The central character in the short story “The Fastest Runner on Sixty-first street” by James T.Farrell is Morty. He is depicted as a self-confident and popular boy who takes pride in being the fastest runner and dedicated skater. His peers admire Morty, often referring to him as “a damn good kid and a damned fast runner” (217). Despite having many friends, Morty forms a special bond with Tony, valuing their friendship and viewing Tony as a surrogate older brother, which he had always desired (220). Morty supports Tony in various ways, even though he sometimes disapproves of Tony’s aggressive behavior towards others. Despite his strong self-assurance, Morty engages in fights, although he maintains a balanced and friendly demeanor. He has ambitious plans for his future, believing he is somebody in his current world and will continue to be somebody in the larger world he aspires to enter (222). The profound influence of his friendship with Tony causes Morty’s character to be influenced by racism, demonstrating how even stable individuals can be swayed by the desire to belong to a specific group.
Characteristics of Tony in the short story “The Fastest Runner on Sixty-first street” by James T. Farrell include having an insecure character and gaining some self-confidence through friendship with Morty. Tony is disadvantaged at school as the poorest and least intelligent student. However, he befriends Morty to enhance his social standing. It is Tony who introduces Morty to fighting, leading them to become a strong team. Tony once expressed, “Kid you run the fastest, I fight the best in de whole school. We make a crack-up team. We’re pals. Shake, kid, we’re pals.” (219) This alliance positively influences Tony’s interactions with other classmates.
Tony is continuously searching for self-affirmation and believes that fighting and being praised and admired will make him feel powerful. As a weak character, Tony attempts to boost his self-esteem by belittling others, specifically by calling them derogatory names such as “nigger.” Through these insults, Tony creates the roots of racism, which ultimately result in Morty’s death. Racism typically stems from a lack of tolerance for diverse groups, as well as ignorance and stupidity. Individuals with low self-confidence are often more prone to adopting racist beliefs.