Summary (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is a psychologically realistic, historically accurate picture of African American family life in rural Mississippi. It is also an excellent initiation novel about a young girl growing up to learn about the values and dangers of her Depression-era world.
The Logan family lives in Spokane County, Mississippi, on four hundred acres of land that Cassie Logan’s grandfather, a former slave, purchased years before. Harlan Granger, whose family originally owned the Logan property and who owns all the farms around it (now sharecropped by poorer black families), wants the Logan parcel back, and it is a struggle for the Logan family to hold onto their land. The novel is set in rural Mississippi in the early 1930’s, and conditions for African Americans could hardly be worse. Just how bad they are, Cassie Logan soon learns.
Cassie, who narrates the novel, is a smart, curious girl who loves her parents, especially her father, who is off working in Louisiana. When Papa Logan returns home in chapter 2, he is accompanied by Mr. Morrison, who has been fired from his railroad job for fighting with whites and whom Papa is bringing home to help protect the family against a recent wave of vigilante terrorism; distant neighbors have just been visited by the dreaded night riders, and one man has already died of burns.
Several plot lines grow out of this opening situation. Papa tells the children to stay away from the Wallaces’ crossroads store, knowing the Wallaces are involved in the recent terror, and he organizes a boycott. Mama is soon fired, allegedly for teaching black history but actually for being involved in the boycott. When...
(The entire section is 692 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Based to a large extent on Mildred D. Taylor’s experience as a child visiting relatives in Mississippi, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry depicts the many dimensions of the racism of the Deep South in the 1930’s. The Logan family is a strong, close-knit black family struggling to keep their four hundred acres of land during the hard times of the Depression. Against the forces of national economic catastrophe and intense social prejudice, they fight for the survival of their nuclear family, for freedom from racially motivated attacks, and for better educations and adequate livelihoods.
In the first of twelve chapters that encompass a year in the family’s life and in the community’s turmoil, Cassie Logan and her brothers, in their Sunday best, take the several-mile walk to The Great Faith Elementary and Secondary School, the large segregated school where black children begin their new school year in October after the cotton picking is finished. Cassie’s education in the harsh realities of the bigotry of her society begins. The open animosity of whites; the pervasive institutionalized racism in schools, commerce, and laws; and the nighttime violence of vicious vigilante gangs form the cultural context for her growth from innocence to experience. In the next few months of watching, listening, feeling, and thinking, she becomes aware for the first time of the importance that white people give to skin color, and she gradually recognizes how stifled the voices and lives of her family members truly are.
In the geography of racial hatred, rural Mississippi in the...
(The entire section is 654 words.)
Chapter 1 Summary
It is the first day of school, and Cassie Logan is feeling grumpy. She dislikes the uncomfortable Sunday clothes her mother is making her wear, and she hates the thought of spending a beautiful October day indoors. Cassie grumbles at her youngest brother, six-year-old Little Man, because he walks slowly to keep his clothes neat. She comes close to fighting with her older brother, twelve-year-old Stacey, who is in a sour mood because he knows his mother will be his teacher this year. Cassie’s middle brother, seven-year-old Christopher John, remains silent but seems nervous as he listens to his siblings’ arguments.
As the children walk to school, Cassie thinks about her father and her family’s farm. The Logans grow cotton, but they cannot earn enough from their crop to pay their mortgage. Because of this, Cassie’s father is away working on the railroad to earn more money. Cassie misses her father and does not understand why the adults in her family are willing to split up just to keep their land.
On the road, the Logan kids meet up with their friends T.J. and Claude Avery. T.J. brags that he knows more than the Logan kids do, then he relates a story about a sickening incident the night before. A group of black men were badly burned because white men lit them on fire.
The children’s conversation is interrupted by the white school bus. The white driver likes to speed up and splash mud on black kids. The Averys, Cassie, and the two older Logan boys jump out of the way in time. Little Man, who has never been to school before and does not know what to expect, gets covered in mud.
Little Man is still dripping when the kids meet Jeremy, a white boy who likes them and wants to be friends. Cassie thinks it is strange that Jeremy...
(The entire section is 665 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
The Logan family is picking cotton when Cassie, who has climbed a pole to reach the cotton puffs on the plants, sees her father approaching with another man. She and the other children run out to meet them. After the kids greet their father, he introduces them to his companion, Mr. Morrison, who is frighteningly large and covered with scars.
