Chapter 17 Summary
At a family dinner, Uncle Wilson congratulates Alfred and asks about his next fight; he has a bout next week and another before Christmas. Both Aunt Pearl and Aunt Dorothy are worried about him getting hurt, but Wilson says that top fighters have great opportunities. When his son, Jeff, says he did some boxing in college, however, Wilson reprimands him for endangering his brain and wasting his talent. Obviously Wilson does not approve of boxing and is just happy that Alfred is doing well at something.
Jeff would like to be able to carry himself better, and when Wilson realizes Jeff is not sure whether he wants to go to Africa like his father wants, Wilson is furious. He is not going to allow his son, with so much potential, to settle for less than what Wilson expects of him. Jeff is realistic and knows the corporate world hires very few African-Americans, but Wilson is adamant that he knows what is best for the boy.
Jeff questions his cousin about boxing, and Alfred tells him that he likes running and working out in the gym but is “not so sure” about what happens in the ring. Wilson keeps talking about “planning for the future” and “thinking ahead.”
Alfred announces that he intends to finish high school at night because Spoon says that “the more you know, [the] more you want to know.” Wilson thinks times have really changed and he does not always understand it; his wife reminds him that men like him started the change, and now it is time for the next generation to move forward.
Jeff drives Aunt Pearl’s family home so he can continue talking to Alfred. Jeff tells Alfred he has seen a change in him; he used to be more negative and seemed to “drift along through life.” Alfred admits he did not have a clear plan for his life and thus saw no reason to stay in school. But Spoon told him that a person who can concentrate on boxing can concentrate on learning anything.
Jeff is thinking about joining one of the many organizations trying to form groups to give black children black adults to look up to; he thinks Alfred would be good at helping to organize a recreation center for children.
After Jeff drops them off, Alfred and Aunt Pearl walk the girls up the stairs to the house, past a “shuddering old man crouched alongside the stairs behind a garbage pail.” When the hunched-over man moves, Alfred feels sick and scurries his family inside before slowly approaching the man he recognized as James.
James has been waiting for Alfred and asks for money. Alfred tries to bring James inside for some food, knowing how James will spend any money he gets. All Alfred has in his wallet is six dollar bills. James snatches them, staggers down the street, and disappears. Alfred wishes he had dragged James into the apartment and wonders what will happen to his former friend.