Runner Quotes and Analysis

To be poor was to be cold. The two were the same.

Charlie, p. 10

In this passage, Charlie equates poverty with being cold. Charlie's family, like many families in the slums of Richmond, are unable to purchase the wood needed to heat their homes. This passage is significant because it represents Charlie's motivation. It is Charlie's desire to be warm that fuels his desire to start running, and it is his ability as a runner that leads Charlie to make enough money to own a timber yard, where he will have a replenishing supply not just of money but of wood to burn for warmth.

Even in death, the poor were denied the luxury of grieving.

Charlie, p. 35

After Charlie watches his father die from Spanish flu, he and his mother immediately begin making plans for how they'll make money in the future. Because of their poverty, they are not afforded the luxury of a grieving period; they must adapt to their new circumstances, in which the person who supported the household has died. This quote brings to light how the poor are often forced to think about their survival above everything else. The quote also explains why Charlie continues to grieve throughout the novel, as he never had a chance to grieve in the first place.

"The streets of Richmond were like the pages in a book. They told a story. It was no fairytale with feel good middles and happy endings. This story was full of hardship. Hand to mouth and day to day, that’s how it was."

Charlie, p. 73

In this passage, Charlie likens the streets of his slum to the pages in a book, though the poverty of Richmond means the stories are unconventional. Rather than presenting narratives of happy people, the streets of Richmond showcase the lives of the poor and the destitute, who struggle throughout their lives without hope of a happy ending. This passage is significant because the atmosphere of hopelessness from which Charlie arises contrasts against the happy ending he eventually achieves.

I realized what it was I loved about working for Squizzy Taylor. It was more than just the money. It was the power I loved as well.

Charlie, p. 69

While Charlie could convince himself and others that he needed to work for Squizzy because his family depended on him, in a moment of honesty, Charlie admits to his thirst for power. Having grown up without money or any of its concomitant power, Charlie develops a bravado through his association with a menacing gangster. Though he is only a sixteen-year-old working-class boy, Charlie is able to intimidate shop owners and policemen.

The street was my classroom now and I was a student eager to learn.

Charlie, p. 11

In the first chapter, Charlie outlines how his desire for warmth lead him to take up running in the evenings, and how his love of running transmutes into a love for the streets he runs through. In this passage, he explains how he gives up on the boring classroom in favor of an education in the harsh streets of Richmond's slums, whose flashy lights and suggestions of secrecy and criminality entice him.

I then replaced them with my father’s pair. As soon as my feet were inside them, I couldn’t wait for Monday.

Charlie, p. 56

When he starts work for Squizzy Taylor, Charlie receives a new pair of boots. But to pretend to his mother that nothing in his life has changed, Charlie leaves his new boots at work and returns home in his father's worn, oversized pair. The boots come to symbolize Charlie's double life—the sleek, enticing life of running for Squizzy is preferable to him than the tragic, hopeless life at home.

With her sleeve, she wiped away some tears. Then she smiled at me—the saddest smile I’d ever seen.

Charlie, p. 58

After Charlie and his mother become dependent on Mr. Peacock for scrap firewood, Peacock refuses to let them have any unless Ma gives in to his sexual advances. Charlie informs his mother that Mr. Peacock is coming by tomorrow. In this passage, Charlie is ignorant of what his mother understands—that she will have to give Peacock what he wants if she is to keep her sons warm. Nonetheless, Charlie sees the sadness shining through her false, resilient smile.

Directly above us was a window and inside a light burned so bright, it had the two of us lit up like a nativity scene.

Charlie, p. 68

While running liquor for Squizzy, Charlie and Norman duck into the bushes to evade a cop. In a moment of humor that cuts the tension of the scene, Charlie remarks on how their attempt to hide backfires, since the light spilling onto him and Norman lights up the scene in a manner reminiscent of a Christmas nativity display.

It was a simple thing, something that my own father had done with me. But now, as I stood there watching them in the crowd, I felt a sharp pang of grief. Never again, I realized, would I experience my father’s touch.

Charlie, p. 98

During Norman's football game, Charlie watches as Norman's father consoles his son at half-time. The scene of a father offering a son physical comfort triggers Charlie's grief, reminding him that his father will never be around to perform such a simple but profound act of comfort.

Who knows, Ma, who knows.

Charlie, p. 218

The novel ends with Charlie responding "who knows" to Ma's question about where he plans to run to. While the line has the literal meaning of Charlie saying he is running for the sake of running, the line has a metaphorical meaning as well: in the context of closing the novel, the line suggests that Charlie's prowess as a runner will bring him to achieve more than he himself can anticipate. All he knows is that his ambition will keep him moving forward.