Why is chapter one of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry significant?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Chapter One of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry has much the same import as do all beginning chapters of novels:  It introduces the characters and the setting to the readers, and at least one of the main conflicts and themes is presented. 

In Mildred Taylor's novel, then, the reader becomes acquainted with the Logan family in the 1930s in Mississippi.  In 1887, Grandpa Logan purchased two hundred acres, and in 1918, he puchased two hundred more of the rich land.  However, because there are taxes on all the land and the cotton prices have dropped, Papa Logan has been forced to leave home and work on the railroad.  The Logans are the sole property owners in the community.

Mrs. Logan teaches at the school where her children attend.  On their way to the Great Faith Elementary and Secondary School, the bus for the white children carelessly speeds through a mud puddle, dirtying Little Man, who is fastidious.  As they pass by the Jefferson Davis County School, a large white wooden building with its beautiful lawn, sports field, the contrast between the white school and the weather beaten Great Faith, "a dismal end to an hour's journey," is marked. Similarly, the dress of the children attests to their poverty as patches are on paints and dresses faded.

As the children learn that they will receive worn out books from the white school.  But, when Little Man reads what is notated inside the cover, he becomes angry.  When the teacher brings her son to Mrs. Logan at the end of the day, Mrs. Logan is in the act of placing paper over the chart which so upset her son.  She responds to Miss Crocker's remarks that Clayton Chester Logan behavior was unappreciative; Mrs. Logan says, "...that doesn't mean they have to accept [how things are].  The chapter ends with Miss Crocker gazing suspiciously at Mrs. Logan, whose "ideas were always a bit too radical and her statements a bit too pointed."

Clearly, then, the Logan family as characters stand apart from other black families; they have an independence of spirit and pride which will not go unnoticed by their foes.  With the setting of Mississippi in the 1930s, the racial division promises to figure into the plot.