| Quote #1
He figured if he worked at it – and Lord, had he worked – he could be the fastest runner in the fifth grade when school opened up. He had to be the fastest--not one of the fastest or next to the fastest, but the fastest. The very best. (1.7)
Jess's desire to be "the fastest" runner is practically the first thing we learn about him. We know right away that he has talent and determination. We also see him trying to carve out a place for himself and achieve something at school, and really become known for something: for being "the very best." That desire to be the best says good things about his character and his moral state.
| Quote #2
One time last year Jesse had won. Not just the first heat but the whole shebang. Only once. But it had put into his mouth a taste for winning. (1.18)
This is the root of Jess' ambition: winning. The "taste of winning" – of that short-lived glory – inspired him to train all summer and find a place for himself in the school hierarchy the following year by being the fastest runner. It gave him purpose and direction. Even though it happened "only once," it was enough to make him completely motivated to win the following year.
| Quote #3
"All right, Jesse. Get your lazy self off that bench. Miss Bessie's bag is probably dragging ground by now. And you still got beans to pick."
This is all about context. We readers know Jess isn't lazy and so we side with him. We saw him get up and train for his race while the whole house was still asleep, and we just witnessed his older sisters bamboozle their mother into letting them get out of chore duty. Despite that, Jess is the one who gets called lazy and who has to do the most around the house. It just doesn't seem fair.