Beetlecreek is divided into four sections, all told by an omniscient third-person narrator whose focus shifts from one main character to another. The short first section opens with Bill Trapp, the old white man, scaring four black teenaged boys out of his apple tree. Actually, he means to welcome them more than frighten them, for he has lived a lonely life since coming to Beetlecreek, a white man on the margin of a black neighborhood with no ties to anyone of either race. Johnny does not get out of the apple tree in time to run, and he accepts Bill’s unexpected invitation to sit and drink a glass of the old man’s homemade cider. When David Diggs, Johnny’s uncle, comes looking for the boy, he joins in their conviviality, and the result is that David invites Bill to join him and Johnny that night at Telrico’s, the local tavern.
For Bill, the boozy evening at Telrico’s is a breakthrough to the human companionship he has had to do without for most of his life. His joy is painful, because it clearly presages disappointment to come. Indeed, when David and Johnny leave Bill following their beer-drinking fellowship, David warns Johnny, “Don’t bother saying anything to your Aunt Mary about Bill Trapp being there tonight.” Whereas the novel does not stress racial discrimination, David’s caution to Johnny betrays his uneasiness about his own hospitality at the same time that his kindness to a lonely old man reveals that he is above racial barriers to human kindness.
Meanwhile, Mary Diggs is daydreaming about the Missionary Guild’s soon-to-be-staged Fall Festival and the acclaim she hopes it will bring “Mary’s Bestest Ginger-cake.” The topic obsesses her....
(The entire section is 695 words.)