The “runner” as a metaphor
Literature about running has changed over the course of history. The short story “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” by Alan Sillitoe gave this genre a political perspective that changed the vision of a literary “runner”. Sillitoe’s character Smith uses running as a way to mentally reflect. Running gives him pleasure through reflection, which helps him take the athleticism out of the sport. The action of running allows Smith to give clarity to his political insights. The training of long-distance running gives Smith the ability to share his political insights with his readers. Sillitoe uses running as a metaphor for living and the tension that comes from living in the working class society of Britain. Running is used as a metaphor in “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” for a way to run away from society but also as an activity that allows the narrator to reflect on the society he is living in.
Sillitoe uses running in his story as a means of isolation. Running is a solitary action and therefore allows Smith to begin to understand and become aware of the class divisions in Britain. Smith, the narrator of the story, is also a writer and he is an allegoric version of Sillitoe and the isolation that all authors suffer from. Smith is a solitary runner who gets political clarity through running and isolation, just as an author writes alone and thinks alone. The long distance runner and the writer are both individualistic and isolated so that they are able to produce their commodities. The metaphor used to compare both the author and the runner is similar to the author losing his purity when he publishes a work just as Smith loses his purity when he enters the race.
During the time period that Sillitoe wrote “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” the idea of the runner was changing dramatically.The purity of running was taken away when Smith entered the race because the race dehumanised him. The race made Smith a commodity for nationalisation that he was uncomfortable with. When the sport of running became professional it lost its sense of purity and became a commodity.Sillitoe rejects the commoditisation of running in “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”. This is why Smith chooses to forfeit the race. Helen Small states, “…the weight of literary attention seems to be focused on a ‘pre-professional era’—either written at that time or looking back at it for inspiration”.The professional runner becomes commercialised and loses the clarity of thought that comes with running for pure passion and pleasure. Sillitoe was an author who believed in the unadulterated sport of running.
Running is also used as a metaphor by Sillitoe to give Smith the ability to escape from the reality of his class level in society.The use of this sport gives Smith the ability to escape from his life as a member of the working class poor. Sillitoe has used running to give his character a chance to reflect upon his social status and also to escape from the reality that the poor in Britain are faced with. Long-distance running gives the character an ability to freely escape from society without the pressures of a team, which may be found in other athletic stories.
Full text of “Alan Sillitoe The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner”
THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG-DISTANCE RUNNER
Published in 1960
Read online on Archives.org