At the end of the novel Papa sets fire to his own land. Why does he take this drastic step?

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susan3smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Mildred Taylor's novel Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, the difficulties of African Americans living in the racist depression-era state of Mississippi are portrayed.  The Logan family is confronted with many racist and potentially violent situations and attempt to solve these dilemmas peacefully and with dignity.  These are difficult lessons for the main character Cassie to learn.  Toward the end of the novel, the "night riders" are coming after the Logans' young friend T.J. who unwittingly became caught up in a robbery, resulting in the death of a store owner.  Even though the two white boys he was with were more to blame than he, T.J. becomes the object of the white men's wrath, and a lynching party is formed.

T.J.'s fate is certain.  If they find him, the white men will hang him.  Papa must find a way to save him--at least for a short time.  When he rushes out of the house, Cassie thinks he going to fight the white men, but Papa has a better idea.  He sets fire to his own land.  This fire begins to spread rapidly, and many hands are needed to stop it from spreading to the wealthy white landowner's land next to that of the Logans'. Blacks and whites work together in the field to put the fire out, and as a result T.J.'s life is spared as the men in the lynching party begin to help put out the fire.

This action is a momentary victory.  It saves T.J.'s life temporarily, but as Papa says, he will be tried in a white man's court and most likely be judged guilty and executed.

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Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

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