This is a harrowingly detailed family saga spanning three generations of Copelands, black Georgia sharecroppers. It focuses on Grange, as husband, father, grandfather, and on his son Brownfield, who suffers the effects of his father's suffering. As a young man Grange cannot overcome his family's deadly circumstances and in a bitter reflex he becomes their tormentor. When it becomes unbearable he deserts them (destroying his wife in the process) to go north where he can be master, if not of himself, at least of his hatred, and returns in time to watch the dissolution of Brownfield's family, the past in hideous parody. In judging Brownfield, as he must, Grange judges his own guilt; and mellowed, with the custody of his small granddaughter Ruth, he undertakes a new life of quiet independence and attention to the responsibilities he now believes to be his. But the affection and joy that blossom between him and the girl are a short-lived, miraculous fluke, and his sense of control is proven illusory when Brownfield, unloving but resentful, and helped by a' white judge, sets out to reclaim his child. The pressures and responses of such beleaguered families are traced step by grim step, with stern sympathy and a clean, functional style.