Inside the house, Papa announces that he can only stay until the following evening. Cassie argues, but Papa says he will lose his job if he is not back at work by Monday morning. He goes on to announce that Mr. Morrison will stay and work on the Logan farm in exchange for food, board, and a little cash. The children are shocked, but Mama merely welcomes Mr. Morrison to her home.
Mr. Morrison confesses to Mama that he was fired from the railroad for beating two men. Mama asks whose fault the fight was, and Mr. Morrison says it was theirs but that the other men did not get fired because they were white. Mama thanks him for his honesty and does not retract her welcome. She says she will be glad to have Mr. Morrison nearby, “especially now.”
Mama does not explain what she means by “especially now,” but Cassie thinks Papa wants Mr. Morrison to protect the family because of the burnings the children heard about in the morning. Little Man says the burnings have nothing to do with it, and Stacey says Cassie should stop worrying. Only Christopher John refuses to argue. He only says he wants their papa to stay home forever.
The next morning at church, the Logans hear that John Henry Berry, one of the burning victims, has died. The Logan children’s grandmother, Big Ma, says John Henry was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her friend Mrs. Lanier disagrees. Mrs. Lanier tells that John Henry was accused of flirting with a white woman. For this crime, a group of white men chased him, rammed his car, and lit him on fire along with two male relatives who tried to defend him.
As Cassie and her brothers listen, several adults comment that violence by white people against black people is growing worse. Everyone seems to agree that nothing can be done about the problem; the police refuse to help black victims and even go as far as calling them liars when they complain about horrible events like the Berry burnings. Papa Logan brings this frightening conversation to an end when he makes a strange comment: “In this family, we don’t shop at the Wallace store.” Although Cassie does not understand why, the adults grow uncomfortable and stop talking after that comment.
After church, Papa calls his children together and tells them never to go to the Wallace store. He says that people drink there and that he dislikes Mr. Wallace. The kids know Papa will whip them if they disobey. They all agree.
Chapter 3 Summary
By the end of October, the rainy season brings trouble for Cassie and her brothers. The driver of the white school bus torments them daily, splashing them and forcing them to jump across a ditch to avoid getting hit. Little Man, who loves to look clean and neat, is affected the most. He does not understand why the driver refuses to slow down for them, and he thinks it is unfair that the county refuses to pay for a school bus for black children.
One day the white bus driver bears down on the kids, forcing them to jump the ditch at one of its widest points. None of the kids makes it across. They land chest-deep in muddy water as the white kids inside the...
(The entire section is 564 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
Cassie and her brothers make a pact never to tell anyone about the school bus incident. All of them, especially Cassie, remain terrified that they will be the target of revenge. Mama and Big Ma worry about the kids' subdued behavior.
A week after the incident, the kids get relief from T.J. Avery, who tells them about a black man who was tarred and feathered for calling a white man a liar. Cassie and her brothers realize that the victim of this attack was the real target on the night the line of cars passed their house; nobody knows about the Logan kids' revenge on the bus. They begin to feel safer.
(The entire section is 645 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
Big Ma wakes Cassie and Stacey, telling them they are coming with her to the nearby town of Strawberry. T.J. is riding along, too. Cassie, who has never been to Strawberry before, is excited until she realizes the town is small and dusty—not the bustling city she expects.
At the market in Strawberry, Big Ma sets up her wagon to sell farm produce. Cassie is confused when Big Ma chooses a spot far from the market’s entrance. Big Ma explains that the wagons by the entrance all belong to white people. Cassie does not understand why Big Ma cannot sell produce alongside whites.
After the market winds down, Big Ma goes to see Mr. Jamison, a white lawyer. Cassie likes him because, unlike most white men, he...
(The entire section is 456 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
Home from Strawberry, Cassie and Stacey work together to unhitch the mule. Stacey tells Cassie that Big Ma is not at fault for what happened in Strawberry, but Cassie disagrees.
When the kids open the barn doors, they see a big, silver car that looks like Harlan Granger’s Packard. They run inside and find Uncle Hammer, their father’s older brother. After embracing him, they learn the surprising news that the car belongs to him.
