The main character is pitted against society throughout the plot of this novel as he battles not only his own personal struggles of being an orphan, but also the broader societal struggles of being black during the Great Depression. As Bud tries to track down his father (pun intended--Bud tries unsuccessfully at one point to "ride the rails" as many hobos of this time period did), he faces instances of abuse and segregation. He battles the foster care system in place at the time, the financial system (or lack thereof), and even the family structure—all challenges that stem from the loss of his mother at such a young age. However, this is not a novel of negativity. Bud does not allow himself any degree of self-pity; instead, he continually strives to better himself in an effort to overcome all the odds that are against him, and in the end, he is successful in his quest.