The Loneliness of the Long-distance Runner Characters

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The Loneliness of the Long-distance Runner Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on The Loneliness of the Long-distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe.

Smithappears in The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner

Smith is the protagonist and narrator of this, the longest story in the collection. He stole money from a baker and was sentence to spend a couple of years in Borstal, a prison for juvenile delinquents. He has agreed to train in order to compete in the annual long-distance running championship held between the various boys' homes. These morning training sessions allow Smith a reprieve from the cramped confines and menial tasks of the boys' home, and also allow him to collect his thoughts. During these sessions, he has decided to buck the establishment and essentially throw the long-distance championship race, as a way to get back at the governor (the headmaster of Borstal) and show everyone he cannot be changed or rehabilitated.

Smith believes he has been born an "out-law" or someone meant to operate outside the law, as opposed to "in-law"s. This is his natural state of being, and so for the government or anyone else to try to make an "honest" man of him is a ridiculous process, as their "honest" is his "dishonest." He believes he cannot change or be rehabilitated, and his decision to throw the race is his way to express this. Smith sees himself as a soldier at war against the government and law-abiders, though he respects the other side in that he believes "in-laws" are as cunning as "out-laws." In the end, he not only throws his time in Borstal back in the governor's face by throwing the race, he has developed pleurisy in his lungs from all the training, and thus he is able to avoid the army, which he regards as another way the government would confine and try to change him. At the time of the writing of the story, he has successfully pulled off a robbery and plans for a bigger one next.

Frankie Bullerappears in The Decline and Fall of Frankie Buller

Frankie Buller is between perhaps twenty and twenty-five, and yet his father's generous government payment for being wounded in war allows Frankie to act like an adolescent and not have to get a job. He leads a local army of children hooligans (much younger than himself, perhaps ten to fifteen years of age) in raising general hell around the neighborhood and also engaging in fights with other hooligan groups. His favorite target is a neighborhood called Sodom, in which he will leads his "soldiers" armed with rocks against kids in the other "army." He loves war and military strategy, having the narrator Alan read him war news from the newspaper, and bragging about his father and how one day he will join the same army unit, the Sherwood rangers.

Time and circumstances make Frankie irrelevant, as World War II looms and Frankie's vandalism and antics pale in comparison to the real war. He tries to court women his age, but behaves (appropriately) like a twelve-year-old instead of someone in his late twenties, crudely whistling like a wolf at passing girls. He also does not join the army for the war effort, and is instead relegated to bringing firewood around to homes in a little cart. As the title indicates, this "decline and fall" of Frankie Buller is quite saddening and disappointing to the narrator. In the end, it is revealed that Frankie's personality was largely robbed from him due to electroshock therapy after he punched his father. Narrator Alan hopes and believes that somewhere inside Frankie is still a fire the establishment cannot extinguish.

Ernest Brownappears in Uncle Ernest

Ernest Brown is a World War I veteran who feels lost and lonely after the war. An opportunity to feed and converse with two needy girls gives him purpose and life again, but the police warn against such potentially perverted behavior, and he ends the story even deeper in despair.

Mr. Raynorappears in Mr. Raynor the School-Teacher

Mr. Raynor spends most of his time in the classes he teaches looking out the window at the cute girls in the draper's shop across the street. His sexual repression manifests itself in the corporal punishment he doles out against his students.

Kathyappears in The Fishing-Boat Picture

Kathy left her husband Harry after six years to run away with a housepainter. Ten years later, Kathy returns to Harry much changed, the spark in her eyes gone, surrendered to alcoholism. She dies being hit by a truck trying to rescue a painting representing better times in the marriage from a pawnshop she sold it to for booze money.

Bertappears in Noah's Ark

Bert is only eleven, and yet he has developed into quite the little criminal, always looking for a way to steal from someone or cheat the system. He shows Colin how to ride the Noah's Ark ride without paying by continually moving away from the fee collector as the ride is moving.

Lennoxappears in The Match

Lennox is a working-class mechanic, very good at his work, who attends a local football match with his younger friend Fred. The local team loses, and later Lennox seems to take his frustration at the loss out on his children and wife, yelling at them and eventually hitting his wife. Mrs. Lennox takes the children and leaves, the latest violent incident being her last straw.

Mrs. Scarfedaleappears in The Disgrace of Jim Scarfedale

Mrs. Scarfedale is Jim's over-protective and suffocating mother. At twenty-eight, Jim still lives with his mother, and when Jim announces he will marry, Mrs. Scarfedale takes it as a personal insult. When Jim's marriage fails and he comes back, Mrs. Scarfedale's re-embrace of Jim is somewhat akin to a spider binding her prey.

Jim Scarfedaleappears in The Disgrace of Jim Scarfedale

Jim is a timid mother's boy who never quite grew up. Frustration with his overprotective mother and nag of a wife result in Jim chasing young girls and getting arrested for his seeming pedophilia.

The Governorappears in The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner

The Governor is the headmaster of Borstal where Smith the protagonist is confined. The Governor believes in his boys' ability to rehabilitate and become productive members of society. He represents law-abiders and the establishment.

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