Uncle Hammer asks about Strawberry. Although Big Ma tries to distract her, Cassie tells all about her bad day. Uncle Hammer is amused that Cassie stood up to the shop owner but grows furious when he hears that a grown man twisted her arm and pushed her into the street. Hammer...
(The entire section is 411 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
Uncle Hammer has given Stacey a new coat, but it is too big. One day Mama asks Stacey to bring it to her so she can hem it. Reluctantly, Stacey admits that he gave the coat to T.J. because T.J. said it made Stacey look like a fat preacher. Mama orders Stacey to go get the coat back, but Hammer stops her, saying, “If Stacey’s not smart enough to hold on to a good coat, he don’t deserve it.”
Papa comes home for Christmas, and the family settles down to celebrate and tell old stories. Papa and Hammer reminisce about stealing watermelons in childhood, and Mama and Big Ma tell fun stories of their own. Mr. Morrison tells a different kind of story, about one Christmas when night men came and burned down his house....
(The entire section is 548 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
Cassie is still burning from the insult she received at the hands of Lillian Jean Simms in Strawberry. One day on the road, Cassie chases after Lillian Jean, apologizes, and pretends to think black people really are inferior to white people. This delights Lillian Jean but dismays Jeremy and Cassie’s brothers, who do not know that Cassie has a plan.
Cassie confides in Papa about her anger at Lillian Jean. Papa tells Cassie that she is quick to anger like his brother, and he explains that it is not worth it to pursue revenge if the consequences of revenge are too great. He says that Cassie’s self-respect is worth more than respect from anyone else—and that she cannot take revenge if it will cause Mr. Simms to make...
(The entire section is 432 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
It is spring, and Cassie is looking forward to the end of the school year. Jeremy complains that he will miss the Logans every day as he walks to his school, which stays in session longer. He asks if he can visit the Logans over the summer, but Stacey says Papa would not like that. Cassie does not understand how Jeremy can be lonely with so many siblings. Jeremy says he does not like his older brothers and sister. His brothers have pretended to befriend T.J., but Jeremy says they call T.J. names behind his back.
It is nearly time for Papa to return to his job on the railroad. Cassie begs him not to go, but he says he needs the income to pay the mortgage and taxes on their land. As they argue, Papa’s friends Mr. Avery...
(The entire section is 612 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
As soon as Papa has recovered a little from his injuries, he wants to talk to Mama about money. The Logans will have to sell livestock to keep up on their mortgage payments until they sell their cotton crop in September. Mama says the family can rely on garden produce instead of buying flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, and coffee. She suggests asking Hammer for money, but Papa does not want to tell his brother about the attacks. Papa is afraid that Hammer will attack the Wallaces and cause more trouble.
The Logan kids ride along with Mr. Morrison on an errand. On the way home, Mr. Morrison spots a beat-up pickup truck and orders Cassie to get in the back of the wagon. Kaleb Wallace parks the truck across the road,...
(The entire section is 627 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
Cassie wakes up in the middle of the night when she hears a tapping on the back porch. She knows Mr. Morrison is out front keeping watch for the Wallaces, as he has been every night since the attack on Papa. She does not think Mr. Morrison is responsible for the sounds she hears. She gets out of bed to investigate and finds T.J. outside. She asks what he is doing, but he does not answer. He calls out for Stacey.
Stacey opens the door to the boys’ room, and T.J. asks for help. T.J. explains that the elder Simms brothers took him to Strawberry, promising to buy him the pearl-handled pistol he coveted for so long. The store was closed when the three boys arrived, so the Simmses told T.J. they would break in and take the...
(The entire section is 419 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
Cassie, Christopher John, and Little Man arrive home to find their parents and Big Ma awake. Papa is ready to whip them all. He launches into a lecture about sneaking off into the night, but Christopher John interrupts: “But, Papa, they h-hurt [T.J.’s brother] Claude!”
When Papa hears what is happening at T.J.’s house, he grabs his shotgun and runs out to save T.J. and Stacey. Mr. Morrison joins him, carrying his own gun. Mama begs Papa not to use violence, and Papa stops to think for a moment. He says he will do whatever he has to do.
Mama and Big Ma sit up waiting. Recognizing how pointless it would be to try to force the kids to sleep, they let Cassie and the little boys stay up, too. A...
(The entire section is 419 words.)