Denver continues his narration. When Denver is eighteen or nineteen, a plantation owner gives Denver a small shack to live in exchange for sharecropping his land. At the time, Denver feels pretty good about this, but in retrospect he sees that he was even worse off than first-generation sharecroppers—no education, working for shelter and food, and a slave by all counts. To Denver, the worst thing about sharecropping is that the Man purposefully keeps his workers ignorant and unskilled, unable to do anything but pick cotton. Before the abolition of slavery, slaves had been taught to do all manner of work: carpentry, sewing, shoemaking, barbering, painting. Now, those jobs are only for white people, and all that black people know how to do is farm cotton. As tractors start reducing the need for cotton pickers, even sharecropping jobs start to fall away, leaving many black families destitute with no housing, food, jobs, or skills.
This is one of the first major developments of the Man as a symbol, rather than just a person. The Man functions as a symbol of oppression and control, representing any force, system, or individual that holds people in ignorance and bondage. It is notable that there is an inverse relationship between the Man’s amount of legal control over his laborer’s bodies and the level of independence and self-sufficiency he allows them. When the Man has full legal control over slaves, it is more advantageous to have slaves who are self-sufficient and well-skilled. However, now that it is illegal to outright own another person, the Man must keep his laborers unskilled and dependent on his provision to maintain control over them.
Denver works the Man’s land for almost thirty years, never receiving a paycheck. He never realizes that there are schools he can go to, other trades he can apprentice in, or that he can join the army and work through life that way. He doesn’t know what else is happening in the world, that his country is fighting World War II, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War; He doesn’t know that the Civil Right Movement is occurring all around the country or that his life differs so greatly from anyone else’s.
Denver’s debt-bondage and enforced ignorance separate him from the rest of the world, preventing him from participating in it or even being aware of what else is occurring. It could be argued that this ignorance and inability to participate in the goings-on of the outside world forms a second form of oppression—Denver is never given the chance to exercise autonomy and leave his mark on the world.
Denver catches word that Thurman is somewhere in California, making lots of money. One day, he walks to the railroad tracks, meets a man who shows him how to hop a train, and leaves Louisiana, intending to join his brother. He doesn’t tell anyone he’s leaving.
That Denver does not tell anyone he is leaving the state indicates how devoid of real relationships or meaningful human contact his life has become. This contributes to the development of his anti-social demeanor.