New Day is set on the eve of the achievement of universal adult suffrage in Jamaica in 1944 and the rise of the mass political parties of the nationalist movement.
It is told through the memories of John Campbell, an old man whose memories go back to the Morant Bay rebellion of 1865, when after years of drought and repression a peasant rebellion lead by a Baptist Deacon Paul Bogle briefly flared and was then put down with the utmost savagery, including the slaughter of some of Campbell's family.
In the present, Garth Campbell, John's grand nephew, is a leader of the nationalist and trade union movement, a lawyer who, unlike his father, has never lost touch with the people and is a keen listener to the history his great uncle tells him must inform his actions.
The Campbell family are brown Jamaicans, successful business people and committed to peaceful, constitutional ways to progress.In part, the dynamics of Reid's novel arise from the conflict between this desire and the reality that Jamaica is prone to outbreaks of violence, in the present as well as the past, because the rulers are indifferent to the vast swells of anger always ready to surface in the under-educated, impoverished, spontaneous Black majority impatient for change and social justice. New Day is pioneering in its attempt to create a literary language of narration out of a modified version of Jamaican nation-language.