“Runaway” depicts Clark as an abusive partner to Carla and illustrates the challenges she faces as she feels stuck in the relationship. Clark has complete authority over their relationship and Carla’s life, and he does not care for her emotional needs. He forces her to go to the Jamieson’s house when she doesn’t want to, and he doesn’t seem at all concerned when he thinks Carla is being sexually abused. Carla generally feels powerless, and her actions seem to lack a sense of control. Her lies to Clark about being sexually abused by Leon, Sylvia’s late husband, spiral out of control to the point that she feels trapped. When Sylvia proposes that Carla move to Toronto—a new start that would be a massive undertaking—Carla agrees immediately, showing how desperate she is to escape her relationship with Clark. It’s not until she’s formulated a plan and is on the bus to Toronto that she becomes frightened by the idea of starting anew and decides to return home to Clark, feeling that his presence gives her life meaning, as he has conditioned her to believe. By highlighting this thought process, the story suggests that breaking out of abusive relationships isn’t as simple as it might seem in the abstract.
From the outside, Sylvia thinks that leaving Clark is an obvious and simple solution to Carla’s relational problems—but Sylvia’s own marriage was healthy, so she doesn’t necessarily understand the deep-rooted interdependence involved in toxic relationships. Clark’s power as a male abuser is far-reaching, and it would be more challenging than Sylvia thinks for Carla to leave. Even Sylvia herself eventually submits to Clark’s domineering nature and ends up apologizing to him for “interfering” in Carla’s life, showing how effective Clark’s manipulation is. In fact, his need for power is itself out of control—he causes problems with people in town and ruins many of his relationships. In the end, the story implies that Clark may have killed Flora, which is the ultimate display of his pathological need to dominate. Thus, the story demonstrates the gravity of the obstacles women trapped in relationships with controlling men face, as well as how these difficulties are underestimated by people on the outside.
Relationships and Control ThemeTracker
Relationships and Control 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.
What Clark balked at was tearing up the carpet, which was the same in every room and the thing that she had most counted on replacing. It was divided into small brown squares, each with a pattern of darker brown and rust and tan squiggles and shapes. For a long time she had thought these were the same squiggles and shapes, arranged in the same way, in each square. Then when she had had more time, a lot of time, to examine them, she decided that there were four patterns joined together to make identical larger squares. Sometimes she could pick out the arrangement easily and sometimes she had to work to see it.
It was almost a relief, though, to feel the single pain of missing Flora, of missing Flora perhaps forever, compared to the mess she had got into concerning Mrs. Jamieson, and her seesaw misery with Clark. At least Flora’s leaving was not on account of anything she—Carla—had done wrong.
As Mrs. Jamieson might say—and as she herself might with satisfaction have said—taking charge of her own life. With nobody glowering over her, nobody’s mood infecting her with misery.
But what would she care about? How would she know that she was alive?
While she was running away from him—now—Clark still kept his place in her life. But when she was finished running away, when she just went on, what would she put in his place? What else –who else—could ever be so vivid a challenge?
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.
The fog had thickened, taken on a separate shape, transformed itself into something spiky and radiant. First a live dandelion ball, tumbling forward, then condensing itself into an unearthly sort of animal, pure white, hell-bent, something like a giant unicorn, rushing at them.
“Jesus Christ,” Clark said softly and devoutly.
“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.”
A skull that she could hold like a teacup in one hand. Knowledge in one hand.
Or perhaps not. Nothing there.
Other things could have happened. He could have chased Flora away. Or tied her in the back of the truck and driven some distance and set her loose. Taken her back to the place they’d got her from. Not to have her around, reminding them.
She might be free.
The days passed and Carla didn’t go near that place. She held out against the temptation.