The protagonist, or central character of the story, is the author, Pat Conroy. The primary antagonist, or force that works against him, is the educational bureaucracy of the Beaufort County South Carolina School District, who administers the school on Yamacraw Island. Lesser antagonists include, at different times, individual coworkers, students, island residents, and forces within the author himself.
Although the story has the feel of a fictional work because of Conroy's colorful, narrative style, it is the story of his life told by himself, which makes it autobiographical. Since the content addresses only the two years in which the author worked on the island of Yamacraw, however, the book has also sometimes been classified as a memoir rather than a full autobiography. Whichever the case, the book is a work of nonfiction.