Mildred D. Taylor's novel Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is filled with figurative language that enhances readers' experience of the story and helps them see the events and characters in creative and interesting ways. Let's look at a few examples.
The first thing we notice with regard to figurative language is the dialectical idioms. Taylor gives us a glimpse of the characters' dialect, or normal way of speaking, and that includes figurative language. Cassie, for instance, tells her younger brother that if he makes them late for school, “Mama's gonna wear you out.” She means, of course, that their mother will spank him, but she uses a figurative expression, an idiom, common to the children's dialect. She does so again a little later in the conversation when she tells her brother, “I betcha Mama's gonna 'clean' you, you keep it up.” Again, she is referring to a punishment but using the ironic word “clean” to express it in response to her brother's declaration that he means to keep clean on the first day of school.
The story is also filled with similes and metaphors that paint vivid sensory portraits. The dust lands on Cassie's shoes “like gritty red snow.” The bus sinks into the ditch “like a lopsided billy goat on its knees.” Cars' taillights are “like distant red embers.” These are all similes (comparisons using the words “like” or “as”). Big Ma, Cassie says, has “eagle eyes.” She can see far and knows exactly what her grandchildren are doing. Little Man watches the bus “saucer-eyed.” He eyes are wide and staring. These are examples of metaphors (comparisons that do not use introductory words).
Personification (the attribute of human traits to non-human things) is also common in the novel. When the rain hits the dust, the latter seems “to be rejoicing in its own resiliency and laughing at the heavy drops thudding against it,” but then it is “forced to surrender.” The rain wins the battle. The sun, too, is involved in a fight, as it “attempted to penetrate the storm clouds” but then gives up, “slinking meekly behind the blackening clouds.”
Taylor includes plenty of imagery with vivid sensory details that allow readers to enter into the story more deeply. The dust, the narrator explains,
churned into a fine red mud that oozed between our toes and slopped against our ankles as we marched miserably to and from school.
Cassie describes her grandmother, Big Ma, as “tall and strongly built. Her clear, smooth skin was the color of a pecan shell.”
Finally, the author uses linguistic features like onomatopoeia (words that imitate sounds) and alliteration (words with the same initial sounds) to add further interest. The hickory fire crackles; the rain patters or goes tat-tat on the roof; and an owl hoots. These are all examples of onomatopoeia. Alliteration occurs in “Stacey stood swaying on the Strawberry road” and “Cassie kept consoling Claude.”