Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
There are a number of complex ideas at work in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. The overriding theme is the initiation of the two eldest Logan children into the real world of Depression-era Mississippi, and they learn a number of lessons along their road to self-discovery. Two general subthemes are visible within the framework of initiation, two areas of adult life that Cassie and Stacey must learn about in order to survive. One is the negative pole: injustice and discrimination and the cruelty that follows from them. The other is almost the antidote to the first: the pride and self-respect that come from the Logan land and heritage.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is historically accurate and psychologically realistic—and brutal. The uneasy relations between the races established in rural Mississippi since Reconstruction are coming apart under the multiple pressures of the Depression (which began in the South before the 1930’s), and the “night men” are riding again. While Mr. Jamison may be correct in saying that not all Southerners are bigots, characters such as the Wallaces and the Simmses predominate in this world of poor whites and African Americans, and the novel is filled with incidents of discrimination and brutality. It is an ugly, violent world in which the Logan children are growing, but their parents try to give them the skills and support to make their journey a little less hazardous.
The theme of discrimination is thus from the beginning set against its opposites: self-respect, black pride, and the struggle to overcome prejudice and injustice. The physical embodiment of this positive pole is the Logan land, which gives the Logans freedom and a sense of their own worth and helps them hold themselves up in a world of white power and discrimination. Cassie’s tears...
(The entire section is 743 words.)
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Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
The title Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry symbolizes the novel’s focus on the cataclysmic events which wash over the Logan family and their small rural community. Their pain, expressed in both cries of grief and cries of protest, comes from a rising consciousness of the oppression and injustice dominating their individual, family, and social existence.
Cassie’s year-long transformation and her new awareness of injustice and modes of resistance prefigure the beginnings of a new society-wide consciousness and emerging resistance to oppressions. The acts of resistance to injustices by the Logan family and their neighbors foreshadow the nationwide active and vocal opposition to racial discrimination during the Civil Rights movement a few decades later.
Education is a central concern of this novel. Formal education is a travesty in Cassie’s community. Authorial outrage is implicit in Little Man’s rage at the condition of his book, and the cowardice and cruelty of his teacher speak for themselves. These children’s education is separate but not at all equal to that of the white children a few steps away at Jefferson Davis County School, with its buses, sports field, and fluttering Confederate flag. The larger and more vital education for Cassie and her brothers takes place outside the classroom: They learn how dangerous their world is and acquire some strategies for staying alive.
The rising action of the plot builds a...
(The entire section is 430 words.)