The story begins with a nineteen-year-old James Baldwin at his father’s funeral. Looking back on the time he spent with his father, Baldwin realizes that he very rarely spoke to his father and had almost no relationship with him. Baldwin credits this partially to the fact that both him and his father were stubborn and prideful, but also maintains his father “could be chilling in the pulpit and indescribably cruel in his personal life and he was certainly the most bitter man I have ever met; yet it must be said that there was something else to him, buried in him, which lent him his tremendous power and, even, a rather crushing charm” (Baldwin 588). This bitterness is a natural reaction to the racial tensions during Baldwin’s father’s life.
Baldwin remembers his father as an angry man who distrusted all white people because he was among the first generations of free men and, during his time, racism was very prevalent in the United States. His father had been ill a long time and ended up dying of tuberculosis. However, he was also sick with paranoia; this “disease of his mind allowed the disease of his body to destroy him” (Baldwin 590).