Themes and Characters
Most of the major characters in The Road to Memphis have appeared in Taylor's earlier novels, but they are now seven or eight years older. Taylor is generally consistent with earlier depictions of them, but they must now face new challenges that are associated with the transition to adulthood. The narrator of the novel, Cassie Logan, has always been feisty and willing to stand up against oppression. As a seventeen year-old who is contemplating college, she resists attempts to transform her into a lady, still glorying in the chance to go coon hunting with her male friends. At the same time, however, she is determined to obtain an education and is convinced that she is safe from any romance that might steer her away from her goal.
Like all of the other major characters, Cassie is changed by the late-night flight to Memphis. As in earlier books, she stands up for what she feels is right; in this case, she uses a restroom in a service station that is designated for whites only. As a result, she is humiliated and nearly attacked, feeling firsthand the racial hatred she has so often seen directed at others. She soon discovers that she is not free from romantic entanglements either. She becomes infatuated with Solomon Bradley, a lawyer who helps rescue her and her friends. She also discovers that Moe Turner has strong feelings for her, and, although she would never admit it, she makes the dangerous journey to Memphis because he is important to her. It is Cassie's matter-of-fact narrative that makes the book seem believable.
The other major characters in the novel, Cassie's companions on her trip to Memphis, include her brother, Stacey, now twenty years old, and their friends, Little Willie Wiggins, Clarence Hopkins, and Moe Turner. As in previous books, Stacey is a leader, bent on protecting those around him. Little Willie is rarely serious, accompanying the others largely because he wants to see Memphis but gradually understanding the grave nature of the situation. Clarence, who has enlisted in the army, is running away from his pregnant girlfriend, Sissy Mitchum. Plagued with headaches, he becomes ill on the trip and eventually dies, partly as a victim of prejudice because he cannot get proper medical treatment. Moe is also an unwitting victim of his society. A sensitive, compassionate young man, he is provoked to violence against three white men who have harassed him and Cassie and, as a result, becomes a fugitive.
Another important character, both at the beginning and end of the novel, is Jeremy Simms, a white boy who has always befriended the Logans. Described as shy and sensitive in contrast to his bigoted father and siblings, Jeremy must now stand up for his friends, proving himself by smuggling Moe Turner out of Strawberry. In the end, he is disowned by his father and, like Moe, is forced to leave Mississippi, never to see his family or the Logans again. He is not, however, the Logans's only white ally. Mr. Wade Jamison, a lawyer who has always aided them, appears briefly at the beginning of the novel, helping to rescue Clarence from Statler Ames.
A major new character in the novel is Solomon Bradley, a wealthy black lawyer and newspaperman who is nicknamed "The Prince of Memphis." He...
(The entire section is 834 words.)