The story is the monologue of a first-person narrator, related in a conversational style with some humor. Nat intentionally tells the reader everything he knows in a tone that varies from self-deprecating and joking to defensive, passionate, or matter of fact. He is unaware, however, of how much he unintentionally reveals about himself and of how certain of his weaknesses dominate, placing his good intentions in the background.
As a convincing and largely credible narrator, Nat describes in realistic detail the New York that visitors expect and fear—a city in which youths rob liquor stores, innocent people are mugged, landlords squeeze money out of their ghetto tenants, and altruism is suspect. The focus is on the black ghetto, seen by an outsider, a Jew who is himself similarly stereotyped by the larger society.
The naïve, even unrealistic suggestion of color in the title becomes a metaphor for the racial identification that dominates the story’s images. Just as blackness in a literal sense hinders vision and therefore calls for contrast, contrast between black people and white people becomes Malamud’s technique for connecting plot with theme. Most of the story’s episodes build around contrasting views generated by racial differences; in one way or another, each episode represents a larger societal issue. Images of blood parallel those of blackness and are equally powerful in conveying the philosophical issue undergirding the story: Nat’s growing awareness of “one human color . . . the color of blood.”
With these techniques, an apparently rambling personal reminiscence is transformed into a skillfully controlled journey toward a universal human truth.