Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

As a sequel to the Newbery Medal-winning Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976), Let the Circle Be Unbroken shows the work of a careful craftswoman mastering the art form of the African American story in fiction. With vividness, persuasion, and wit, Taylor demonstrates that pride, independence, and determination can sustain a family against segregation and economic disaster. Through Cassie, her lead character, Taylor wants younger Americans to understand the level of discrimination, disfranchisement, and hard times that two earlier generations fought under segregation.

High on Taylor’s list of concerns is what she sees as an unjust judicial system designed for whites only and supported by a vicious vigilantism against which African Americans are defenseless. The child T. J., for example, is found guilty of murder only because of the color of his skin; his friends, Stacey and Moe, are arrested and detained only because they are black; Dube Cross, an impoverished sharecropper, is singled out in a racially mixed union action for severe punishment because he is a “nigger.” Additionally, African Americans who attempt to register to vote can still be lynched or lose their property. R. W. and Melvin Simms are allowed to bear witness against a black friend for a crime that they themselves committed, Mrs. Barnett does not have to see the color of a criminal to know that he is black, and an attorney cannot prevail in a Mississippi court of law defending a black person against whites. All whites are not set against African Americans, however; Jamison gives the Logans sound advice, and white sharecroppers join with African Americans to fight the injustice of big planters.


(The entire section is 698 words.)

Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Based on experiences of the author’s own parents’ generation, Let the Circle Be Unbroken depicts perceptively the plight of black families in rural Mississippi during the Great Depression. The book shows the clash between well-intentioned New Deal politics, the politics of white Mississippi, and the threat of unionism in this context. The novel is a powerful and moving story of strength, love, dignity, and integrity against almost unbeatable odds. David and Mary Logan, well acquainted with the injustice of racial prejudice, provide the love and support that will help their children to know the truth about growing up black and not being defeated by it.

The sting of injustice runs throughout the novel. The black families who dare to attend T. J.’s trial see him sentenced to die for a murder he did not commit. Sharecroppers weep as they plow under cotton because a county agent has miscalculated the quota, and they see their meager profit being destroyed. Lee Annie dares to take a stand by memorizing the laws of the Constitution for a voter-registration test, only to be rejected and see her family dismissed from the Granger plantation. Stacey, determined to help his family, is not paid for his ceaseless labor.

David Logan demonstrates dignity and wisdom in managing his affairs. Knowing Horace Granger’s power in the community, Papa thinks things through before making decisions. He does not accept offers that do not ring true; under...

(The entire section is 489 words.)