Study Guide

Let Me Breathe Thunder

by William Attaway

Let Me Breathe Thunder Themes

Themes and Meanings (Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Let Me Breathe Thunder is a simply told story of migrant workers on the road caught in a predetermined universe of tragic proportions. Naturalistic in style and execution, the novel emphasizes a psychological connection between the characters and their environment. The deceptively naïve qualities of the text mask complicated symbols of forces beyond the characters’ control. Economics, class, race, and biology determine their fates. Thus Hi Boy’s tragic death and the burden of his character are implied by the name of the town, Las Cruces (the crosses), where Ed and Step find him. The towering mountain represents an unforgiving natural environment. Naturalism suggests that human beings are driven by the sexual, social, and economic structures that dictate their fates.

Migrant workers with no money and ranchers who let fruit rot on the ground are both products of larger economic forces. The inexorable machine of war eats up Sampson’s four children, and the economic depression destroys his farm. Sampson believes in elemental human kindness and tries to appeal to Ed and Step’s better side, but characters such as Step and Ed have been created in the forge of inhumane social conditions. Civilized feelings are brutally damaged by the sexual and economic powers that control them. Step and Ed’s lack of personal history suggests disintegrated families. They have only each other and Hi Boy. They are restless, driven by cultural dislocation and...

(The entire section is 503 words.)