Themes and Meanings
“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.”
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.