Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

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Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Cassie is helping Big Ma churn butter one morning, and she overhears Big Ma and Mama discussing how Cassie hasn’t been herself lately. They worry whether she might have seen the night men, but Big Ma says that it’s not possible—she checked on Cassie right after the night men passed, and she had been sound asleep. As Cassie is standing on the stool to fetch the butter mold, she loses her balance and topples to the ground, breaking the mold. Mama tells Cassie to go inside and join the boys, and Cassie wonders guiltily whether Mama will ever find out about the bus incident.
Cassie still feels guilty about the bus accident, wondering whether her mother will ever find out, while Mama and Big Ma worry about the children. It’s another demonstration of how concerned the Logans are about one another, and of the general racist atmosphere that makes such constant concern necessary.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Inside, T.J. is telling the boys about his strategy for getting out of doing chores for the family. The boys listen listlessly. T.J. tries to convince Stacey to steal answers from his mother for the upcoming test, but Stacey ignores him. T.J. then tries to convince the Logans to go with him to the Wallace store for some dancing, but Stacey refuses that as well. Finally, T.J. starts talking about the night men, and all the Logan children are riveted.
Unlike the Logan children, T.J. isn’t at all concerned about helping out his family—in this book, that’s a sign of bad character. It’s also why Stacey refuses to help T.J. cheat on the upcoming exam. Storytelling also holds extra power among the black community because there’s a lot of important news that can’t be officially reported.
Themes
Family and Community Theme Icon
Storytelling and Language Theme Icon
T.J. reveals that the night men tarred and feathered a black man, Mr. Sam Tatum, after Sam called Mr. Barnett, the owner of a convenience store, a liar. The Logan children are relieved that the night men weren’t seeking revenge for the bus incident, though Little Man is especially disturbed by the concept of tarring and feathering. He says it would be impossible to get clean again. T.J. says he left his cap in the other room and leaves to retrieve it. When he doesn’t return quickly, however, the Logan children wander into Mama’s room and discover him snooping through Mama’s things. T.J. denies that he was snooping for test questions though.
T.J. tells the Logans of yet another incident of racial violence—this time because a black man challenged the character and honesty of a white man. The children are alarmed by this news, but they’re also relieved and no longer feel guilty about the bus incident. They no longer feel any pressure to confess.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Injustice and Dignity Theme Icon
Cassie and her younger brothers, Christopher-John and Little Man, take to Mr. Morrison immediately, asking Mama if they can visit Mr. Morrison in the shed out back where he lives. But Stacey remains aloof. It turns out that he thinks he can handle the family responsibility himself, without help.
Stacey has a hard time adjusting to Mr. Morrison’s presence because he senses that it means he’s not strong enough to protect his family, which he wants to do.
Themes
Family and Community Theme Icon
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The next day, T.J. brags that he’s made a cheat sheet for Mama’s test. However, when Stacey sees the paper, he rips the answers in half. When school lets out for the day, Cassie and her brothers wait for Stacey and T.J. to come out of the classroom. Suddenly, T.J. runs out of the room and continues past the Logans without greeting them. Cassie asks one of the other boys where Stacey is, and it turns out that Stacey was whipped by Mama because he was caught with cheat notes. The notes belonged to T.J., but because Stacey wouldn’t rat him out, he took the beating. Now T.J. has run into the Wallace store in order to avoid Stacey.
Stacey has a strict code of honor—he doesn’t rat T.J. out even though it means that his mother has to whip him in front of the entire class. He also tries to prevent T.J. from cheating because he wants to keep T.J. from getting in trouble and he also doesn’t want anyone to cheat on Mama’s exam.
Themes
Family and Community Theme Icon
Injustice and Dignity Theme Icon
Stacey heads for the Wallace store, ignoring Papa’s warnings. The other Logans follow. At the Wallace store, Stacey finds T.J., and they start to fight. However, before the fight gets very serious, Mr. Morrison appears and breaks it up. Cassie explains the situation to Mr. Morrison on the way home, and Mr. Morrison says that sometimes you have no choice but to fight—but he says that the Wallace store isn’t the place to do it, since the Wallaces look down on colored people and just think it’s funny when they fight each other. Mr. Morrison also says that he won’t tell their mother—instead, he expects them to tell her themselves. Stacey agrees to do so, despite the protests of the other Logan children.
Stacey attempts to enact his own form of justice again, starting to beat T.J. up. However, when Mr. Morrison comes, he tells Stacey that he shouldn’t fight around the Wallaces because they think it’s funny when black people fight each other—in other words, Stacey is in a way betraying his own community by turning them into a laughingstock. Stacey seems to understand this, and as a result, he agrees to confess what he did to Mama.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Injustice and Dignity Theme Icon
As the Logan children and Mr. Morrison approach the house, Mr. Granger’s Packard pulls out of the driveway. Big Ma says that Mr. Granger is trying to get some of the Logan land back again. Big Ma walks to the forest across the road, and Cassie follows her to a clearing where many of the trees were cut down by white men who wanted to buy them. Big Ma says she’s glad Cassie’s grandfather never had to see this, since he dearly loved those trees. Big Ma starts telling Cassie the story of how the Logans got their land. Even though Cassie knows the story, she encourages Big Ma to tell it, prompting her at different points throughout.
Although Cassie already knows the story that Big Ma’s telling, she prompts Big Ma to go on anyway, since she knows that storytelling is an important family tradition. It’s a way for their family history to be passed on and something that holds the family together. The land is also an important part of this family history because it allows the Logans to live independently and proudly, even in an unfair society.
Themes
Land as Independence Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Storytelling and Language Theme Icon
Paul Edward, Big Ma’s husband, made some money working as a carpenter in Vicksburg, where he met Big Ma. He bought 200 acres of land from Mr. Hollenbeck, who had bought most of the Granger land after Reconstruction. The Grangers had had to sell it because they had no money. Mr. Hollenbeck later offered to sell the land back for less than it was worth, but Filmore Granger, Harlan Granger’s dad, wouldn’t pay up, so Mr. Hollenbeck sold the land to various other buyers instead—including Paul Edward. Charles Jamison, the father of the Mr. Jamison Cassie knows, also bought some of the land. Mr. Jamison later sold another 200 acres to Paul Edward, even though he could have gotten more for it by selling it to Harlan Granger.
Land is inextricably entwined with the Logan family story. The fact that they own land distinguishes them from their black sharecropping neighbors who have to work for white landowners. The fact that Cassie and her brothers can say that they were born on their own land is also a tremendous accomplishment for the Logan family.
Themes
Family and Community Theme Icon
Big Ma also talks about having six children with Cassie’s grandfather, but only two are still alive: Cassie’s dad and her Uncle Hammer. Big Ma says that she’ll never sell the land to Harlan Granger, no matter how much he bothers her.
Again, the family and the land are inextricably tied. As long as the family stays together, the Logans are determined to keep the land.
Themes
Land as Independence Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
When Mama comes home, Stacey tells her about his fight with T.J. at the Wallace store. He doesn’t mention the fact that T.J. had been the one cheating on the test or that the other Logan children had gone there with him, though Mama assumes that the other three went down to the store as well. Exasperated, she sends them all off to bed early, even though none of them really consider that a real punishment.
Stacey shows that he has developed his own honor code over the course of the chapter. He has a sense of personal duty now that convinces him to confess to Mama.
Themes
Injustice and Dignity Theme Icon
The following Saturday, Mama wakes the Logan children before dawn and tells them that they’re going to visit a very sick man. She says that he doesn’t look like other people, but the children must try to be themselves around him. They drive two hours out to visit Mr. Berry, one of the burn victims. He’s so badly burnt that he can’t speak and any kind of touch agonizes him. When the Logans leave the house again, Mama tells the children that the Wallaces are responsible for burning the Berrys—that’s why she wants the kids to stay away from their store.
By showing the kids what happened to the Berrys, Mama is forcing them to understand how dangerous racism can be for them. It’s why she doesn’t allow them to associate with the Wallaces. It’s the first time the Logan children have seen firsthand what some of the white men in their town are capable of. Mama also forces them to get this understanding now because she is about to embark on putting together the boycott, and she wants her children to recognize the dangers that could face them and the importance of being careful and smart.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Injustice and Dignity Theme Icon
On the drive home, Mama stops to see several other families. She talks about how the Wallace store is a bad influence and gets everyone to agree not to bring their children there. She doesn’t directly mention that the Wallaces are responsible for burning the Berrys, since it seems dangerous to say so outright. Mama also tries to get some other families to shop elsewhere, but Mr. Turner, one of the men she speaks to, says that it’s nearly impossible for the sharecropping families to shop anywhere else, since they don’t have any cash, and the landowners sign for them to let them shop at the Wallaces on credit. The Logans are better off because they have their own land. Mama asks whether the Turners would consider shopping elsewhere if someone else backed their credit, and Mr. Turner says that he’d definitely consider it.
Mama tries to organize an informal boycott, and her actions predict some of the real tactics black communities used during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s—a movement that the author, Mildred Taylor, was actively involved in. It also becomes clear that the Logans are able to have a lot more freedom in terms of where they shop because they’re landowners themselves—just one more reason the Logans are unwilling to let go of their land.
Themes
Land as Independence Theme Icon
Injustice and Dignity Theme Icon