It doesn’t matter anymore. Just do the best you can. But it won’t matter.

Matthew Antoine, Grant’s primary school teacher, was a defeated, bitter man whose attitude affected Grant’s perception of Southern society. In Chapter 8, Grant recalls visiting Antoine on his deathbed and hearing him say these words. Grant thought he could change things for the better through his teaching, and Antoine disagreed, saying even Grant’s best efforts would fail. Antoine’s belief in black failure has a firm basis in fact, for his society does make it nearly impossible for blacks to succeed. However, the belief also stems from his own racism. Antoine is of mixed race and frankly admits that he feels superior to blacks and inferior to whites. He also admits these notions of superiority are not natural, but created by society. Still, he suggests that after your own inferiority gets drummed into your head, it no longer matters if you are actually inferior or only treated as if you are.

Grant resists Antoine’s defeatism at first, but by the time the novel begins he has come to embrace it. He believes, like Antoine, that society forces blacks in the South to fail and that the efforts of one man can do nothing to change things. He also begins to feel that failure is inherent in blacks themselves, that it is not simply the effect of an oppressive system.