Knock your brains out, bust your back, run your feet down to the bone. What for? The Man said, nothing's promised you. We know that.

In chapter 12, Alfred quits boxing and succumbs to the temptations of drugs, alcohol, and irresponsibility. This is perhaps his lowest point in the book—he is frustrated with his training, but after having spent the weekend with Major he knows he does not fit in with the hoodlums either. He tries to motivate himself to do something, but he has trouble. Working, training, and boxing all seem pointless here. This quote reflects just how hard it is for Alfred to believe in the future and how hard it is for him to believe that he can effect change in a positive way, or that there is any real point in trying.