Robert Newton

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Runner: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

For the rest of the afternoon, Charlie amuses himself by watching Harriet wander around the yard. He prides himself on being able to read people––a necessary skill in the slums––but he cannot read Harriet, which frustrates him. Mrs. Feehan cheers him up by calling him for dinner. On Saturday nights, they eat stew. Charlie loves his mother’s stew, which always tastes good despite her slim access to ingredients. Charlie, Mrs. Feehan, and Jack sit in front of the stove, and the logs keep them warm.
The Feehans suffer greatly because of their poverty, both physically and mentally. As the family comes together for Saturday dinner, though, their happiness highlights how the unconditional love of a supportive family can offer comfort amidst the trials of poverty and empower people to push forward through the hardship.  
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Saturday night is also bath night, so Charlie and Mrs. Feehan boil water on the stove. Jack bathes first, then Mrs. Feehan, and then Charlie. When it’s his turn to bathe, Charlie cleans the wounds he sustained in the race and feels his legs. He is proud of the muscle he has built in his legs. They are runner’s legs, and Charlie hopes one day they will let him run out of the slums for good.
Though indoor plumbing existed in the 19th century, only wealthy people installed it in their homes. In the early 20th century, indoor plumbing became more accessible, but many families like the Feehans still could not afford running water. Charlie’s hope that his “runner’s legs” will carry him out of the slums connects positions Charlie’s running as a symbol of his ambition to escape the slums, as well as the poverty the slums represent.
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