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Alan Sillitoe is one of the original "Angry Young Men" of British letters who burst onto the literary scene in the late 50s & early 60s with tough slangy stories set amongst the working class poor and dole recipients of a Britain in obvious decline.  The best known of these stories is The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, narrated by a juvenile delinquent who has been sent to Borstal (Reform School).  There the governor of the institution hopes to make an honest lad of him and to have him win the Borstal cross country race.  But the boy has a different understanding of honesty than the governor and has no intention of letting the governor bask in his own reflected glory.

    Another honest thought that comes is that I could swing left at the next hedge of the field, and
    under its cover beat my slow retreat away from the sports ground winning post.  I could do three
    or six or a dozen miles across the turf like this and cut a few main roads behind me so's they'd never
    know which one I'd taken; and maybe on the last one when it gets dark I could thumb a lorry lift and
    get a free ride north with somebody who might not give me away.  But no, I said I wasn't that daft
    didn't I?  I won't pull out with only six months left, and besides there's nothing I want to dodge and
    run away from; I only want a bit of my own back on the In-Laws and Potbellies by letting them sit up
    there on their big posh seats and watch me lose this race, though as sure as God made me I know
    when I do lose I'll get the dirtiest crap  and kitchen jobs in the months to go before my time is up.  I
    won't be worth a threpp'ny-bit to anybody here, which will be all the thanks I get for being honest in
    the only way I know.  For when the governor told me to be honest it was meant to be in his way not
    mine, an if I kept on being honest in the way he wanted and won my race for him he'd see I got the
    cushiest six months still left to run; but in my own way, well, it's not allowed, and if I find a way of
    doing it such as I've got now and then I'll get what-for in every mean trick he can set his mind to.
    And if you look at it in my way, who can blame him?  For this is war--and ain't I said so?--and when
    I hit him in the only place he knows he'll be sure to get his own back on me for not collaring that cup
    when his heart's been set for ages on seeing himself standing up at the end of the afternoon to clap me
    on the back as I take the cup from Lord Earwig or some such chinless wonder with a name like that.
    And so I'll hit him where it hurts a lot, and he'll do all he can to get his own back, tit for tat, though
    I'll enjoy it most because I planned it longer.  I don't know why I think these thoughts are better than
    any I've ever had, but I do, and I don't care why.  I suppose it took me a long time to get going on all
    this because I've had no time and peace in all my bandit life, and now my thoughts are coming pat
    and the only trouble is I often can't stop, even when my brain feels as if it's got cramp, frostbite and
    creeping paralysis all rolled into one and I have to give it a rest by slap-dashing down through the
    brambles of the sunken lane.  And all this is another uppercut I'm getting in first at people like the
    governor, to show how--if I can--his races are never won even though some bloke always comes
    unknowingly in first, how in the end the governor is going to be doomed while blokes like me will
    take the pickings of his roasted bones and dance like maniacs around his Borstal ruins.  And so this
    story's like the race and once again I won't bring off a winner to suit the governor; no, I'm being
    honest like he told me to, without him knowing what he means, though I don't suppose he'll ever
    come in with a story of his own, even if he reads this one of mine and knows who I'm talking about.

Now, at first glance, this seems much like the rebellion against authority that we've traced through stories like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)(Mark Twain 1835-1910) (Grade: A-), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962)(Ken Kesey 1935-) (Grade: A+), etc., but the differences are more instructive than the similarities.  First of all, the authority here is legitimate and the youngster is a genuine evil doer.  The authority is easily avoidable if he merely obeys the minimal rules that every society requires, but he makes no bones about having been a criminal nor of his intention to continue a life of crime when he gets out.  Since we're the honest citizens that hoodlums of his ilk prey upon, we don't really ever want him to get out.

Second, he defines himself wholly in terms of the rebellion.  He has no personal end that he's pursuing--witness his decision not to escape, though it would be easy.  Unlike Huck or RP McMurphy, freedom is not his goal; instead, he merely wants to lash out at his perceived oppressor.  In this sense the story resembles The Confessions of Nat Turner (read Orrin's review), wherein a group of slaves breaks free, but instead of fleeing to freedom, settles instead for wreaking retribution on their owners.  The novel, based on actual events, ends with the slaves dead.  Similarly, the Long Distance Runner may still be alive at the end of his tale, but we are pretty certain that he will be back in jail posthaste, so what has he really won?  More importantly, why should we care?  Good riddance...

This one is recommended almost solely for the strength of the narrative and the fairly unique voice in which it is delivered.


Grade: (C)


See also:

Short Stories
Alan Sillitoe Links:
    -Allan Sillitoe (1928-)(kirjasto)
    -REMEMBRANCE:  Poet of the spirits of the land   Ted Hughes (John Redmond and Alan Sillitoe, Friday October 30, 1998, Guardian and Observer)
    -EducETH - English - Sillitoe, Alan
    -Alan Sillitoe: Author (Sherwood Spirit)
    -INTERVIEW: Making the ordinary extraordinary:  Alan Sillitoe talked to Brendan O'Neill about the degradation of the working-class hero
    -Literary Landscape: Alan Sillitoe
    -ESSAY: The Representation of the Working Class and Masculinity  and Alan Sillitoe's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Aytül Özüm, JELL: Hacettepe University Journal of English Language and Literature (December 1995)
    -ESSAY: Working-Class English in Alan Sillitoe's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Kalle Virnes, Department of Translation Studies, University of Tampere)
    -ESSAY: "A Voice of One's Own: The First British Working-Class Novel" ( Carol L. Hale, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire)
    -REVIEW: of Collected Stories by Alan Sillitoe (FFWD Weekly)

    -BFI Top 100: #61) The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (British Film Institute)

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