Runner Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Boots (Symbol)

The boots Charlie wears in Runner represent the double lives he leads. The pair of hole-filled, oversized boots Charlie inherits from his father are a symbol of Charlie's physically uncomfortable but honest life as a poor person. By contrast, the well-fitting shiny leather boots Squizzy provides Charlie represent his physically comfortable but morally bankrupt life as a well-paid criminal associate. As Charlie trades out the pairs, leaving the nicer pair at Squizzy's in order to pretend to his mother that he didn't take the job as a runner, Charlie finds that each pair has its tradeoffs. For a long stretch of the novel, Charlie wears his comfortable pair home, in a symbolic gesture that conveys he no longer cares what his mother thinks about him. Despite this, ultimately Charlie decides to give back his nicer boots to Squizzy and return to his honest boots and honest life.

Mold on the Wall (Motif)

The black mold on Charlie's damp bedroom wall is a motif that recurs throughout the novel, and Charlie often wakes up to see figurative images in the abstract shapes that the black mold creates. The shapes vary depending on Charlie's latest preoccupation, taking the form of Ma, Alice, or Norman. As the shapes change depending on Charlie's desires, fears, and obsessions, the motif of mold patterns represents a external projection of Charlie's psychological state.

White Face Powder (Symbol)

After Mr. Peacock beats Ma, Ma conceals the bruises on her face with a thick white powder. However, Charlie notices that Ma continues to wear the powder on her face long after her bruises heal. She cakes the powder on so thickly that it cracks when she smiles. The ghostly image of the powder on Ma's face becomes a symbol of her traumatized condition, which provokes a desire to hide from the world. It is only once she returns to her engaging, confident personality that Ma dumps out her face powder.

Compulsive Cleaning (Motif)

Another consequence of Mr. Peacock's attack on Ma is that Ma cleans the house compulsively. Though Charlie doesn't understand why she cleans and re-cleans sections of the house every day, the motif of cleaning is a result of the trauma Ma experiences. Cleaning compulsively satisfies Ma's psychological need to maintain control over her environment in order to avert disaster. Cleaning is also a means of physically removing any trace of the psychological and emotional contamination that Mr. Peacock's assault represented.

Timber Yard (Symbol)

At the end of the novel, Charlie uses his race winnings to purchase a timber yard. In the way that Charlie associates poverty with being cold, the timber yard is a symbol that unites wealth with a near-endless supply of firewood. The cold that drove Charlie to become a runner brings him eventually to secure a lasting source not just of honest income but of warmth.