Paul, a child clearly accustomed to fair and gentle treatment, quickly recognizes the similarities between himself and Mitchell. After enduring beating upon beating from the hostile older boy, he tries to understand the situation from Mitchell's point of view, remembering that both he and Mitchell were both born as slaves on the plantation. Paul's conversation with Mitchell focuses on their similarities—after getting Mitchell to admit that he would not like Paul any more if he had darker skin, he forces Mitchell to agree that the only real differences between the two are that Paul can read and write and Mitchell can fight. Paul's exchange with Mitchell establishes the parallel between the two boys: in Mitchell, Paul sees a mirror image of himself. This mirroring foreshadows the fact that, as far as society at large is concerned, Paul, even with all his learning and comfortable life, is still black. At his young age, Paul does not fully understand the implications of this mirroring.

Accordingly, Paul observes, but cannot fully make sense of, a societal structure that guards and buttresses the power of whites. For example: Paul's white brothers, only eighteen and sixteen years old, address Mitchell's mother by her first name; Paul does not go to school; Hammond, outraged by Mitchell's insolence reminds Mitchell that he is not Paul, referring to his race; Mitchell wonders briefly about the night riders, men who terrorize the blacks who threaten the rigid code of white power. Paul also explains, matter-of-factly, that it is against the law for a white man to have children with a black woman. Although Paul dismisses this fact, explaining that the law is in place only to prevent black children from inheriting land from white fathers, it is this exclusion from power that will be the source of his greatest travails.