115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sidewalks, Alleys, and Streets: Disrupting Urban Containment Practices in Chester Himes’s Run Man Run

Alexandra Smith, University of Washington

Using Michel de Certeau’s theory of the practice of everyday life as a lens, this paper argues that Chester Himes's novel Run Man Run emphasizes the subversive potential of traversing the city as a means of disrupting dominant discourses of urbanism that seek to surveil, rationalize, and contain an individual. 



In Chester Himes’s Run Man Run (1960) Matt Walker, a white detective, chases Jimmy, a black porter working the nightshift at a Fifth Avenue diner and witness to Walker’s murder of Jimmy’s two black coworkers, through the streets of New York City. From buses to subways, rooftops to basements, the novel focuses on the built environment of the city and the subsequent movement through it. Some scholars read the chase through the city as a critique of urban racial containment practices that seek to imprison and control the city’s people of color. This argument, however, often neglects a closer examination of how Jimmy uses the city’s sidewalks, alleys, and streets to evade and then, eventually, confront Walker.

While the novel certainly critiques the racial containment practices of the city, it also simultaneously articulates the subversive potential in everyday acts of movement, like walking and running, that confront and challenge the systemic racism inherent in city space and architecture. Working from an alternative perspective of a Foucauldian understanding of power, Michel de Certeau theorizes that the everyday practices of the consumer (talking, reading, moving about, shopping etc.) allow individuals to evade the dominating structures of power. Therefore, using de Certeau’s theory of the power of everyday practices, I argue that the novel’s emphasis on scenes of movement through the city disrupts dominant discourses of urbanism that seek to surveil, rationalize, and contain an individual, and in doing so catalyzes new routes of possibility within this highly controlled space.