This story is narrated by Squeaky, a young girl whose main responsibility in her family is taking care of Raymond, her mentally disabled older brother. She explains that many people insult Raymond, referring to him as her “little brother,” but she tries to hold herself above the taunts (23). Squeaky is the fastest runner in the neighborhood (except for her father), and runs track at her school. She is currently preparing for a quarter-meter relay at the park the next day. Though she has always won this race, she is now facing a new rival, Gretchen.
Squeaky explains that she runs everywhere, and does breathing exercises to stay in shape. Unlike her classmate Cynthia Procter, who pretends that she does not study, Squeaky does not mind if people know how hard she works to be successful.
Squeaky is walking down the street with Raymond when she bumps into Gretchen and Gretchen's entourage, Mary Louise and Rosie. They tease her about Raymond and about the relay race the next day, but they leave once Squeaky threatens to beat them up.
The next day, Squeaky arrives at the May Day celebration, where the race will be held. Her mother wants her to dress up and dance around the May Pole like the other girls, but Squeaky thinks that such activities are a silly waste of money. The teacher who organizes the race, Mr. Pearson, encourages Squeaky to throw the race in Gretchen’s favor because Squeaky has already won several years in a row. She ignores his suggestion and runs as fast as she can, with Raymond running along with her on the other side of the fence. Though Squeaky believes she wins the race, the judges have to confer before announcing a winner.
While the judges confer, Raymond climbs over the fence to be with his sister. As she watches him, she thinks to herself that from now on, she will focus on coaching Raymond, since “I’ve got a roomful of ribbons and medals and awards. But what has Raymond got to call his own?” (32). She also decides she will focus more on school, and less on running. When the judges announce that Squeaky has won, Gretchen gives her a genuine smile and word of congratulations. Squeaky wonders if Gretchen would like to help coach Raymond, and she smiles back.
In “Raymond’s Run,” Bambara continues to develop the concept of platonic connection between people based on empathy, rather than on family relationship or a common identity. In “My Man Bovanne,” Bambara shows how a middle-aged woman befriends a blind mechanic based on nothing more than a sense of shared loneliness. This kind of relationship also develops at the end of “Raymond’s Run,” when Squeaky resolves her differences with Gretchen. Although Squeaky does not discover much in common with Gretchen, her concern for Raymond encourages her to try and find common ground with her adversary.
Although Bambara features unexpected friendships in this and other stories, she also focuses on family relationships. Some family relationships in this collection are dysfunctional – for example, there is the neglected main character of “Happy Birthday” or the narrator’s alcoholic great-grandmother in “Maggie of the Green Bottles.” However, Bambara usually depicts family as a source of strength and support for her characters. This story is no exception. Although Raymond is often an inconvenience to Squeaky because of his disability, she loves him fiercely, and learns from his simple goodness and enthusiasm for life. Her innate competitiveness is mediated by Raymond's simple joy, and one gets the sense that she could be far more antagonistic if his presence did not balance her out.
Unlike many of the other stories, this story follows a fairly conventional narrative and character arc. Over the course of the story, Squeaky changes as a result of both the plot events and her interaction with Raymond. This is appropriate to her character; because she is a young girl, it is plausible that a few mundane events over the course of a weekend could completely change her outlook on life. This might explain why Bambara tends to favor young narrators: they are suited to short stories because they can be influenced deeply by single events.
Bambara is deeply interested in feminism, and the way women relate to one another. “Raymond’s Run” is one of her most powerful explorations of these themes. In this story, Squeaky challenges traditional conceptions of femininity by refusing to wear dresses or dance around the maypole, as well as by running and doing breathing exercises in front of other people. This behavior is off-putting to her peers and to her parents, but Squeaky is stalwart in expressing her femininity in her own way. Although the narrator of “The Hammer Man” seems to believe that maturity entails wearing dresses and acting in a traditionally ‘ladylike’ manner, Squeaky in this story never submits to her mother’s ideas about how women should behave.
Although the race scene is certainly dramatic, the most important action in “Raymond’s Run” is internal. Bambara expresses the story’s themes not through the plot events, which are mundane, but rather through Squeaky’s thoughts and emotions. Like “My Man Bovanne,” this story ends with the narrator deciding upon a future course of action, rather than upon her actually performing the act. This kind of ending reappears throughout the collection. It suggests that Bambara believes that life’s most important changes are not in one’s circumstances, but in how one responds to those circumstances. The story here is not that of the race, but rather that of what the race made Squeaky realize.
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