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It is the first day of school and back to the grind for Jess, whose only consolation is that the first race of the year will take place that afternoon. He comes to class to find that Leslie is in his class as well. Already she is a target for malicious taunting, since she has come in cutoffs and a T-shirt, apparently not realizing, or else not caring, that the rest of the students show up for the first day of school in their Sunday best. Jess lives through the morning in a fever of anticipation, waiting for the races at recess.
After a morning's worth of endurance of typical teacher irritability and peer annoyances, recess begins and the races are about to start. Jess is watching quietly as Gary Fulcher bosses everyone around when Leslie comes up to stand beside him. Gary begins to get too high-handed, running the races autocratically and unfairly, so Jess stands up to him, demanding that two boys who tied in their heat both be allowed to run in the finals. Gary, angered, derisively suggests that perhaps Jess wants to let a girl run. Jess agrees and tells her she can run in his heat.
When the race begins, Jess is supremely confident and proud of the speed he's gained over the summer. He imagines everyone is watching in awe, noticing how much he has improved, but all of a sudden he senses a figure drawing close to him, then ahead of him. As the figure pulls across the finish line, he can see that it is Leslie.
Gary wants to kick Leslie out of the race now that she has had her chance and run in her heat, but she demands to run in the finals. Jess backs her up, despite his humiliation and disappointment, by challenging Gary and asking if he's scared to race her. Gary reluctantly agrees to let her race, and she wins the finals as well.
After the race Leslie tries to befriend him, telling him he's the "only kid in this durned school worth shooting," but he brushes her off brusquely, telling her, "So shoot me." He continues to avoid her throughout the day, and when he sees her running toward her home after school, in her graceful, rhythmic run, he shrugs off the admiration which wells up within him and turns homeward.
The theme of Leslie's androgyny, or rather, of her transcendence of gender limitations, is developed more fully here. She wins the race and demonstrates that she can outrun all the boys in the school. She has crossed over to the boys' side of the playground, which is taboo in Lark Creek Elementary. Symptomatic of the authorities' insistence on gender division, Gary warns her to get back over to the girls' side before a teacher catches her, but she ignores him and continues to break gender barriers.
However, her running is not simply meant to portray her as a tomboy. Although running athletically is often thought of as a masculine pursuit, Paterson is careful to convey the grace and beauty of Leslie's run, giving it a more feminine quality. Leslie blends traits of both genders seamlessly, which lends her individuality previously unheard of in the world of Lark Creek Elementary.
However, whether or not Leslie's speed is evidence of an aspect of masculinity or no, there is no question that Jess perceives her win to impugn his own masculinity. When Jess loses to her, he feels it to be a threat to his own tenuous sense of masculinity. This feeling worsens when he realizes he has lost a good chance to win his father's attention and affection. His instinctive dislike of Leslie is born of all these things. He has the sense that she is a dangerous interloper who will not fit in the standard mold, which is coupled with her defeat of him and the disintegration of his dreams.
Nevertheless, Jess's moral fortitude is demonstrated clearly in his response to her win. Rather than allowing Leslie to be kicked out of the finals, an action which would likely result in his own admission to the finals, as the second- place winner in his heat, and make it possible to attain his dream of winning, he instead insists that she run in the finals as well. His sense of pride may be one reason that he does this, but there is also the simple element of fairness involved. This is an early sign of the qualities that distinguish Jess from most of his peers. He has an inherent and developed sense of justice, an ability to care about others, and an uncultivated but nevertheless sharp intelligence. Jess stands in contrast to his schoolmates, and Leslie certainly stands out, and thus the two of them seem to stand united against the rest. The portrayals of their classmates are perhaps a little one-dimensional. The boys all seem somewhat dim and the girls somewhat catty. Paterson apparently does not mean to distinguish the general run of Jess's schoolmates on an individual basis, which gives one the impression that there's precious little individuality to be found in that school.
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