An argument can be made that David resembles Baldwin in Paris as he left America after being exposed to excessive racism. David, though not a victim of racism like Baldwin himself, is an American who escapes to Paris. However, when asked if the book was autobiographical in an interview in 1980, Baldwin explains he was influenced by his observations in Paris, but the novel wasn't necessarily shaped by his own experiences:
"No, it is more of a study of how it might have been or how I feel it might have been. I mean, for example, some of the people I have met. We all met in a bar, there was a blond French guy sitting at a table, he bought us drinks. And, two or three days later, I saw his face in the headlines of a Paris paper. He had been arrested and was later guillotined. That stuck in my mind."