(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Let the Circle Be Unbroken recounts one family’s struggle against prejudice and poverty as seen through the eyes and experiences of Cassie, the main character. The Logans battle the Great Depression, powerful, greedy, white landowners of rural Mississippi, segregation, and domestic tragedies that threaten to destroy the family at every turn. They maintain their dignity, pride, and faith, however, and keep the family together.

The novel begins with friends and neighbors preoccupied with the tragedy that has struck T. J., Joe Avery’s son, and the effects of the Depression on rural Mississippi. T. J. and his two white friends, R. W. and Melvin Simms, had broken into Barnett’s Mercantile and stolen a gun. In their scuffle to escape, Melvin fatally had shot the owner, Jim Lee Barnett; Papa Logan had set his field ablaze to prevent a white vigilante group from lynching T. J. for the murder. T. J.’s arrest and impending execution greatly distress the Logans, who have no faith in the white judicial system and view the trial as only a legal way to lynch a black boy. In fact, the prosecution, the judge, and the all-white jury are so eager to hang the “nigger” that neither Justice Overton’s testimony linking R. W. and Melvin to the murder nor the holes that the defense bores into Mrs. Barnett’s testimony that she saw “niggers” murder her husband is enough to forestall the jury’s guilty verdict. Cassie and her brothers, Christopher-John and Little Man (who steal away to the courthouse to observe the trial), witness firsthand racism and segregation at work in legal garb and must fight to maintain their self-esteem.

Back on the farm, Papa and Mr. Morrison, a friend, repair tools and broken fences in preparation for crop time, which ends the short school year by drawing everyone to the fields. They are wary of the crop-reduction officer, Mr. Handsworth, but must also resist Harlan Granger, who wants to forge Papa Logan’s subsidy check—which the AAA has given him in return for destroying his cotton crop—and run him off his duly purchased property. Only a few blocks away, Moe Turner’s family, friends of the...

(The entire section is 882 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Based on experiences typical of those endured by the author’s parents, Let the Circle Be Unbroken is a fictionalized portrayal of how a rural Mississippi community, and the Logan family in particular, faced adversity and survived during the Depression of the 1930’s. The novel contains fourteen chapters that separate major episodes or denote passage of time. Cassie Logan, the nine-year-old daughter of David and Mary Logan (“Mama” and “Papa”), narrates the story.

The opening chapter establishes a theme of discrimination and abuse of the community’s black families. T. J. Avery, Stacey’s classmate, is unjustly accused of killing a white store owner. The black families wonder whether T. J. can get a trial at all, and, if so, whether it can possibly be a fair one. Wade Jamison, a white lawyer whom the Logans respect, attempts to get T. J. acquitted, but he is unsuccessful; T. J. is sentenced to death.

As winter comes, the plight of both black and white sharecroppers and day laborers is revealed. Most of the area’s families live in one-room shacks with dirt floors. Even Papa, a landowner who has a nice five-room house and admits to being better off than many others, is worried about paying the taxes on his land. Papa has been cheated out of payment for his cotton crop by Horace Granger, the wealthy white plantation owner.

Meanwhile, Lee Annie Lees, the sixty-five-year-old aunt of a local black family, announces as she turns sixty-five that she will study for the voter-registration test. Cassie helps...

(The entire section is 636 words.)