her insistence that Mr. Pearson address her by her full name instead of the nickname ‘‘Squeaky’’; and, ultimately, in her success. The story suggests that a selfrespecting identity, like the ability to run, involves persistence and dedication.

Growth and Development
While the story dramatizes the importance of identity, it also reflects on a particular moment of growth and change for both Hazel and Raymond. As the title suggests, not only Hazel’s but Raymond’s run has implications for both characters. The title points not only to Raymond’s own potential as an athlete, but also to Hazel’s intuitive recognition of his possibilities, a recognition that redefines her. Up until that moment, which occurs, interestingly, while Hazel is in the process of fulfilling a goal, Hazel has led a somewhat lonely existence, despite her vivacious style and tone. Her closeness to her family is evident, both in her father’s support for her running and in her mention of her mother, brother and grandfather.

Nevertheless, Raymond has been a burden as well as a companion, and a girl like Gretchen, with whom she shares a passion for running, is a rival rather than a friend. The distance Hazel feels between them is marked by their inability to smile sincerely at each other. According to Hazel, girls ‘‘never really smile at each other because they don’t know how . . . and there’s probably no one to teach us how.’’ When Hazel, in that meditative state that running induces in her, looks over and sees Raymond running parallel to her, she is suddenly able to see him afresh, not just copying or following her, but ‘‘running in his very own style.’’ Through him, her difficult and somewhat lonely struggle to define herself suddenly widens to include a connection that empowers them both. The realization of Raymond’s potential, something that has always been there, enriches Hazel’s sense of her own possibilities. What Raymond has taught her is marked by her new response to Gretchen: ‘‘And I look over at Gretchen. . . . And I smile. Cause she’s good, no doubt about it. Maybe she’d like to help me coach Raymond.’’

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