"Raymond's Run" by Toni Cade Bambara: Summary, Analysis, Themes, & Commentary
Raymond's Run is narrated in the first-person present by Hazel. It's set in Harlem, New York, a "concrete jungle" as her grandfather calls it.
The numbers below indicate the paragraph in the story where the quotation appears or where the reference is from.
Hazel, ten-years-old, is out walking with her older brother Raymond, who is “not quite right”. She practices her breathing exercises while keeping Raymond out of trouble.
She runs into Gretchen, her rival in the upcoming May Day race. Hazel makes it clear that she will win the race, as she always does.
She goes to the May Day track meet, setting up Raymond on a swing before preparing for the race. Mr. Pearson starts to suggest she might let someone else win this year but doesn't finish due to the look Hazel gives him. The shorter events are completed first, then Hazel's event, the fifty-yard dash, is announced. While lined up to start, she imagines she's running through a field in the country.
The starting shot is fired. She takes off, seeing no one on her left and Gretchen on her right. On the other side of the fence, she sees Raymond running along with them.
She finishes, waiting for the loudspeaker to announce the winner. She thinks about how Raymond would make a fine runner. Maybe she will train him, and focus her efforts on something else.
Hazel wins the race. She and Gretchen acknowledge each other and smile.
Hazel: Ten-year-old girl. Nicknamed “Squeaky”. Full name Hazel Elizabeth Deborah Parker.
Raymond: Hazel's older but mentally younger brother.
Gretchen: A new girl in the neighborhood, and a fast runner.
Theme: Identity / Being Yourself
Hazel has a strong sense of who she is: her brother's protector and a runner.
Hazel stands up for herself and brother. She doesn't “believe in standing around with somebody in my face doing a lot of talking. I much rather just knock you down and take my chances.” (2) She takes her role as Raymond's caretaker seriously. When one of Gretchen's friends asks Raymond a question, Hazel cuts in with “You got anything to say to my brother, you say it to me.” (11)
Hazel knows that athletics isn't a very girly thing to be into, but she is fine with that. Referring to the May Pole dancing, she says her mother “thinks it's a shame I don't take part and act like a girl for a change.” (14) But Hazel knows who she is, “a poor black girl who really can't afford to buy shoes and a new dress you only wear once a lifetime.” (14) She's not worried about trying to be something she's not.
Above all else, Hazel identifies as a runner, the fastest runner in the neighborhood. She reiterates this many times: “I'm the fastest thing on two feet.” (2) “The big kids call me Mercury cause I'm the swiftest thing in the neighborhood.” (3) “I'm serious about my running, and I don't care who knows it.” (4) “I am Miss Quicksilver herself.” (13) “I run. That is what I am all about.” (15) Hazel knows that running is for her, and doesn't care what anyone else thinks about it.
Theme: Importance of Work
Hazel tells us immediately that everyone in her family (except Raymond) has work to do. Her mother handles the housework, her brother George runs errands and sells Christmas cards, her father does whatever needs doing, and she looks after Raymond. (1)
Hazel doesn't rely on talent alone. She works hard and consistently at her running. The action opens with her strolling down the street practicing her breathing exercises. (4)
Hazel doesn't view practice as something shameful or something that detracts from her accomplishments. She criticizes a classmate who pretends not to practice for the spelling bee and music class. (5) In contrast, Hazel says she can be seen “any time of day practicing running. I never walk if I can trot”, and “I'll high-prance down 34th street like a rodeo pony to keep my knees strong.” (5)
1. Hazel is the protagonist and she is known as a runner, so why is the story called "Raymond's Run"?
Raymond's run at the May Day race is a turning point for Hazel. After seeing her brother run, she becomes less focused on herself. She realizes she has “a big rep as the baddest thing around. And I've got a room full of ribbons and medals and awards. But what has Raymond got to call his own?” (24)
This realization doesn't mean Hazel is losing herself. She immediately thinks about other things she could do instead of running—becoming the best speller or piano player. She is simply expanding her focus to include others.
Hazel's relationship with Raymond changes considerably after his run. Before, it was her duty and responsibility to look out for Raymond. Now she sees him as a peer, an athlete in his own right, thinking “Raymond would make a very fine runner.” (24) (See also next question.)
2. What is the significance of Hazel's pre-race daydream? (23)
This vision is an escape to a simpler time when she was free. She wasn't responsible for Raymond, and didn't have any pressure to win a race. She imagines she is running and flying on the beach and in the country like when she was younger. The start of the race brings her back to reality, with all its pressure to succeed and to care for Raymond.
While she accepts her duty to look after Raymond, it is still work and a cause for some stress. After the race, Raymond is no longer just someone who has to be kept out of trouble. Now she wants him to succeed, and sees him as an individual with his own talent. She doesn't feel like she has to race anymore, and she sees Raymond differently. She has now outgrown the need for the escape of this daydream.
3. What change occurs in Hazel's relationship with Gretchen?
At first Gretchen is only a rival. The interaction between the two is false: “Gretchen smiles, but it's not a smile, and I'm thinking that girls never really smile at each other because they don't know how and don't want to know how.” (9)
A change occurs before the race when Hazel sees Gretchen “standing at the starting line, kicking her legs out like a pro.” (22) Gretchen is now a worthy competitor.
After the race Hazel acknowledges that Gretchen is good, and even wonders if she'd help coach Raymond. They look at each other and smile—for real this time. Now they respect each other. (25)
Raymond's Run appears in Bambara's collections Tales and Stories for Black Folks and Gorilla, My Love.
Questions & Answers
What is the point of view of Raymond's Run?
This story is written in the first-person point of view in the present tense.Helpful 48