The major theme of the novel is love and solidarity among the disinherited and how these values encourage them to stand up for their rights. The network of relationships that binds the characters of the novel together enables them to face racism and patent injustice. Human relationships are shown to be more effective than the state and the law to protect the rights of African Americans. The only exception is Fonny's mother, Alice, who is a bigoted religious fanatic and shows contempt for her husband and son for their darker skin. The novel goes as far as conceiving an international bond between the disinherited. As Tish's mother comes back from Puerto Rico (where she went to find the woman who has been manipulated into accusing Fonny of rape), she comments "I don't speak no Spanish and they don't speak no English. But we on the same garbage dump. For the same reason".
The novel has had a filmic adaptation in 1998, A La Place du Coeur (Where the Heart Is), directed by the French leftist director Robert Guediguian. The adaptation transfers the action to the French city of Marseille in the 1990s and to the larger context of Europe shaken by racism and ethnic cleansing. One could start from this adaptation to show how Baldwin's stress on love has been read in rather universalist way by Guediguian and how the category of class rather than race is central to the director's interpretation of the novel.