Richard and his family are small-town country folk. They don’t have a lot, but what they have is enough for them to get by. Like any old-school parents, Richard’s mom and dad run a tight ship. The thing is, Richard is a troublemaker, so he’s constantly running into problems. That’s everything we need to know to start the story, because his problems—a little fascination with fire—launch us into the tale.
Things fall apart from here on out. Richard’s dad runs away with another woman, so the family has no money. Richard’s mom tries to work, but she gets so sick that she can’t even move. Richard is hungry. He’s an alcoholic by the time he’s six and working before he’s finished middle school. And he’s starting to figure out that some people will hate him just because his skin is brown. The only high point is that Richard has just discovered the love of his life: literature.
Richard is outta there. He did it. He has moved to the North, where he can (more or less) be free of racism and follow his dream of being a writer. Money is good. His family is happy. This is definitely the turning point of the story, because Richard’s life does a total 180.
The Great Depression messes up all of Richard’s plans. He loses his job. He has to move to a worn-down apartment. He has to work so hard at a shady job that he doesn’t even have time to read. Not only that, but he gets mixed up with the Communist Party. His struggles with that group are almost as bad as the racism he experienced in the South, and at this point we’re still not sure how the whole thing will turn out.
Richard gets the heck out of the Communist Party. When he’s alone again, he realizes what really was the most important thing in his life: writing. So, Richard sits down, picks up his pen, and does what he was born to do. Turns out, he wasn’t just born to cause trouble. He was also born to write.