Several important themes run through Toni Cade Bambara’s gripping Raymond’s Run. The most important theme is the significance of familial relationship in life. Here it's about the selfless and intimate bonding between a brother and a sister.
The story presents a moving tale of deep love and understanding between two siblings, Hazel Elizabeth Deborah Parker and her brother Raymond Parker. While Hazel is unusually passionate about running, Raymond is a mildly abnormal as “he’s not quite right.”
We see how the little girl is so deeply attached to his brother who is slightly mentally retarded. She never leaves him alone lest anybody may cause him trouble.
She plays the role of mother, bodyguard, friend and sister towards him. Towards the end she is all set to assume another role for herself - that of a coach to Raymond.
She knows how great it feels to top a race. She’s never tasted defeat in racing.
“And I’ve got a roomful of ribbons and medals and awards. But what has Raymond got to call his own?”
In these lines we share a sister’s discomfort seeing his brother devoid of any such achievement. She feels sorry for her brother who has almost go no identity as an individual; no accomplishment in his name. She wants to make him feel special about himself.
Today when she is jumping up and down, everybody thinks she’s glad to win the race once again. But actually they are wrong; she is jumping because she’s discovered in Raymond the potential to be “a great runner in the family tradition.”
Moreover, though Raymond is unable to articulate his feelings for his sister, we know he loves her very much. To celebrate her victory, he climbs up the fences easily and quickly and then jumps off and comes running to congratulate her.
What we witness here is the indescribable bond of selfless love between two siblings that finds joy only in the happiness of one another. This, perhaps, is the most important and predominant theme in the story.
Second, the story is about the gradual development of the central character Hazel. Since the start of the story, we admire her for whatever she is. She is a very loving and caring sister. She is determined, fearless and bold, clear-headed and devoted and perseverant school going girl.
The development that we notice in her is that at first she remains rather aloof from others except Raymond. She doesn’t seem to be in good terms with her friends. Besides, to her Raymond has always been a sort of responsibility to look after; of course she loves him a lot.
Towards the end, she has developed further with more admirable qualities. She has grown fuller and more matured. Instead of just thinking about winning races herself, she wants to coach his brother, Raymond, as a successful runner. Moments ago she has discovered that Raymond is not merely an abnormal boy but one with enough potential to be groomed to be a great runner.
Besides, her rivalry with Gretchen seems to have transformed into a relationship of friendship and respect. She seems to have become more accommodative and more matured.
Another important theme is that true sportsmanship teaches one to respect one another. It is bereft of feelings of ill-will or malice. Nobody can doubt Hazel’s dedication for running. She’s either running or doing something to help her run better and faster.
In Gretchen, Hazel finds her true competitor but she is never jealous of her. At the end when her name is announced as the winner, Hazel and Gretchen exchange smiles out of respect for one another. Gretchen too has got true sportsman spirit.
The first-person narrator, Hazel Elizabeth Deborah Parker, known as Squeaky, is a young girl growing up in Harlem. Squeaky prides herself on her performance on the track and her ability to care for her brother Raymond, who has a mental disability.
A little girl with skinny arms and a high-pitched voice, Squeaky is a self-confident, cocky youngster who boasts that everyone knows she is the fastest thing on two feet. Squeaky takes her running seriously; she is not afraid to practice high stepping out on the street where anyone can see her. She is also a responsible and caring child. Although Raymond is actually older, Squeaky thinks of him as her little brother because he is less bright than she is. She is proud of her ability to care for him, protecting him from the taunts and threats of other children.
The May Day celebration in the park includes a race, but the most important event is the maypole dancing. Squeaky has refused to participate because she is uncomfortable getting all dressed up in a white dress and shoes to dance. She is a practical girl who describes herself as “a poor Black girl who really can’t afford to buy shoes and a new dress you only wear once.” She is there to compete in the track meet. Secure in her identity as a runner, she explains that she uses her feet for running, not dancing.
Squeaky’s main competition is a new girl, Gretchen Lewis, whom Squeaky has tried to size up on the basis of a few brief contacts. When Gretchen smiles at Squeaky during one of their encounters, Squeaky does not think it is a real smile, because, in her opinion, girls never really smile at each other. As Squeaky checks out her rival on the day of the race, she notices that Gretchen kicks her legs out like a pro, and she begins to look at Gretchen with respect.
As she crouches down waiting for the crack of the pistol to start the race, she notices that Raymond is on the other side of the fence “bending down with his fingers on the ground just like he knew what he was doing.” As she runs, Squeaky glances over to watch her brother running on the sidelines. He runs in a unique style, with his palms tucked up behind him, but Squeaky sees that he has the potential to be a good runner. She remembers that he always keeps up with her when she trots around the neighborhood.
When the race ends, Squeaky is thinking of how she could give up her own career as a runner to concentrate on coaching Raymond, rather than listening for the announcement of the winner. Because she already has a room full of trophies and ribbons, and Raymond has nothing, she thinks that she could help him get some recognition as a runner. Squeaky changes as she shifts her attention from herself to her brother. As she hears her name announced as the winner, she is already focusing on Raymond’s future. Although Raymond was not actually in the race, this was really his run.
When Squeaky realizes that winning is not everything, she sees Gretchen in a new light, as a person who also works hard to achieve her goals. She looks at her former rival with new respect, thinking that perhaps Gretchen is the type of person who would help coach Raymond. The story ends with Squeaky and Gretchen exchanging a big smile of respect that is “about as real a smile as girls can do for each other, considering we don’t practice real smiling every day.”