First print: 1959
A boy has been made a long-distance runner by the Institution where he temporarely lives.
Smith, the 17-year-old narrator of the story, is in a Borstal Institution. he is made a long-distance cross-country runner and every morning he runs five miles before breakfast. Smith enjoys running and it makes his life in this Borstal easier to bear. The governor wants him to win the yearly race in which boys drom all the English Borstals participate. Being in a Borstal, smith realizes, means that he now definitely belongs to the 'Out-law blokes' and will alway be fighting the 'In-law blokes' who stick to the law.
Smith remembers that, when his father died, his mother received £500 insurance. Since the money made working unnecessary, Smith gave up his job and starts roaming the streets with his friend Mike.
One evening Smith and Mike steal a cash box form a baker's shop. The police suspect Smith. He is questioned several times and the house is searched, but the police cannot find anything. Finally, when a policeman is at the door again, the money is washed down the rainpipe, where Smith had hidden it.
Smith is tempted by the governor's suggestion that he become a professional runner. But he rejects it when he realizes that this means he will be a part of the established order he hates. At the start of the race, Smith hopes the governor's guests will bet a lot of money on him, for he is determined to lose. The race begins and soon Smith is running all alone. To him the loneliness is the only honest and real thing there is in teh world. Moreover, it gives him the opportunity to think freely. Smith taked the lead and thinks about winning and losing. Winning means giving in to the system created by the In-laws, losing will hurt the governor and his guests badly. If he loses he will be punished and his last months in Borstaal will not be aesy. He remembers how he found his father dead one morning.
Within sight of the grandstand, Smith slows down and lets another runner pass by and win the race. The governor is furious and takes his revenge on Smith by making him do dirty jobs. But Smith does not mind, for he feels he has won a victory against the In-laws.
When Smith leaves Borstal, it is discovered that he has pleurisy (de pleuris) from running in cold weather. To Smith this, again, is a victory because now he does not have to serve in the army. He turns to crime again, stealing a large sum of money and making plans for even bigger robberies. He writes down the story of his life up to that moment and gives it to a friend. It is to be publishes if ever he should be caught again by the police.
Smith, the main character, is in a Borstal school because he has stolen money from a bakery. He is made a long-distance runner. He likes running because he enjoys being alone and he has the opportunity to think things through and to make decisions.
Genre and Theme
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner could be called a working-class story. It shows us the mind of a young boy who is growing up on the fringe of society among poor people who sometimes resort to crime on a small scale. One of the things that occupy his mind is the fight between 'us and them', people like himself, the 'Out-laws', and people who belong to the establishment, the 'In-laws'.
The story takes place in the late 1940s. Smith is in a Borstal Institution, a place where young criminals are reformed through training and education. Essex, Gunthorpe, Hucknall and Aylesham are four Borstals mentioned in the story.
Alan Sillitoe (1928) belongs to the so calles 'Angry Young Men', a group of writers whose anti-heroes are disgusted at the world around them and avail themselves of colloquial, sometimes coarse language to inveigh against hypocrisy and the unnaturalness of modern life.
In practically all his novels and stories Sillitoe writes about his working-class background.
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