The short story, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner is a narrative written by Alan Sillitoe. The story is part of an anthology of short stories by the same author. The protagonist in the narrative is Smith, a Nottingham adolescent from a simple home in a poor working class neighborhood. Smith has gloomy outlook towards life and occasionally indulges in petty crime. When he is detained for theft at a borlast, he seeks solace in long-distance running as a means of escape from the physical and emotional torture of the detention center. This essay will give a comprehensive analysis of this short story in terms of the use of the title as a metaphor, symbolism of the cross-country race and literary devices used.
When Smith is detained by the police for stealing from a bakery, he is convicted and detained at Ruxton Towers- a borstal or youth detention center for felonious adolescents. Detained in miserable and highly restricted conditions, he seeks relief from his new reality by running. This attracts the attention of the institutions authorities who recognize his dexterity and passion for long-distance running. Smiths new passion offers him a welcome reprieve from the detention centers brutal manual labor. He is instead offered light duties during his final six months at Ruxton Towers on condition that he wins a race against a respectable public school. This is because a win for the borstal in the cross-country race would significantly increase the establishments public image. With an important race at hand and absolution from a demanding workload as a stimulus, Smith has every reason to liaise with the school authorities. However, on the actual race day, Smith easily hands over victory to his competitors by standing a few meters from the finish line despite the fact that he was in the lead. He deliberately lost the race employing a rebellious gesture aimed at the Borstal authorities and the oppressive powers that they epitomized. Smiths defiant gesture demonstrated his individuality and sovereignty. The school authorities resultant action harsh as they impart a heavier workload on him. With the probability of lighter duties all but gone, Smith comes to terms with the extreme manual tasks he is compelled to perform with no regrets for losing the race.
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The short storys title is in actuality a metaphor which is used by the author to represent different factors. For instance, the author uses running to represent an escape from the society, a method of isolation and a time to reflect on personal thoughts and beliefs. With reference to running as a reflection period, Smith indulges in long-distance running to give elucidate his innermost thoughts and ruminate on the social friction that comes with belonging to the poor working class society of Britain at the time the story was written. He is more aware of the sharp differences between social classes and the relationship between the classes as displayed by their view of each other. For instance, expletives and vulgar language in the story are used to portray the audacious and scornful disdain the poor have for those in privileged positions. The action of running also gives Smith a chance to give elucidate his to his political views. This is because readers have the opportunity to have an insight into the protagonists political views which he constantly ruminates over during his training period.
The author also uses running as a metaphor in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner to portray Smiths running from society and as a scheme of isolation. With regards to running as a form of isolating oneself, the feat of running is a lone effort which gives Smith a chance to be free from the youth detention center and its physical and emotional stressors. The isolation also gives him a chance to plan his revenge against the school governor who he does not seem to have a good relationship with. Through this isolation as a lone runner, Smith is also able to escape both psychologically and physically from the depressing conditions at the borstal. Running is also used by the author as a metaphor to give the protagonist a pair of wings to flee society and in essence, the actuality of his low social standing. For a given amount of time, Smith escapes from the fact that he is a member of the poor working class. This is in addition to the glaring poverty that the poor in Britain faced at that time. He freely escapes this reality without the burden of having to be part of a team. Therefore, running gives him the chance to retreat and isolate himself in his own private realm where he is free from the burdens of the world.
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It is interesting to note how the final race is symbolic of the conflict between internal and external life forces. The race demonstrates the noticeable conflict between the governor and Smith. On the governors part, the race will bring acclamation to the youth detention center. On the other hand, for Smith, it is a method of striking back at those in authority especially the governor. This is because he is all too aware that the governor is only interested in the glory of victory rather than his personal fate. This represents Smiths mental conflict which is internal. As he races to the finish line both physical and mental conflicts will be realized. He wins the physical conflict between him and the school authorities when he refuses to cross the finish line, thereby getting back at the governor and his cronies. On the other hand, he overcomes his mental conflict when he prevents his own progress at the finish line and retains his independence from governors influence by denying him the prestige associated with winning the race.
In terms of literary devices, the short story is told from the point of a first-person narrative where events are told from the protagonists perspective. The straight narrative that is skillfully employed by the author is used to factor in the fragments of Smiths past life in Nottingham. This is in addition to providing the reader with more information about his family background and family life. Therefore, the author manages to make the reader a participant in the revelation of Smiths private thoughts. This has the resultant effect of making the reader compassionate with his motives and struggles.
In conclusion, The Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner is a captivating story that skillfully interweaves a young mans rebellion against those in authority in light of the glaring differences within the society. The storys title manages to proficiently capture the protagonists simple act of running by interweaving it with his personal thoughts and an escape from the harsh reality of being poor in an unforgiving society. The protagonist also manages to maintain his identity and independence despite living in difficult conditions at a youth detention center by refusing to be exploited by those who did not have his best interests at heart. Therefore, the story is a compelling read which gives the reader a glimpse into social inequality in England during the mid-twentieth century through the eyes of a young but headstrong man.