James Alan Mcpherson's story "Elbow Room" explores race relations in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s, soon after collapse of the rigid social standards that had been in place since the end of the Civil War, a century earlier. At the center of the story is a young couple: Virginia, a black woman whose travels across the world have opened her eyes to the ways in which American culture can be narrow-minded, and Paul, a white man who has opted out of the Vietnam War as a conscientious objector and is on his own personal search for truth. When they fall in love and marry, a friend of theirs, the story's narrator, predicts that they will find the challenges of being an interracial couple to be more than their youthful idealism has led them to expect. The biggest test comes from Paul's father, who rejects Virginia and the whole idea of the marriage, leading Paul to face life as an outsider. Throughout the telling of the story, Mcpherson weaves dialogues between the narrator and his editor. The editor, a cold and mechanical voice, insists that the story ought to contain a traditional narrative form and elements, but the narrator explains that the subject of race in the United States is too complex to be approached directly.
This story is a part of a short story collection also called Elbow Room, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1979.