Runner Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What is the significance of Charlie's poverty in Runner?

    The plight of the poor is the most dominant theme in Robert Newton's Runner. In the first chapter, Charlie comments on how the persistent coldness that results from poverty is the enemy of his family and other residents of the Richmond slums. As a result of the cold, Charlie’s father succumbs to the Spanish flu, and Charlie watches his father "lay in bed, coughing blood until he die[s].” Charlie concludes that "to be poor was to be cold." However, Charlie refuses to let the cold take him, and he begins running to stay warm. While running helps him attain temporary warmth in the evenings, running will also enable Charlie to make money and pull himself and his family out of poverty. Having developed his abilities as a runner, Charlie takes a job with Squizzy Taylor, and later bets his wages on himself to win the Ballarat mile. Having multiplied his winnings exponentially, Charlie is able to buy a timber yard that will provide a steady source of income and firewood to his family and community. In this way, Charlie's ambition causes him to outrun his poverty.

  2. 2

    What is significant about the relationship between Squizzy Taylor and Charlie Feehan in Runner?

    Charlie’s relationship with the crime boss Squizzy Taylor involves a complex mix of trust, fear, admiration, power, exploitation, and violence. Perhaps because Squizzy himself is a man of short stature, Squizzy is the only one to bet on Charlie to win the egg race at the beginning of the book. Squizzy later discloses that he knew Charlie would win because he hardboiled Charlie's egg—a revelation that secures a sense of trust and intimacy between Charlie and Squizzy; they are in on the same secret. Charlie is so pleased to be making good money and being offered security and power by association that he is willing to lie to his mother about going to school. Charlie is so impressed by Squizzy's casual ability to either buy off or intimidate his teacher into sending home a report card that Charlie is blind to the ways in which Squizzy is exploiting him. Charlie becomes increasingly reliant on Squizzy, particularly after Charlie defends his mother by knocking out Mr. Peacock with a cricket bat. Charlie's allegiance and sense of indebtedness to Squizzy grows, causing him to reflect that "I was under no illusion of who was responsible for my family’s good fortune. It was Squizzy Taylor… I owed him a great deal." However, when Squizzy's life begins to unravel, Charlie learns of Squizzy's drunken, violent, and selfish side. Charlie finally understands that he is not important to Squizzy, and so he returns the boots Squizzy gave him. Squizzy draws a pistol on Charlie, and Charlie matches Squizzy's power by standing still as Squizzy fires a bullet past his head. In this moment, the power dynamic shifts: Squizzy recognizes Charlie's courage and sends the boy away.

  3. 3

    Why is it significant that Charlie buys a timber yard at the end of the novel?

    Charlie's decision to purchase a timber yard with the money he won by betting on himself in the Ballarat mile symbolizes how Charlie has secured a lasting source of income for him and his family. The timber yard has the added symbolic resonance of being a near-endless source of firewood, and therefore warmth. At the beginning of the novel, Charlie associates being cold with being poor. Having no money to buy firewood, Charlie runs at night to generate his own body heat. In this way, the cold drives Charlie to discover his natural talent as a runner, and it is his talent as a runner that leads Charlie to earn enough money to secure an honest livelihood.

  4. 4

    What are the multiple interpretations of the title Runner?

    In a literal sense, Charlie, the novel's protagonist, takes a job as a "runner" for Squizzy Taylor. The work involves running across town to deliver and pick up packages; Charlie also collects debts owed to Squizzy. As the novel progresses and Charlie quits working for Squizzy, the reader understands that the title more accurately refers to Charlie's natural ability as a competitive runner. However, the term "runner" also contains a third metaphoric meaning. In botany, a runner is an offshoot of a plant. Charlie's journey of self-discovery requires him to take time away from his home and family to figure out what is important to him; but like a tendril, Charlie remains connected to his main source of life while ambitiously seeking to set out on his own.

  5. 5

    What do Charlie's boots represent?

    In Runner, Charlie's different pairs of boots are symbols of the two lives he leads. The pair of boots Charlie inherits from his father are full of holes and are too large for his feet, meaning he has to stuff newspaper in the toes. The smallness of Charlie's feet in comparison to his father's represents how Charlie is too young to literally and figuratively step into his father's shoes and become the man of the house. Charlie's feet get torn and bloody in the ill-fitting boots, yet they are symbolic of Charlie's connection to his family and his life as a poor but honest person. When Charlie takes a job with Squizzy Taylor, the crime boss gives him a pair of shiny black leather boots that fit perfectly. Charlie grows so accustomed to life in his new comfortable boots that he loses sight of the immorality of the seedy enterprise he is associated with. During the period of the novel in which Charlie and Ma are estranged from each other, Charlie wears his work boots home—a gesture that symbolizes how he no longer cares to uphold the lie that he is still going to school. However, Charlie decides, in the end, to quit working for Squizzy. In another symbolic gesture, Charlie returns the boots and walks away in his father's honest, familiar boots.