Robert Newton

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Ambition Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Money, Class, and Community  Theme Icon
Growing Up Theme Icon
Grief  Theme Icon
Ambition Theme Icon
Crime Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Runner, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Ambition Theme Icon

Charlie Feehan grows up poor in the slums of Richmond, Australia, and his background inspires an ambition and a drive to accomplish “something more” than his life has given him. When Squizzy Taylor’s criminal lifestyle reveals how dangerous and self-serving ambition can be, Charlie doesn’t lose his ambition, but he does redirect it, transforming his desire for “something more” into a desire to do “something good.” Charlie wants more than a stable, comfortable life—he wants to provide for his family, but he also wants action, excitement, and power for himself. He temporarily achieves this goal when he starts working for Squizzy Taylor. In the early days of his employment, Charlie realizes that what he really loves about working for Squizzy is the power it grants him. Charlie flaunts his criminal activity in front of police officers, daring them to cross Squizzy by arresting him, and he smugly criticizes a shopkeeper’s wares when he collects on the man’s debt for Squizzy.

But when Squizzy tasks Charlie with collecting money from the desperate Alice Cornwall and her father, Charlie realizes that his power comes from mistreating people in similar circumstances to his own family. Immediately after he realizes this, Charlie crosses paths with the wise and friendly sex worker Daisy Maloney, who advises him to do “something good” with the money he earns. After this encounter, Charlie stops obsessing over power and starts dreaming of a way to do “something good.” He eventually fulfills that desire, using his winnings from the Ballarat Mile to purchase the local timber yard to support the people in his community who are struggling. However, this does not quell his yearning for action, since the story ends with him running into the streets in search of something new and unknown. The change in Charlie’s ambition suggests that ambition itself is not fundamentally bad, since it drives Charlie to reach for his goals; while single-minded ambition can lead to selfishness and cruelty, the selfless, exploratory ambition that Charlie grows into allows him to pursue a dynamic and continually improving life for himself and his community. 

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Ambition ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Ambition appears in each chapter of Runner. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Ambition Quotes in Runner

Below you will find the important quotes in Runner related to the theme of Ambition.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Warmth. That was what the poor craved most in the winter months, but without money we seldom found it […]. To be poor was to be cold. The two were the same. But me, I refused to let it take me. So one day I plotted a course––a simple rectangle of main streets it was, covering only a few miles in distance. And that very night, when I felt the cold, dull ache in my bones, I headed out into the dark, damp streets of Richmond, and […] I ran.

Related Characters: Charlie Feehan (speaker)
Page Number: 2-3
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2  Quotes

I’d heard that [Squizzy Taylor] was a man not to be trusted––a scheming blaggard who’d squeal on his mother to save his own skin. But already I liked him. There was something about him I admired. Pint-sized and snappily dressed, Squizzy Taylor commanded respect. And what’s more, he got it.

Related Characters: Charlie Feehan (speaker), Squizzy Taylor
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

That night in my sleep, I dreamt of a house with pink walls […].All three of us were there, Ma, Jack, and me, sitting in front of a crackling fire. Beside the hearth, stacked neatly in rows, was a pile of wood stacked so high it reached the top of the mantelpiece. We sat smiling, faces aglow, dunking bits of bread into steaming soup […].

Next morning, it was the cold that woke me early. When I opened my eyes, the pink walls in my dream had turned a moldy gray and black.

Related Characters: Charlie Feehan (speaker), Mrs. Feehan, Jack Feehan
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

I was proud of my legs. Before the running, they’d been nothing more than two slender sticks […]. But now with the miles in them, they were steely and strong. They were runner’s legs––legs that would one day carry me out of the slums for good.

Related Characters: Charlie Feehan (speaker)
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

I didn’t want what other people wanted. I didn’t want to be like Nostrils, sticking labels on tins of jam at Rosella’s, or like my father, who’d busted his gut down on the wharf for years. I wanted something more than that. I wanted a piece of the action. It didn’t have to be a huge helping, just a slice of it.

Enough to give Ma and Jack a better life.

Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

I stood next to Nostrils, smiling confidently, almost daring the copper to take it further. Never before would I have had the nerve, but as he looked into my eyes I held his gaze, and it was then that I realized what I loved about working for Squizzy Taylor. It was more than just the money. It was the power I loved as well.

Related Characters: Charlie Feehan (speaker), Nostrils Heath, Squizzy Taylor
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

[…A] wave of bravado rose in my chest. I reached down and grabbed an apple, then tossed it into the air. When it landed in my right hand, I lifted it up to my mouth and took a healthy bite[…].

“It’s a pleasure doin’ business with ya,” I said, taking the envelope from his outstretched hand. “And by the way, them apples––they’re a bit on the green side.”

Related Characters: Charlie Feehan (speaker), Squizzy Taylor
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15 Quotes

Had it been me in his shoes, I daresay the attention would have caused my head to swell the size of a football. But Nostrils wasn’t like that. On the football field, he was as ferocious as anyone I’d seen. You could see it in his eyes. He wanted nothing more than to one day fill a spot in the seniors, but come siren time, when he stripped the jumper from his back, Nostrils could not understand what all the fuss was about.

Related Characters: Charlie Feehan (speaker), Nostrils Heath
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

I’d grown accustomed to [Squizzy’s] sarcastic tongue. But tonight the tone in his voice was different. There was a viciousness in it, and it frightened me.

“What the flamin’ ‘eck d’ya think yer up ta?” he roared. “Ya thinkin’ a joinin’ the priesthood, are ya, lad? It’s charity work yer interested in, is it?” […]

“Mr. Taylor, I can explain […].”

In a flash, Squizzy jumped to his feet, gun in hand. He rushed me and stopped only a few inches from my face.

Related Characters: Charlie Feehan (speaker), Squizzy Taylor (speaker)
Page Number: 126-127
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

Full of rage, I dropped by eyes to the ground and saw my shiny black boots. Right then, something clicked inside my head. Everything became clear. Silently I left the office and made my way to the laundry. After changing into my father’s old boots, I strode back down the hall. I […] placed the boots on the table, right under Squizzy’s nose.

Related Symbols: Mr. Feehan’s Boots
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 20 Quotes

Not so long ago, thousands of people had flocked to Ballarat to dig up the earth in search of gold. Of those thousands, only a few had been lucky enough to strike it rich […]. I tried to picture the men who’d dug the holes […].What had driven them to such lengths?

Looking out across the fields, I suddenly realized what it was. These men were just like me. These men had dreamed of something more, something better.

Even just a slice.

Related Characters: Charlie Feehan (speaker), Squizzy Taylor
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 21 Quotes

I went back to that first time I’d ventured out––that time I plotted a course of four main streets to rid myself of the cold, dull ache in my bones. Tomorrow, however, I’d be running for something more. I’d be running for my father, for Ma, for Jack, for Alice, for Nostrils, and for Mr. Redmond. Tomorrow I’d be running the race of my life, and the stakes were high.

Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 23 Quotes

As I turned the knob, Ma appeared behind me.

“Where are ya goin’, Charlie?” she asked.

“I’m goin’ runnin’, Ma.”

“Runnin’? Where to?”

I dropped my eyes to my father’s boots, then looked up and smiled.

“Who knows, Ma. Who knows.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Feehan (speaker), Charlie Feehan (speaker), Mr. Feehan
Related Symbols: Mr. Feehan’s Boots
Page Number: 201
Explanation and Analysis: