Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
By Mildred D. Taylor
This book takes place in the 1930’s in Mississippi. The main character in this book is a black girl named Cassie and she lives with her family on their beloved land that her grandfather, Paul Edward bought. Within her family, there is her mother and father, Cassie’s grandmother, her three brothers, and her. Her mother is a teacher that teaches at Great Faith Elementary School, which is where Cassie and her brothers go as well. Cassie’s father is not at home too often, because he leaves and goes on the railroad to earn money for the family and only comes back on special occasions. Cassie’s three brothers are Stacey, Christopher-John, and Little Man. Stacey is older than Cassie, while Christopher-John and Little Man are younger than her.
Here in Mississippi, when something bad happens to a white man and a black man is accused, the famed and nefarious night riders will go out at night and perform unthinkable acts to that accused black man. The theme of this book is a theme of racism and discrimination and a lot of tough times. What Cassie wanted was for her family to be safe from all of their troubles, including money problems, Harlan Granger trying to take their land, and problems with racism and discrimination. But because of the racism, white people think that they are better than black people and this causes Cassie to experience unfairness and inequality, which hurts her family greatly. The first time Cassie experienced racism was in her own school, Great Faith Elementary. In Great Faith, only African American kids went there, because white kids and black kids went to different schools at this time, and they just got new books, which is a huge privilege for them. But the books were marred greatly on the front, back, and pages. And as Cassie looked at the front page of her book, she could see that Board of Education labeled her as a “nigra”! So the Board of Education themselves gave her a book that was in very poor condition and labeled her a “nigra”. One of the most frightening events that Cassie experienced was when she encountered the night riders themselves. One night, when Cassie heard a noise outside, she went to check it out and just when she got outside, a caravan of headlights drove up and gathered around her house. The lead driver of the cars stepped out and examined the house, but told the others to turn around, and they left. These men were undoubtedly the night riders, because there were rumors that they would be “riding”. These two events introduce the conflict. The Logans also experience problems with money, because cotton, which is the main crop that they grow, is lowering in value and Harlan Granger is trying to obtain the Logan’s land through any means possible. Harlan Granger is a rich white man who cares little for African Americans. Some more events that cause the plot to complicate is when Cassie and her grandmother, Big Ma, go to Strawberry to the market. During this trip, Cassie was told to go get some things from Mr. Barnett and Cassie gave him her list of things that she needed. When Mr. Barnett was getting the things, other customers came who were white and he suddenly stopped getting Cassie’s needed things and started on theirs. This went on for a long time, and Cassie went up to Mr. Barnett to ask him if he could continue with her list. Mr. Barnett retaliated and acted as if struck by Cassie. He proceeded to get even more hostile, and Stacy stepped in to retrieve Cassie before anymore harm was done. In this event, Mr. Barnett says some very harsh things and this really has an effect on Cassie for she was attacked like this in public! Another trouble towards the Logan family were the Wallaces. The Wallaces own a store and many people shop there. But the Wallaces also do abominable acts. They joke about how they set a black man on fire and watched him burn, and they actually did it! In the book, Cassie goes with her mother to visit Mr. Berry who was the man they burned. When Cassie went to Mr. Berry’s house, she saw him, and she described how badly he was burnt. Because of how bad the Wallaces are, the Logans wanted to persuade others to not buy from their store anymore, and they did, which caused a conflict between the Logans and the Wallaces.
The climax of this book is when TJ, Stacey’s friend, is wrongly accused of the murder of a white man and the night riders come after him. There is a storm thundering above as they drove up to his house, and searched the house for him. TJ’s family were all thrown outside and were held at gunpoint, so they couldn’t save TJ from being killed. Stacey and Cassie found out about this and quickly went to their father to tell him about this. Their father and one other man went to help. As they went, the Logans’ cotton farm suddenly caught on fire by lightning, and Big Ma and Cassie’s mother went out to fight it. Harlan Granger’s forest caught on fire as well. Cassie and her brothers went outside to see that the fires were put out and that their father was fine. They also saw that hundreds of men were fighting the fire that burned Harlan Granger’s forest, even the night riders. In the end, the Logans were not harmed by the night riders, but TJ was taken for he was suspected of murder. Cassie also later finds out that the cause of the fire was not lightning, but her father. Why did he do this? Well, her father knew that he could not stop the night riders for there were too many, so he set fire to Granger forest. TJ’s house is very close to Harlan Granger’s house and Harlan Granger is the boss of some of the night riders and in a very high position, so when he saw that his forest was on fire, he ordered them to fight it. This action stopped TJ from being killed by the night riders, and prevented any more casualties that could have followed.
Mildred D. Taylor, who is the author of Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, has created authentic characters to take place in her book. All of the characters in her book are characters that she made all on her own and she has crafted them to fit nicely into the time period of the book.
