The attachments that various characters have to each other in “Runaway” are correlated to their respective levels of maturity and stability. Most significant is Carla’s attachment to her husband, Clark—an attachment she feels even though they don’t have a particularly loving relationship. Carla is young, around 21 years old, and the story portrays her as immature even for her age. She is unstable: easily affected by others and quick to change her mind about important matters. Her unhealthy attachment to Clark becomes apparent when she is unable to leave him, feeling that without him she wouldn’t know how to live. This attachment is paralleled by the couple’s pet goat Flora and its attachment to Clark. Flora follows Clark around when she is young, until she becomes a bit older and more mature, at which point she gains independence. The story eventually reveals that Clark tries to get rid of Flora after she gains a sense of autonomy, implying that he is aware of how his relationship with her mirrors his relationship with Carla. He can’t stand the idea of not having control and dominance over Carla, and getting rid of Flora foreshadows what he might do to Carla if she ever becomes mature and independent. He says repeatedly that Flora might have run away to find a billy goat, illustrating his anxiety that Carla will leave him and find another man if she becomes independent. This shows how Clark himself has an unhealthy attachment to Carla, which manifests in emotional volatility and a need for control—a sign of his own instability.
In contrast, Sylvia is older than Clark and Carla and is more stable and mature. Her attachments are much healthier than those of the young couple. Her marriage with her late husband, Leon, seems to have been balanced and loving. Each of them had their own successful careers, independent of one another. And though she is upset by his death, she does not seem unhealthily disturbed. She has a parental attachment to Carla, but even this attachment is healthy and unselfish: she enjoys Carla’s company but ultimately values Carla’s wellbeing over her own gratification. Through the contrast of Sylvia to Carla and Clark, Munro thus shows that maturity often corresponds with stable attachment—in other words, part of being mature means learning how to foster healthy, balanced relationships.
Attachment, Maturity, and Stability ThemeTracker
Attachment, Maturity, and Stability Quotes in Runaway
In the first dream Flora had walked right up to the bed with a red apple in her mouth, but in the second dream—last night—she had run away when she saw Carla coming. Her leg seemed to be hurt but she ran anyway. She led Carla to a barbed-wire barricade of the kind that might belong on some battlefield, and then she—Flora—slipped through it, hurt leg and all, just slithered through like a white eel and disappeared.
At first she had been Clark’s pet entirely, following him everywhere, dancing for his attention. She was quick and graceful and provocative as a kitten, and her resemblance to a guileless girl in love had made them both laugh. But as she grew older she seemed to attach herself to Carla, and in this attachment she was suddenly much wiser, less skittish—she seemed capable, instead, of a subdued and ironic sort of humor.
“It’s said to represent a racehorse,” Sylvia said. “Making that final spurt, the last effort in a race. The rider, too, the boy, you can see he’s urging the horse on to the limit of its strength.”
She did not mention that the boy had made her think of Carla, and she could not now have said why. He was only about ten or eleven years old. Maybe the strength and grace of the arm that must have held the reins, or the wrinkles in his childish forehead, the absorption and the pure effort there was in some way like Carla cleaning the big windows last spring.
Her feet seemed now to be at some enormous distance from her body, Her knees, in the unfamiliar crisp pants, were weighted with irons. She was sinking to the ground like a stricken horse who will never get up.
“Goats are unpredictable,” Clark said. “They can seem tame but they’re not really. Not after they grow up.”
“Is she grown-up? She looks so small.”
“She’s big as she’s ever going to get.”