Themes and Meanings
Racism and forms of oppression are at the center of everything in Runner Mack. When Henry arrives at Home Manufacturing, Peters, the personnel officer, gets details wrong in discussing the local professional football team, but Henry has learned that a black man dare not correct a white man. Another executive says, “They all believe in God,” one of several instances of racial stereotyping uttered by Henry’s bosses. The executives examine his teeth and, in a restroom, stare at his penis, making Henry feel as if he is a slave.
Henry recalls a central event of his Mississippi childhood: A neighboring white family wants to buy his younger brother’s dog, and when his father refuses, the whites kill it. John Adams sees this incident as yet another example of why African Americans must give in to whites if they are to survive, an attitude the adult Henry understands but rejects.
Racism is only part of the pervasive sense of oppression that retards the development of any individuality in Runner Mack. When Henry goes to the restroom during his Home Manufacturing interview, the executives chase after him, shouting, “Don’t try to run away, you can’t escape!” Privacy is impossible in a world controlled by a paranoid corporate mentality.
This oppression is best illustrated by the invasion of Henry and Beatrice’s apartment. Such inexplicable violence can occur to anyone at anytime or anywhere. Worrying about Beatrice later, Henry thinks that her sudden disappearance would “seem almost naturally unnatural.” In Henry’s world, psychological unease and racial/social pressure are inescapable. One of the most ironic moments in this heavily ironic novel comes when Henry defends his being drafted to Beatrice: “I have to fight for my country—it’s our country. . . . How do you expect me to play ball for a team if they know I didn’t want to keep this country safe?” The country has hardly been a safe place for him and his family.
Three major agents...
(The entire section is 825 words.)