Let the Circle Be Unbroken Questions and Answers
by Mildred D. Taylor

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How does the setting of the story affect the characters in Mildred Taylor's novel Let the Circle Be Unbroken?

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Lauren Willson, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Because the Logan family lives in rural Missouri, they face more prejudice and difficulties due to their race than they would in a more urban area with less history of racial prejudice.

When T.J. is put on trial for murder, the backward attitudes in the town where the book is set are one of the things that lead to his guilty verdict. As soon as the jurors see his skin color, they're convinced that he—and not the white man who pulled the trigger—is guilty. If the trial had been held in an area where a less racist jury could be selected, the evidence might have been enough to sway them and keep T.J. from being sent away to his likely death.

The prejudiced attitudes about black people also affect other people in the book. The divide between the white and black farmers makes a fair union composed of both groups impossible. Annie Lee's desire to vote is exploited by a racist man to stir up a group of angry white men and lead them to violence. In the end, this doesn't affect him negatively. Instead, she and her family lose their home over her desire to exercise her rights.

If the people in the book lived in a different place, things like black people voting, interracial relationships, and fair trials would have been more likely. Of course, in the 1930s, these things may have been unlikely to be received positively anywhere. However, it is likely that in rural Mississippi, they were less tolerated and more likely to incite violence—which has an effect on many of the characters throughout the book.

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This sequel to Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry continues the story of the Logan family, an African-American landowning family in rural Mississippi during the Great Depression.  Written as historical fiction, Taylor explores the issues of race, prejudice, and segregation as they existed in the Deep South during this time; thus, the setting is all important, because the Logans would not be facing the same challenges and dangers if they were living in Minnesota.  Following the Civil War and Reconstruction, white Southerners had figured out all sorts of ways to keep blacks "in their place" through Jim Crow laws, institutional racism, and looking the other way when blacks were mistreated, cheated, and/or terrorized. 

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry ended with the children's friend, T.J., narrowly escaping a lynching for a crime he was not responsible for.  Let the Circle Be Unbroken opens with the community observing T.J.'s less than fair trial, during which he was predictably convicted on flimsy evidence, and sent away, presumably to die. 

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