The need to be loved is a recurring idea in the story. Carnelle has a desperate need to be loved. She grew up without the love of parents and with the disdain of her aunt. Consequently, she looked for love in one sexual affair after another. Once she realized that promiscuity brought her only disgrace and the nickname "Miss Hot Tamale," she sought a form of love through acceptance. Carnelle wants to belong to her community, so she joins a church and does charitable work. The ultimate sign of acceptance, though, would be winning the Miss Firecracker Contest and becoming queen of Brookhaven, Mississippi.