One reason how I know that the characters in this book fit into the time period is how they talk. An example of how they talk is, “Not ‘fore she ‘pologizes to my gal y’all ain’t” (Taylor 115). This is said by Mr. Simms and you can blatantly see that they talk very differently from how we do today. They skip or ignore the many things that we wouldn’t, such as the “be” in “before” or the “a” in “apologizes”. This is their dialect and this is how the people in the South spoke. Mildred D. Taylor even includes some slang words that were used in speech to make them feel even more authentic. I have a quote here that shows one, ”Whose little nigger is this!” (Taylor 111). This is said by Mr. Barnett and the slang word in here is the word “nigger”.
Another reason why the characters in this book are authentic is the hostility that the Southern white people had towards the African Americans. In this book, a lot of it is focused on racism after the Civil War, and during this time, there was still some hostility towards black people and you can see that in this book, so the characters fit in nicely on this aspect. An example of this hostility is when Cassie was insulted by Lilian Jean, while walking on the sidewalk. Jean said, “You can’t watch where you going, get in the road. Maybe that way you won’t be bumping in decent white folks with your little nasty self” (Taylor 114). Obviously, there is a lot of hostility that is being directed at Cassie just because of the color of her skin and during this time in history, things like this were said. Another example of this is how the Wallaces, which were one of the major antagonists in the story, joked about setting an African American man on fire.
So, Mildred D. Taylor has made very authentic characters that fit in the time of her book. I know this because she made the characters talk in a specific dialect that was used by the South, which is where the book takes place, and because she made the white people that are in the story very harsh to the black people, which was happening during the 1930’s.
In the book, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor, the setting has the realistic qualities of an actual period in real history. The author uses strong powerful words to describe this point in time as it would have happened. She used facts and put them to use in her writing.
She describes Jefferson Davis County School as a better school than the black kids had. In real life back in the 1930’s white kids got better luxuries, supplies, and privileges than the black kids, and that included a better school. She described it as, “a long white wooden building looming in the distance. Behind the building was a wide sports field around which were scattered rows of tiered gray-looking benches. In front of two yellow buses, out own tormentor and on that brought the students from the other direction, and loitering students awaiting the knell for the morning bell. In the very center of the expansive front lawn, waving red, white, and blue with the emblem of the Confederacy emblazoned in its upper left-hand corner, was the Mississippi flag. Directly below it was the American flag” (Taylor 15). This is the description of the white kids' school in Cassie's community. These two groups of people had to be separated into different schools because the white folks didn’t want to go to school with the black folks, and this was an actual act in history. Another example of realistic setting in this book would be the description of the Logan land after the fire had somewhat died down. “When the dawn came peeing yellow-gray and sooted over the horizon, the fire was out and the thunderstorm had shifted eastward after an hour of heavy rain. I stood up stiffly, my eyes tearing from the acrid smoke, and looked out across the cotton to the slope, barely visible in the smoggish dawn. Near the slope where once cotton stalks had stood, their brown boos popping with tiny puffs of cotton, the land was charred, desolate, black, still steaming from the night” (Taylor 266). This had a lot of description that would make a picture pop up in your mind. I used this quote because this was at the time of the night riders and the burnings in actual history, so it makes the setting realistic. One last example of this realistic setting would be when Big Ma, Stacey, Cassie and T.J. were at the store and had to park in the back of the store because they are black. The white people get to park in front and this gave them an advantage, because they could be easily seen and were the first ones seen. “‘Well, what the devil are we doing way back here then! Can’t nobody see us” (Taylor 105). Cassie says this because she thinks it's unfair that they have to park in the back of the store.
The facts and realistic details that Mildred D. Taylor gave this book a very realistic setting.
An Artistic Mix of Fact and Fiction:
Mildred D. Taylor includes an artistic mix of fact and fiction in her book by including the gripping action and keeping-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat feel that a fiction book could create with its limitless possibilities, but it also creates a realistic feel with the facts that she includes from actual history. One of these facts are the night riders, who were real people. In the book, the night riders are a feared and villainous group that strike fear into many when it is said that they are “riding”. The night riders performed abominable acts which is what gives them their horrible history. The night riders would especially target cotton farmers, which is a fact, and in the book, the night riders attacked cotton farmers such as TJ’s family and almost attacked Cassie’s family! Do you see how Mildred D. Taylor implemented this fact into her story?! She used a real, nefarious group and put it into her book to both make her story more intense, because of the presence of the night riders, and to make it seem realistic. Other facts that were used were how there was still a lot of racism and unfairness during this era, and the author uses this to introduce a conflict and to put in some key events of this happening. A lot of this unfairness comes from how the whites got much better things than the blacks. For the whites’ school, they had books, and buses, while the largest black school that Cassie went to had much less. Cassie describes her school here, “four weather-beaten wooden houses on stilts of brick, 320 students, seven teachers, a principal, a caretaker, and the caretaker’s cow, which kept the wide crabgrass lawn sufficiently clipped in spring and summer” (Taylor 15). As you can see, the blacks got a much worse school, with four weather-beaten wooden houses on stilts of brick and 320 students and only seven teachers. This is the unfairness and it makes Cassie feel inferior and mistreated in the story.
This is how Mildred. D Taylor includes an artistic mix of fact and fiction into her story to give it the intense storyline of a fiction book and real facts to make a really great book!