Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry
|Author||Mildred D. Taylor|
|Cover artist||Jerry Pinkney|
|Publisher||Dial Press (Now Penguin Group)|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Preceded by||Song of the Trees|
|Followed by||Let the Circle Be Unbroken|
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is a 1976 novel by Mildred D. Taylor, sequel to her 1975 novella Song of the Trees. It is a book about racism in America during the Great Depression. The novel won the 1977 Newbery Medal. It is followed by two more sequels, Let the Circle Be Unbroken (1981), The Road to Memphis (1990), and a prequel to the Logan family saga, The Land (2001).
This popular novel explores life in southern Mississippi, in "The South", during the Depression - when racism was still common and many were persecuted for the color of their skin. The 'Berry Burnings' mentioned in the first chapter-and beyond-and Mr. Tatum who was tarred and feathered in the fourth chapter, are prime examples of the racism that still existed, with people taking the law into their own hands, at the expense of the black population.
Throughout roll of thunder hear my cry the reader learns about the importance of land and the effects of racism, at the same time as Cassie Logan (the narrator) learns 'the way things are'. It is key to this story that the narrator is a child as it adds emphasis upon what it was like to grow up in "The South", and it also helps the reader to understand the true impact of racism at this time.
Cassie Logan, who is 9 years old, is walking to school with her siblings Stacey, Christopher-John, and Little Man in rural Mississippi. Cassie talks about the land on which the Logan family lives. It belonged to Harlan Granger, but he sold 200 acres of it in 1886 to cover his taxes during Reconstruction. Their grandfather bought two hundred acres in 1887, then another two hundred acres in 1918. After several miles of walking, T.J. Avery and his brother appear. The Avery family sharecrop on the Granger plantation. At school, Cassie and Little Man go to their classroom, where Cassie's teacher, Daisy Crocker, gives them their textbooks, worn-out, outdated castoffs from the white school with a chart that says only white kids used these books up until they were in bad condition, indicating their future uses are intended only for black students. Crocker meets with Cassie's mother, Mary, who calmly glues a piece of paper over the chart containing the racist indicator in all the books. She hands them back to a dumbstruck Crocker. That Saturday their father, David Logan, comes home from his railroad job in Louisiana, bringing with him L.T. Morrison to assist in planting, farming, protection and other jobs, as Morrison was fired from the railroad for a fight that was the white men's fault. Papa leaves the next day to catch a train.
The next week, Stacey and T.J. take an examination and T.J. creates cheat sheets that he gives to Stacey when he sees Mrs. Logan approaching. She finds the notes, accuses Stacey of cheating on the test and whips him in front of the class before failing him. After school, T.J. runs to the Wallace Store, which the Logans forbid their children from visiting due to the Wallace's causing much of the black people's troubles. Stacey follows T.J. and the others follow Stacey. Mr. Morrison finds them fighting and separates them. Instead of telling their mother, Morrison leaves Stacey to do it himself. Stacey tells his mom and she takes the children to visit the Berrys. Mr. Berry is badly burned and gruesomely disfigured. Mama explains that the Wallaces are responsible for this and she does not want them to ever go near the Wallace's store again.
The next day, Mama recruits people to boycott the Wallace's Store because they are the cause of most of the trouble between the blacks and the whites, and are alleged to be members of the "night men". Big Ma, Cassie's grandmother, takes Stacey, Cassie and T.J. to Strawberry, a nearby town, and sells her goods at the market there. After lunch they visit the office of Mr. Jamison, who is their white lawyer and the son of the man who sold them Harlan Granger's land. He is one of the few white people who treats black people equally. T.J. takes Cassie and Stacey to the Barnett Mercantile to purchase items his family needs. T.J. admires a pearl-handled revolver on display, and says he wants to own it. Mr. Barnett begins serving T.J., but when white customers comes in Mr. Barnett interrupts his business with T.J. to serve them. Cassie reminds Mr. Barnett that they have been waiting for an hour; he tells her in racist terms to continue waiting. Cassie begins yelling at Mr. Barnett. Stacey tells her to be quiet, but Mr. Barnett ejects them both from the store. Cassie accidentally bumps into Lillian Jean Simms on the sidewalk. Lillian Jean orders her to get down in the road and apologize. Cassie tries running, but Lillian Jean's father twists her arm and throws her onto the road and orders her to apologize by calling Lillian Jean Miss as though she were an adult. Big Ma reluctantly tells her to apologize. When they get home, they find their uncle Hammer Logan from Chicago is visiting with a shiny silver Packard. Cassie tells him what happened and Hammer drives away seeking revenge. Mama tells Stacey to get Mr. Morrison to stop Hammer. She is worried that Hammer will be lynched for attacking a white family, but she finds him alive and unharmed. Before going to church, Hammer gives Stacey an early Christmas present, a wool coat whose sleeves are too long. At church, T.J. persuades Stacey to give him the wool coat because its sleeves make it look "like a preacher's coat". Papa comes home for Christmas and is staying until spring. On Christmas night, Jeremy visits the Logans and gives them nuts and a handmade flute for Stacey. Papa warns Stacey to be careful about being friends with Jeremy, saying that he will change because the Simms are racist; Jeremy might become prejudiced too. The next day, Papa calls the children into the barn, whips them and tells them never to go to the Wallace store again. Time passes and Papa starts leading the boycott against the store. Mr. Jamison visits and Big Ma signs papers giving the land to Papa and Hammer. He also warns them to be careful, because they could lose their land if they continue their boycott. Mr. Granger asks for the land again, but Papa refuses. Hammer returns to Chicago.
