After a summer spent drifting from job to job, when the school year starts Richard finds employment at the hotel where his friend’s brother was murdered years before for his alleged relationship with a white prostitute. Little has changed, and as Richard mops the floor he observes his co-workers with a degree of amusement for their attempts to show manliness, one even bragging about sexually transmitted diseases. As Richard leaves one night with a black maid, he is outraged when she is fondled by the white security guard and continues walking. He is equally upset that he himself did nothing, though she is quick to assure him he would have only caused more trouble. His look of displeasure caused the guard to threaten him with a gun, which to her seemed quite enough. Richard looks down on his co-workers for stealing and resists the temptation to steal himself, though recognizes that whites seem to prefer dishonest workers to honest ones as it confirms their beliefs in superiority to blacks. With his dream of moving north in mind, Richard takes a job collecting tickets at a movie theatre and agrees to participate in a re-selling scam. Once he has begun it is hard to stop the pattern of stealing, and Richard breaks into a neighbor’s house for a gun he sells for a profit. Soon thereafter he steals fruit preserves from a local college and resells them as well, leaving for Memphis soon thereafter, vowing his days as a thief are over.
Richard’s experiences in the hotel and movie theatre are helpful steps preparing him for life in the big city, and although he struggles with the decision to steal he ultimately accepts it as means to an end. The interaction with the white night watchman suggests that due to his gender, Richard has remained unaware and relatively unaffected by yet another set of violent and demeaning behaviors. While he is angry at not having done something, his female co-worker has resigned herself to this reality and he eventually agrees “doing something” would likely only have made things worse. In such a world, it is little wonder that many black workers have taken to stealing from their employers. Richard can rationalize their decision but prefers making a different one himself, until his dream of moving to the city is dangling in front of him and a co-worker at the movie theatre asks him to participate in an already devised scheme to skim $200 by reselling tickets. Having embarked on this path, it becomes easier for Richard to steal a gun and food from the college pantry that help him buy his ticket to Memphis. However, the dirty feeling he describes on the train guarantees he has permanently lost his taste for engaging in such acts and in future he will not be able to compromise his principles for short-term gain.