Charlie Feehan is the novel's protagonist and narrator. Following his father's death from Spanish flu, fifteen-year-old Charlie drops out of school and takes a job running packages and collecting money for a local gangster named Squizzy Taylor. Charlie's proximity to poverty leads him to develop a streetwise attitude to the slums of Richmond, though he remains willfully ignorant of the immoral nature of his employment. Though physically smaller than most boys his age, Charlie uses his swiftness and cunning mind to outrun competitors during the Ballarat mile race.
Norman Heath is Charlie's best friend. Nicknamed Nostrils because of his remarkably large nose, Norman is honest, humorous, and good-natured. Early in the book, Norman earns a spot on the Richmond Hill football team and excels in his first match.
Squizzy Taylor is a local gangster who employs Charlie as a "runner," paying him to deliver packages and collect money. While Squizzy seems smart and compassionate, offering Charlie many favors and guiding him through his work, Squizzy reveals his violent side after quarrels with an enemy gang leader lead to war. Squizzy's drunken, short-tempered, and murderous personality leads Charlie to quit working for him.
Ma is Charlie's mother. Grief-ridden after her husband's death, Ma stays home and nurses her infant son Jack. Ma is beautiful and loves to dance, but she enters a state of shock after Mr. Peacock manipulates and attacks her, leaving her to spend much of the novel covering her facial bruises in thick white powder.
Mr. Cecil Redmond
Mr. Cecil Redmond is the Feehans' kindly neighbor. He is fond of remarking on the weather and cracking wise. Mr. Redmond helps train Charlie as a boxer and later as a competitive runner. While Mr. Redmond can be stern, his sentimentality often shines through his tough exterior, such as when he sheds tears at Charlie's success.
Mrs. Redmond is Mr. Redmond's wife. Kind and thoughtful, she provides food and firewood to the Feehans. Mrs. Redmond is self-conscious about her teeth, which are black with decay.
Jack is Charlie's infant brother.
Mr. Peacock is an old friend of Charlie's father who agreed at Charlie's father's bedside to let Charlie collect wood scraps every Saturday from Peacock's timber yard. Mr. Peacock reveals his cruel, abusive side when he refuses to let Charlie take any wood until Ma accepts the man's sexual advances. Mr. Peacock eventually attacks Ma, leading Charlie to knock him out with a cricket bat.
Jimmy Barlow is a football player from Fitzroy who intimidates and harasses Charlie and Norman. Jimmy Barlow's gang beats Norman one night when Charlie and Norman are passing through the Fitzroy gardens.
Alice is the daughter of a Fitzroy baker who owes Squizzy money. Charlie develops a romantic interest in Alice, who has fiery red hair and a defiant attitude. She takes a shine to Charlie after she learns that he paid off her father's debt.
Dolly is Squizzy Taylor's lover. She treats Charlie with care and gentleness but disappears from the novel after Squizzy throws her out following a fight.
Knuckles is Squizzy Taylor's right-hand man. Despite his gruff demeanor, Knuckles treats Charlie with respect and understanding, thereby tempering Squizzy's violent outbursts.
Runner Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Runner is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.