Cassie makes "peace" with Lillian Jean, calling her "Miz" Lillian Jean and being her friend by carrying her books to and from school. As Lillian Jean begins trusting Cassie, she tells her all her secrets. Cassie later leads Lillian Jean into the woods, drops her books on the ground and starts beating her, forcing her to apologize for all the humiliation she inflicted on Cassie. Cassie threatens to reveal all of Lillian Jean's secrets if she tells anyone what happened. T.J. is caught cheating again and fails for another year. He tells Mr. Wallace about Mrs. Logan and how she does not teach from the county-issued textbooks because she believes they contain biased information, and tells about the boycott. Mr. Granger, Mr. Wallace and a school board member fire Mrs. Logan on charges of "teaching unapproved things". Stacey blames T.J., although he denies it was his fault. After his black friends shun him, T.J. begins hanging out with Melvin and R.W. Simms, brothers of the Logans' friend Jeremy, who manipulate T.J. and mock him behind his back. Papa, Mr. Morrison and Stacey go to Vicksburg; on their way back, they find one of the wagon wheels has been tampered with. As Papa fixes it they are ambushed by the Wallaces. Papa's leg is crushed when the startled horse runs off. Mr. Morrison snaps the limbs of the Wallaces. Mr. Granger uses his banking influence to make the Logan's mortgage note due for full payment within a week even though the Logans had four more years to pay it. Uncle Hammer sells his car and other items, leaving the Logans able to pay the mortgage.
On the last night of church revival meetings in August, T.J. appears dressed up in gangster-like clothes with R.W. and Melvin in order to show his former friends he is better off without them. R.W. and Melvin take T.J. to get the pearl handled pistol at the Barnett store. The store is closed, but R.W. and Melvin convince T.J. to steal the gun while they rob the cash box. The Barnetts catch what appear to be three black burglars, as Melvin and R.W. are wearing stocking masks over their faces. R.W. hits Mr. Barnett with the flat end of an ax and slaps Mrs. Barnett, causing her to hit the back of her head on a stove and black out. They beat up T.J. when he threatens to reveal what happened. T.J. flees to the Logans. Stacey takes T.J. home before T.J.'s father finds him missing and kicks him out. The Simms and Wallaces attack the Avery's home, capture T.J. and are about to lynch him when Mr. Jameson and the town sheriff arrive. The Wallaces propose taking T.J. to the Logan's land and killing him and Papa and Mr. Morrison. The Logan children flee home where they are found to have been missing and reveal what happened. Papa and Mr. Morrison leave. Mama and Big Ma realize that there is a fire outside that may consume their land. The fire stops the lynching by causing the Simms, Wallaces and Logans to work together to extinguish it. Mrs. Barnett survives the burglary, but Mr. Barnett dies. The sheriff arrests T.J. and Cassie realizes that Papa set the fire to save T.J. Stacey asks what T.J.'s fate will be. Papa replies that he will be convicted of Mr. Barnett's murder and may be executed. Cassie, overwhelmed by the news, silently goes to bed. Although Cassie never liked T.J., she cries for him and the land.
- Stacey Logan: A 12-year-old boy who is slowly progressing into manhood. He is protective over his siblings. He is the oldest child of the family and is friends with T . J . but questions it sometimes ., but in the end realizes how he was changing. While Papa is away he feels that he's the man of the house and needs to keep his family safe.
