Jimmy is introduced to the reader as a convict with a deliberately calloused exterior, which he uses to avoid emotional distraction and responsibility for his actions. We are introduced to him as he is introduced to the prison, inexperienced and young, but guarded and cautious. Immediately, he is introduced as a sexual being, one who is repulsed by the “touch of Red’s bare arm” and repulsed by the sexuality that it arises in himself (28). Jimmy’s sexuality is complicated: he is queer, but his own queerness initially repulses him.
As his life in the prison evolves, so does his sexuality. He initially fears being seen as a “boy-girl,” and he tries to avoid anyone thinking him weak. However, as he meets men who attract him in a deeper way, he becomes more comfortable putting his sexuality on display. His love for Lively becomes known by much of the prisoners, and he values the relationship higher than he values his relationship with his mother or father – measured by the quantifiable resource that he has access to and that those he loves need – money.
When Jimmy is not in love, when he loses Lively and connections with other prisoners, he draws into himself and fears he cannot survive his sentence. However, when he is in love, particularly with Rico, he fears that his love will prevent him from focusing on his freedom.
Rico helps Jimmy, more than any other lover, return to his humanity – to a humanity that he fears within himself. Rico helps Jimmy heal. “Do you dream?” Rico asks him, inquiring about both his actual dreams and his aspirations. Jimmy cannot tear down his defenses for Rico or for himself. “The trouble with you is you have too much imagination,” he tells Rico in another discussion (299).
In Chester Himes’ writing, Jimmy comes alive when he is in love, and so does Himes’ writing. His writing is almost monotonous in the first section. “That happened,” Himes repeats in a consistent drawl that outlines event after event, highlighting few detail and boring the reader. After Rico and Jimmy realize that their time together is limited, Himes writes, “It stained their relationship with a hopeless, futile desperation, as if it was only borrowed for a space of time and would in the end have to be returned.” It’s as if, when Jimmy is in love, Himes is too, and his writing becomes more animated and imaginative.