One salient feature of the book is its use of multiple narrators and many characters to reveal the complexity of the situation.
While the theme of race is addressed, the class differences of workers versus owners is dominant. Ella lives in an otherwise all-black neighborhood and her best friend, Violet, is black. Racist policies keep the black mill workers even lower than the white workers, so the owners further exploit race to try to convince the black workers that the union will not help them.
Questions about a living wage, work hours, and workplace safety dominate the workers' concerns and demands. The owners voice concerns that any additional expenses would be so burdensome as to force them to close the plants. The owner, McAdam, is not the most articulate voice for his side but does worry about the costs—not just financial costs but the costs of publicity about Reds, as well. He also views things more personally, as he knows the workers more than the northern strangers who aim to revamp the aging mills. Likewise, Kate (his wife) worries about child-rearing and education for her own children. She is aware of limitations that working mill mothers face but also must see that some would regard schooling and nurseries as dangerous precedents and not just utopian fantasies.