- Cassie Logan: The narrator and protagonist. Cassie is 9 years old. She has a fiery temper, is brave, and is also naive about racism, but sometimes she can be just like the boys. She is very brave and strong for herself. She's strong-willed, and will speak her mind in just about any situation.
- Christopher-John Logan: A plump, cheerful 7 year-old, Christopher-John is the third-oldest of the children. He is timid and easy going. Christopher John doesn't really stand out in the crowd, so he is very different from his other siblings.
- Little Man Logan (Clayton Chester): A meticulously neat 6 year-old first-grader, Little Man is the youngest of the Logan children. He also doesn't understand why blacks get treated so badly and doesn't understand why blacks and whites are different. All he knows is that he does not like it one bit.
- Papa (David Paul Logan): The father of the Logan children. He values his independence highly, leaving for months at a time to work on the railroad in order not to lose ownership of Logan land.
- Uncle Hammer: The uncle of the Logan children. He sells his car later in the book so the family could keep the land.
- Mama (Mary Logan): The mother of her four children, Stacey, Cassie, Christopher-John, and Little Man. She teaches seventh grade at Great Faith Elementary, a class that gets smaller every year when her older students leave school to work on their families' sharecropper lands, and is eventually fired when T.J. tells on her pasting over the books' covers' racist front cover charts and about their leading of the boycott of the Wallace's.
- Big Ma (Caroline) The mother of Papa and Uncle Hammer. The loving grandmother of Cassie, Stacey, Little Man, and Christopher John. The main caretaker of the house.
- Jeremy Simms: A white boy whose family is racist, Jeremy doesn't like or share his family's beliefs, and tries to be friends with Stacey and the others. For Christmas, Jeremy visits Stacey and gives him a flute and Mama some nuts. He lives in a tree house in an attempt to be away from his family, whom he detests. No matter how many times the Logan family shuns him, he never stops trying to be their friend, like a stray dog who follows them. Papa doesn't want him to be the Logan children's friend because he is afraid that Jeremy will grow up to be like the rest of his family.
- Lillian Jean Simms: The older sister of Jeremy but younger than R.W. and Melvin Simms. Lillian Jean humiliates Cassie in Strawberry by shoving her in the road, and, later on in the novel, Cassie takes revenge by pretending to be her friend for several weeks and learning all her secrets that her friends tell her. After a month, Cassie brings her into the woods and drops her books, beats her up and then blackmails her into apologizing for what happened in Strawberry by threatening to tell that she told her and her friends' secrets to a black child and had been beaten up by a nine-year-old black child.
- Melvin and R.W. Simms: Jeremy and Lillian Jean Simms' older, racist brothers who use T.J. for their own wants and get him in trouble for burglary and the murder of Jim Lee Barnett.
- Charlie Simms: The father of Lillian Jean, Jeremy, Melvin and R.W. Simms. He is a member of the night men. He is a highly respected white man, but is very racist and does not like black people and immigrants. Charlie grabs Cassie and pushes her off the sidewalk in Strawberry because she accidentally bumped into Lillian Jean and will not apologize "properly".
School (teachers, principal, etc.)
- Miss Daisy Crocker: Black teacher at Great Faith Elementary School, calling very poor books "new" and "wonderful" and has no reaction to the chart in the student's books referring to the book condition as "Very Poor".
- Mr. Wellever: Principal of the Great Faith Elementary School, but is powerless when Granger and the Wallaces fire Mama from working there.
- Gracey Pearson, Alma Scott and Mary Lou Wellever: Three girls who don't want Cassie to sit next to them, Mary Lou is the daughter of the principal and the only one who wore a new dress the day school started.
- Mr. Morrison: A tall and well-built man Papa took into the Logan family since he had lost his job, who slowly becomes accepted as a member of the Logan family.
- Harlan Granger: Son of Filmore Granger. He wants the Logans' land because it was originally property of the Granger family and the Logans took it from them.
- T.J.: 14-year-old boy who is a friend of Stacey's until he tells the Wallaces that Mama is teaching "inappropriate" things, which causes her to get fired and him to lose the respect of everyone he knows. He becomes friends with Melvin and R.W. Simms who treated him nicely but laugh at him behind his back. He later discovers that they were just using him when it was too late, and went to jail while the Simms' went free.
- The Wallace family: Run a store on Harlan Granger's land. They are white, racist and violent. They are also responsible for the Berry's burning.
- Mr.Jamison: A white lawyer who backs Mary Logan's boycott. He is a kind man who kept the Wallaces from hanging T.J. and opposes Harlan Granger.
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