Time passes and life changes for Denver. Uncle James dies, Aunt Etha moves away, and Denver and Thurman are separated and sent to different sharecropping plantations. Now thirteen or fourteen—Denver doesn’t keep track of time, since there seems to be no reason to—he goes to live with his sister Hershalee. Denver misses Bobby, and without him has very limited interaction with any white people besides the Man.
Denver’s limited interaction with white people other than the Man, who cheats him, begins to reinforce and strengthen his prejudices against white people in general. Without any real contact or relationship, Denver’s perception of white people is overwhelmed by the racism he sees, and he projects that onto the group at large.
Denver remarks that the separation between white people and black people isn’t enforced just by the adults; white kids harass and bully black kids as well. When Denver is fifteen or sixteen, walking home from the plantation, he meets a white woman with a flat tire. Denver asks if she needs help and she accepts. As Denver is finishing the job, however, three white boys ride out of the woods on horses and throw a rope around his neck to punish him for “botherin white ladies.” The boy who threw the rope ties it to his saddle and takes off, dragging Denver by the neck behind him. Denver nearly blacks out and thinks he will die until Bobby and his aunt happen to pull up in a vehicle and point a shotgun at the boys on horses, ordering them to cut Denver loose. Denver’s skin is raw and bleeding, and he can hardly see.
These events continue to reinforce Denver’s growing prejudice towards white people. Although Denver is merely trying to be a helpful person, he is nearly killed for his act of charity. The fact that the white woman he was helping does not even speak to his defense is demonstrative of of the social power of racism in that era, silencing even well-meaning people and making them complicit in the racist acts. However, it is also notable that although he is nearly murdered by white people, Denver is also rescued by white people, once again illustrating the nuance and variation between people of the same group.
Bobby and his aunt drive Denver to his Auntie’s house, where he spends the next week in bed. The bruising goes down, his skin scabs over, and his eyesight returns. Denver knows who the boys are, but figures their fathers are in the Ku Klux Klan and knows its better just to keep silent. “Lookin back, I figure what them boys done caused me to get a little thrown off in life. And for sure I wadn’t gon’ be offerin to help no white ladies no more.”
This passage proves that Denver’s mean-spiritedness as an adult is not inherent to his person, but is the result of many painful and traumatic experiences throughout his life. This ties into the book’s overarching idea that many of the negative qualities people associate with homelessness, such as violence, drunkenness, or unapproachability, are not inherent to those people, but brought on by experiences they have had.