Some have argued that this novel can hardly be called a novel at all - rather a collection of short stories. However others argue that this work can be considered a novel because it is unified by a single narrator, common themes and the fact that the characters of each separate story appear in the stories of other characters. The work tells the story of a series of desperate characters struggling against circumstance in Miguel Street in Port of Spain in Trinidad, which was where the author was brought up.
The stories tell the lives of the inhabitants of Miguel Street and the desperate lives they lead - their hopes, how they are crushed, and how they adjust to their new circumstances. Many of the characters are in search of an identity which will define them in this community. Bogart, for example, commits bigamy so that he can show his community that he is a "man" and not sterile. Popo is a very interesting character as he reflects that to be accepted into this male community you have to be lazy and not at all industrious. He gains aprobation by leaving his hard working wife and then also being arrested for theivery, yet loses it again after he is reformed and starts to work hard after his escape. These characters therefore are all victims of circumstance - a theme that goes through the novel of characters being unable to change their lot in life. The novel ends with the narrator - unlike the rest of the characters - being able to go away and study, and change the course of his life.