Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Summary

Summary (Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

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 Papa and Morrison go into Vicksburg for supplies, Papa is shot, and his leg is broken. Morrison saves Papa, but another income has been lost. As the momentum of the novel builds, these two stories coalesce: The fight to save the land from Harlan Granger and the fight against the racism and brutality of the Wallaces are intertwined, because the Wallace store is on Granger land.

After a series of adventures for both children and adults, the exciting climax comes when the night riders try to lynch T. J. Avery, a friend of the children who has been involved in a robbery. Stacey acts quickly, sending the other children to warn the Logans that the crowd will come to their house next. The resourceful David Logan sets fire to his own cotton field, which borders Harlan Granger’s land, and the mob rushes to put it out. Black and white, men and women, the community fights the fire through the night.

The crisis is not over. The land has been saved, the Logans have survived as a family and are probably even stronger, and two of the children—Cassie and Stacey—have learned more about the world of cruelty and injustice and how to maneuver in it safely. The novel does not end on any note of false optimism, however: the Logans are still poor, and racism and violence are still everywhere about them. “I cried for T. J.,” Cassie says at the end of the novel, “For T. J. and the land.” Her growth over the course of the novel indicates that the strong, independent Cassie will be able to operate in this racist society after the novel closes, but her tears at the end are also a sign of sadness for her loss of innocence.

In the course of the novel, Cassie comes to learn a great deal about the sacrifices her family is making to keep their land, about their struggle for equality, and about their pride in themselves and their heritage. As much as from anyone else, Cassie learns these lessons from her family; the Logans overwhelm readers with their warmth and mutual support. Big Ma tells Cassie about the importance of the Logan land and, by the lesson of her hard work in the Logan household, how much she is willing to do to hold on to it. Cassie’s mother is, like her daughter, a real rebel, but she is fired for holding on to her principles.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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 1930’s is both homeland and heartland. Terror rules the day-to-day lives of black men and women, from the small-time intimidations of the white children’s schoolbus to the cold-blooded murders that go unacknowledged and unpunished. Cassie and her brothers seek what is “fair,” and the innocent child’s insistence on fairness grows into the adult’s desire for social justice. Stacey finds some secret fairness when they ambush the schoolbus, and Cassie finds satisfaction in her carefully orchestrated but hidden revenge on Lillian Jean Simms. Public justice, however, for the Berry family, the Barnetts, or T. J. Avery cannot be achieved. Cassie learns and keeps unspeakable secrets. Nine-year-old Cassie tells her story in first-person narration; it is the story of her education in the dangerous consequences of speech and her lessons in when to keep silent.

The warm bonds of love in the Logan family, their pains and their hopes, their individual and collective strength, and their intelligence and principled behavior are particularly dramatic in a novel in which white characters are few and villainous. One black character, T. J. Avery, seems a scoundrel, but next to the heinous crimes of the white people—the Wallaces and the Simmses—T. J.’s crimes seem petty and childlike.

The new year, 1934, brings an escalation of violence in the community as David Logan, Cassie’s father, is shot and his leg broken in a late-night Klan attack. The threat of danger to the Logan family has built continually, but through what seems to be a combination of cleverness and good luck they escape any more serious physical harm.

The climactic eleventh and twelfth chapters, in which T. J. is captured and beaten and is then saved from lynching by David Logan’s arson, open with a preface that sounds like a traditional spiritual. The first lines are an invocation, the enigmatic phrases of the novel’s title, “Roll of thunder/ hear my cry”; the last lines express determined defiance of the “Ole man” and his whip. This preface to the closing chapters connects the powers of physical nature with the eruption of personal pain into expression. The physical forces of fire and rain are connected in Cassie’s mind to the unbearable onslaught of yet more violence and wronging of her race as she watches and responds to the terror of that last night of her childhood.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Overview

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry's depiction of social interactions and relationships in the 1930s South remains relevant today. The novel...

(The entire section is 118 words.)

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Chapter Summaries

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,...

(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...

(The entire section is 495 words.)

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...

(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.)