When Denver is seven or eight, he gets his first cotton sack. Every day, when he brings in the cotton he has picked, the Man says it’s about twenty pounds, no matter how long or hard Denver has worked or how much heavier it is than normal.
Denver’s childhood memories are not of going to school and learning, but of working in cotton fields. Such an early experience of being cheated by the Man must certainly have a demotivating effect as well, since no matter how hard he works, he can never get ahead.
One day, as Denver is walking home, a white boy named Bobby approaches him and asks him to ride bicycles with him. Denver doesn’t have a bicycle, but he agrees to go shoot Bobby’s BB gun with him instead. Denver and Bobby become fast friends, playing together whenever Denver isn’t working the fields. Bobby shares his food with Denver, and even helps Denver pick extra cotton scraps in the evenings for three years to trade the Man for a new Schwinn bicycle for Denver to ride. Denver recalls, “That Schwinn was the first new thing I ever had. I was eleven years old.”
Once again, the depiction of racism is more nuanced than what one might expect. Although, looking back, Denver recognizes that he was a slave and oppressed by white men, he also has incredibly fond memories of Bobby. The Man, who cheats him for decades, also gives him the first new thing he has ever owned. Rather than depicting the Man or white people in general as simply evil, Denver’s narration recognizes complexity, the mix of good and bad qualities in all people.