Written by Paul Laurence Dunbar, "The Finish of Patsy Barnes" tells the story of the titular character, a poor young African-American boy who enters a horse race in order to earn the money he needs to pay for his sick mother's treatment. His victory is compounded by his decision to ride and therefore symbolically conquer the horse that killed his father, empowering his mother to begin her journey to recovery.
Dunbar was an African-American poet, novelist and playwright who was most active during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He published during the Harlem Renaissance and was an inspiration to Maya Angelou. His work often featured characters who used the dialect associated with blacks living in the antebellum South; in "The Finish of Patsy Barnes," Patsy and his mother's speech patterns are noticeably different from those of the white doctor they initially hire as well as those of the horse owners. "The Finish of Patsy Barnes" doesn't flinch from depicting the racism of the time in which it is set, but it also does not shrink from criticizing both Eliza and Patsy, the former for complaining and the latter for misbehavior. Eliza's illness and Patsy's subsequent triumph serve as devices to redeem the two central characters for their earlier faults.