The first four chapters of The Road to Memphis take place mostly in rural Great Faith, Mississippi, near the Logan farmhouse during October 1941. Cassie, who now attends school in Jackson, still has a fondness for the country, especially the land that has been in the Logan family for forty years. She and her family, however, are still subject to verbal and physical abuse, especially when they visit the nearby store owned by the Wallaces, their white neighbors. Cassie and her friends also encounter racial hatred when they go hunting in the woods near a river called the Rosa Lee.
The nearest town, Strawberry, where Moe Turner is provoked into attacking Statler Ames in chapter five, is in Cassie's mind "a sad, desolate place" that has not changed much over the years. The old men who sit on the veranda of the Barnett Mercantile "seem like gray sentinels from another era." It is a town in which blacks are clearly viewed as subordinates by whites and in which they are either ignored or threatened by those they encounter. Because the whites are clearly in control, it is automatically assumed that Moe Turner is entirely responsible for his attack on Statler Ames and his brothers, Leon and Troy.
Cassie does not care much for Jackson, either, which serves as the setting for chapter six. She prefers country life to city life, but like her brother and friends, she has been forced to leave home to pursue her education. Jackson has, however, provided security for Cassie and her friends in the way of jobs, but it is not a large enough place to protect Moe Turner when he must go into hiding.
The rest of the novel takes place on the road to Memphis, including at a service station where Cassie and her friends try to get their car fixed and in a small town where they seek medical attention for Clarence. In each of these places, they find the same attitudes and dangers as in Strawberry. Memphis, on the other hand, is, in Cassie's words, "massive and grand," aglow with Christmas lights. It stands in sharp contrast to Strawberry and Jackson because it is a place in which a black man like Solomon Bradley can practice law, run a newspaper, and become wealthy. For Moe, it is the gateway to the freedom that he hopes to find in Chicago.
The Road to Memphis, like some of Taylor's other works, is narrated by Cassie Logan, whose authentic voice gives credibility to amazingly atrocious acts of bigotry and prejudice. Unlike many of Taylor's earlier Logan books, this one is not centered on the Logan home, but is a journey book in which many of the characters must temporarily escape from Mississippi. Like other journey books, from Homer's Odyssey to Cynthia Voigt's Homecoming, The Road to Memphis is episodic, focusing on a series of adventures resulting from the protagonist's travels. These episodes, however, are closely connected. Each one involves either a moment of racial hatred or an act of fellowship that helps the travelers. Cassie's odyssey changes her and her companions. She has experienced the first inklings of romantic love, the death of a childhood friend, and the loss of other friends, including Jeremy Simms, who is banished from Great Faith, and Stacey, who will likely go off to war.
Taylor uses one fairly important symbol, the wine-colored 1938 Ford that Stacey buys from Mr. Jamison. It is a source of pride for Stacey and others, representing freedom and a degree of success. It also sparks the animosity of whites who see it and, at one point, vandalize it. Stacey, however, does not plan to repair the scratches in it, choosing instead to let them represent the battle that he has helped to wage.
(The entire section is 1,337 words.)