The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
Thinking about Colin Smith’s loneliness and running I consider his condition not like personal one, but more like metaphorical. In literature time-line the main hero of this story can be placed somewhere between Kamus’ existential hero from The Outsider and one from Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange.
Associations came to me because of the similarity of condition for all of three heroes. Of course, they differ a lot, but main things they have in common: existential feeling of loneliness and willing to “break the system”. Colin Smith thinks deeply about situation he’s trapped in. Is to run the race really a way to freedom?
If we look at it from socio-political side, the answer is “no”. He committed crimes, so he was “running” against the system (law, moral etc.). Then he was caught and put in a school-prison, where revealed his willing and abilities for a long-distance running. And again, it was his way of “running” against the system’s pressure. So school’s authorities have decided to make Colin Smith’s activity to work on the system, and use him to achieve their goal. There’s a stimulus for Colin Smith – an opportunity to light his punishment. But it means to cooperate with system and get free on “their” terms. So again, main hero’s willing of “running” against the system fails in case he wins the race.
Is he necessary such a rule-breaker? He’s not as rebel as the main hero from A Clockwork Orange but already not as passive, asleep and caught by society rules as Kamus’ existential hero. “Cunning is what counts in this life”, - says Colin Smith (Sillitoe). So he’s a cheater, trying to cheat the system, which tries to cheat him. “I’m telling you straight: they’re cunning, and I’m cunning” (Sillitoe). So if Kamus’ hero awakes only closer to the end of the story, we meet Sillitoe’s hero already when he knows he must cheat system to win.
What running means for Colin Smith psychologically? I think he runs because process makes him forget (at least for a time) that he’s trapped in life. We often take no notice on how running makes us feel, especially for a long-distance. I mean running like sport activity. Obviously, Colin Smith chooses running because it literary makes him feel free, though it’s a good metaphor also. And when school’s authorities offer a deal, price is too high. It means to trade a way of freedom you’ve chosen for yourself and (what’s more important) by yourself on one they’ve chosen for you because their way is more “appropriate”.
It’s essential for one who wants to be free to be lonely also. At least, that’s what stories of such kind teaches us. Not literary alone without friends and family (though authors usually choose marginal heroes when they want to discuss the theme), but spiritually free on your personal long-distance running which is your life. But question that bothers me – is there such a thing as being lonely and free and not suffer at the same time? To be part of a group and “run your distance” with a group of people is not only easier (for that I think often “majority” is blamed), but seems like more natural and joyful way. You can share same goals and ideas, and of course relationships will make you tied, but I think if it’s one’s reasonable choice, freedom is to be free to make it.
And that will be a good way to break the vicious circle of cunning between individual and society.