Caldwell's focus on the issues of class and race was more intense than that of any other white southern writer of his generation. What distinguishes his best fiction dealing with class is his ability to evoke emotion while avoiding sentimentality. For example, if Jeeter Lester of Tobacco Road were only pitiable, then the reader, after feeling sorry for him, could forget him. But because his behavior is so outrageous, it is disturbing and unforgettable.
Notwithstanding the artistic power with which Caldwell invested his delineation of the effects of poverty, his anger and agony over the poison that racism injected into southern life called forth his best work. No rational person, not even a white southerner in the 1930s, could contend that the black protagonists in such stories as "Saturday Afternoon," "Candy-Man Beechum," and "Kneel to the Rising Sun" deserved their terrible fate. Their self-respect and good habits, coupled with white jealousy, got them killed.
Caldwell's harsh criticism of social injustice in his native region brought forth equally sharp criticism by some white southerners who accused him of being a communist, a corrupter of morals, and a traitor to the South. At the same time, other southerners commended his artistic skill and his social conscience. Controversy over his writings stalked his career and extended beyond the grave.