Along with creating a vivid portrait of life in Harlem, James Baldwinâ€™s â€œThe Rockpileâ€ depicts the subtle hatred that can be directed towards stepchildren. Although the focus of the story is not on anger, for Baldwinâ€™s character John, acting as the familyâ€™s scapegoat is part of everyday life. Not only does John seem to take the blame for his brotherâ€™s actions, he also acts as the focal point of Gabrielâ€™s hatred for Elizabethâ€™s earlier life.
Although this hatred is never directly stated or implied until the end of the story, the early paragraphs hint at the position that John fulfills in the family. When we first learn of the rockpile, the two boyâ€™s feelings are so completely different that it is clear that there is more to it than meets the eye. As Roy looks at the rockpile he feels that it is his â€œâ€¦right, not to say his duty, to play there,â€ even though the pile is forbidden by the parents. To me this seems like a common childhood tendency, to be attracted to the forbidden. John on the other hand, doesnâ€™t say anything about the pile; â€œhe was afraid of the rockpile and of the boys who played there.â€ Why would John be scared of the rockpile? So long as John stayed away from the pile he would have nothing to be afraid of. Unless of course John knew that he would be the one punished for any trips to the rockpile by either himself or Roy.
For the reader, the picture of Johnâ€™s fear is strengthened at the point that Roy actually leaves the fire escape to go down to the street. It is here that John states that Roy should not leave because his mother might see him and also that his father will be home soon. Obviously John is afraid of what his parents will say to him if they find out that Roy has broken the rules and gone down to the street. As John witnessâ€™ Royâ€™s ascent to the top of the rock