Let the Circle Be Unbroken Summary
by Mildred D. Taylor

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Summary

(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 Logans who, like many other poor farmers, have been sharecropping on the Montier plantation since the mid-1880’s, are threatened with starvation through persistent poverty. Concurrently, Miz Lee Annie Lees, a sixty-year-old neighbor hard hit by segregation and the Depression, memorizes large sections of the Mississippi constitution and dreams of improving conditions for African Americans through the ballot before she dies.

The scene changes as Cassie and her brothers learn that their family’s tradition has been violated by Cousin Bud, who has married a white woman from New York. The family’s resentment over his action runs very deep, so he must leave prematurely after promising to take his daughter to visit with the family. However, this is only one of Cassie’s worries, because conditions have worsened on the farm, and Papa must leave home in search of work. Cousin Bud returns with Suzella, his mulatto daughter, who also antagonizes the Logans by considering herself white. Cassie’s turbulent relationship with Suzella reaches a breaking point when Suzella attempts to befriend white boys in the neighborhood. While the family feud goes on, the local farmers’ union is busted by big planters who continue to prey on the poor sharecroppers, more neighbors are forced off the land, and Stacey and Moe run away to Louisiana.

With Stacey and Moe’s departure, T. J.’s execution, Papa’s working far away from home, and the Depression taking its toll on family relations, Cassie loses control and vents her frustration on her classmates. Christmas morning arrives, however, and family members greet one another warmly. They gather in a circle around the fire to sing a song, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” Afterward, they all go to church. This brings Cassie and her younger brothers a feeling of warmth but does not...

(The entire section is 1,518 words.)