The novel, which begins with a protagonist in slavery being freed and leaving the plantation only to return to another plantation as a sharecropper, stresses the similarities between the conditions of African Americans in slavery and African Americans in the sharecropping plantation. The novel shows how formerly enslaved people lived after freedom. It shows how the patrollers and other vigilante groups through violence and terror curtailed the physical and educational mobility of African Americans in the south. Access to schools and political participation was shut down by plantation owners. Between physical limitations, not having money, and having to deal with ambivalent and hostile figures, Jane and Ned's travels don't take them very far physically (they do not leave Louisiana) nor in lifestyle. At the end of the chapter "A Flicker of Light; And Again Darkness", Miss Jane remarks of Colonel Dye's plantation, "It was slavery again, all right". In the depiction of Miss Jane's telling of the story, Jim, the child of sharecroppers parallels if not resoundingly echoes the earlier story of Ned, the child born on a slave plantation. Through these stories the novel further highlights the conditions of Louisiana sharecropping in relationship to the conditions of slavery.
Fighting back is a key motif in the novel.... Characters including Miss Jane start off initially leaving home only to return home with a resolve to stay and take care of the people around them. Ned goes away to Kansas, fights in the war, but eventually returns with a family. When his life is threatened for teaching the children, instead of running away, he preaches harder, urging the people to remember that "This earth is yours and don’t let that man out there take it from you", even though he knows that he will be killed for saying so. His death brings the community together. Similarly Jimmy goes away to school in New Orleans; when he returns, he begins organizing the people to help bring Civil Rights movement demonstrations to the Louisiana area. Like Ned he is also shot, but even in his death his efforts help bring the people together when as the novel’s concludes, Miss Jane and other residents of Samson go onto Bayonne to protest even without Jimmy.