The rock pile is a mass of natural rock, strangely placed in the middle of an urban area and the favorite playground for the neighborhood kids. The rock pile for John, represent something truly solid and irreversible and he likes it for the mysterious placement and the idea of it being there only to stop an imminent accident for the underground subway cars. It has to be there. Otherwise…what?
The short story tells us of John, the oldest son of four children. He has a younger, curious and impatient brother in Roy and the two other children are much younger and nurtured by mother. As Baldwin writes: “Only John was nameless and a stranger, living, unalterable testimony to his mother’s days in sin”. He’s not the reverend’s child
and therefore has to take much abuse, also physical, from the violent and strict man. Where his mother at least receives the love of a husband, John receives at the most only his mother’s love. It is clear that her protesting against her husband in the situation is rare – she’s an insecure, dominated housewife just wishing to make ends meet. Despite this lifestyle John seems to have learned early on to keep a calm, solid and strong – much like the stone in the rock pile. He will not break down because he cannot. His only alternative is to run away, but being a child, poor and black in a racially prejudiced society only adds to eliminating alternatives for his stagnated situation. Another essential line in the story goes: “The child stared at the man in fascination and horror – when a girl down home she had seen rabbits stand so paralyzed before the barking dog”. She and John knows this life is somehow irreversible for now and we are left with the feeling of one very violent, maybe even fatal disciplining of John being imminent. Baldwin’s story is about being stuck in an unalterable situation/environment in life and the cause and effect of that.