(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The protagonist walks across a compound to his house, considering the appearance of the place for which he is largely responsible. He is Collins, the idealistic white principal of a reformatory for young African men. When he first arrived there, it was surrounded by high walls topped with jagged pieces of glass. Now the walls are gone and the grounds are marked with edged pathways and flower beds. He has had playing fields built and musical instruments brought in, and he has given the inmates more freedom.

The newspapers call Collins “the man who pulled down the prison walls and grew geraniums in their place”; however, he reflects that it was not really geraniums but roses that the boys have planted. Whenever people think that they understand something, there is always a small inaccuracy waiting to be revealed. The world is simply more complicated than most people realize. Collins understands—or thought he did—the complexity of his own position, the benefits and disadvantages of tearing down the prison walls.

Now one of Collins’s boys has run away and is suspected of beating and robbing an old woman. During the two days since he has heard of the assault, Collins has tried to convince himself that this boy could not have committed the crime. He reminds himself that to the police all blacks look alike and that the police think that the offender is his boy because they know that he is missing. They do not know, however, the quiet discipline that Collins has...

(The entire section is 612 words.)