James Baldwin's short story was written in the early 1960s, the decade which also functions as its setting and that witnessed the development of the Civil Rights Movement and important political progresses for African Americans. The story echoes its historical context in depicting a white man, deputy sheriff Jesse, who is impotent to stop these changes even in his small Southern town. This political impotence is paralleled by his sexual impotence when, at the beginning of the story, he is lying in bed with his wife. Baldwin thus shows a society in transition and the white man's inability to grasp the new social order that will come.
As he recollects the castration of a black man, supposedly guilty of raping a white woman, that he witnessed in his youth, Jesse suddenly feels empowered both sexually and as a white man at the end of the story. Yet, this empowerment is obviously ironic: his identity as a white man is linked to cruelty and to his own repressed rapist fantasies/memories. At the end of the story, Jesse stops projecting his own rapist guilt onto black men and explicitly defines himself as the "nigger"raping his own wife.