Bill Trapp is a man devastated by loneliness. Every night when the sun sets he drinks himself to sleep, sometimes dreaming of Harry Simsoe’s Continental Show, the carnival with which he traveled as a laborer for many years. He and his sister, Hilda, were adopted as orphans by a Mrs. Haines; as a child, he always thought of himself as ugly. When Mrs. Haines died, Bill and Hilda had to fend for themselves with what jobs they could find, Hilda as a maid and Bill as a garage helper and later a carnival hand.
Bill’s only friend with the circus had been a drunken Italian performer who was devoted to an ancient hound dog. Bill and the Italian even ordered a set of books, one of which contains the anatomy text with which the girl Pokay later incriminates Bill. When the Italian dies, Bill retires in the town where he finds himself—Ridgeville—and buys the little patch of farmland near Beetlecreek. He has been there ten years when the story begins.
When Johnny Johnson comes to live with the Diggses, he is an innocent youth with no ill will toward anyone. At the fateful moment he discovers Johnny in the apple tree, Bill ends his self-imposed alienation from other humans by welcoming Johnny, and it appears that the black adolescent and the old white man may establish a friendship satisfying to both. Johnny’s corruption by Baby Boy and his delinquent Nightriders is swift, however, and Johnny’s torching of Bill’s home is a shocking close to...
(The entire section is 473 words.)