Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text's major themes.


Paul regards loyalties with great reverence, and throughout the novel, loyalties are tested and either broken or strengthened. Paul establishes his loyalty to Mitchell by taking the punishment for riding Ghost Wind, and Robert revokes the loyalty between him and Paul by succumbing to peer pressure. Mitchell demonstrates his loyalty to Paul by taking the money Sutcliffe owes him, and Paul reciprocates by helping Mitchell escape from the consequences of this theft. Loyalty is crucial among postbellum southern Black people partly because of their disenfranchisement and partly because they cannot trust or accept help from whites. As a substitute for the social, legal, and political structures that sustain white power, Black people call on a more informal network of friends and family who make extreme sacrifices for one another. For example, Mitchell agrees to tie his life to Paul's by helping him clear and later farm Granger's land, and Cassie sends Paul every cent she has to help Paul secure the land he wants. Since they cannot rely on social structures to protect and help them, Paul and his family have learned to rely upon each other.


From a young age, Paul is attuned to the craft of haggling for goods: he observes his father's strategies when he buys Ghost Wind, and he listens intently as Luke Sawyer haggles with customers over the furniture Paul has created. Paul uses these lessons when he haggles with Sutcliffe over his jockey price, when he haggles with Granger over the forty acres, and when he haggles with Hollenbeck over his land. Paul is a skilled bargainer—he is cool and respectful, he starts bargaining at a better price than he expects to get, and he is careful to hide how dearly he wants the object in question. Paul's act of haggling is a metaphor for the larger-scale haggling he does with white society at large. He is calculating, aware of his limitations, but ready to take risks when necessary so that he can establish himself as a dignified and self- sufficient adult.

Naming, Unnaming, and Renaming

Paul, Sam Perry, and Rachel Perry have each been unnamed and/or renamed by their white social superiors. Paul cannot be called by his full name, Paul- Edward, because it would be presumptuous for Paul to take his father's name when none of his white brothers have it. Sam Perry was nicknamed Sam by his owner because of his physical strength, and Rachel Perry was unnamed by her white owner's wife, because the white woman wanted to name her own daughter Rachel. These unnamings/renamings demonstrate the scope of white power and metaphorically communicate the dominance of whites to Black people—after all, these individuals do not even have the power to identify themselves. Black people, in response, engage in renamings: Rachel's mother calls her by her name in private, and after Emancipation she takes the name in public as well. Caroline insists on calling Paul by his full name, saying that he deserves the name. Moreover, names—not only last names—carry history and heritage. Paul and Caroline name Mitchell's baby Mitchell Thomas Logan, and Paul's own sons' names contain the names Luke, Edward, Hammond, and George, thereby encapsulating and preserving his family's history.

Reading and Writing

As Paul grows up, he spends a great deal of his time reading. His obsession with reading both signifies and causes rifts with other Black kids: a gang of boys teases him when they find him reading at the river, and men at the logging camp take offense to his preoccupation with his letter writing. Paul's passion for reading and writing represent his privileged childhood and his white heritage, but they also give Paul a crucial tool. Paul leverages his literacy to befriend Mitchell, and it also provides him with good ways to spend his time so he can save virtually all his money. Symbolically, Paul's salvation comes in the form of a letter from Cassie.