Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

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Themes and Colors
Racism Theme Icon
Land as Independence Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Injustice and Dignity Theme Icon
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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Racism Theme Icon

From the blatant racism throughout the novel, it’s clear that the Logans are confronting the challenges of living in a society dominated by whites. At school, for example, the black children only have books that have been deemed unfit for use by white children. At home, the family is constantly defending their land from the former white owners’ attempts to take it back form them.

Although the Logans are victims of racial injustice, they also fight against it, setting up a boycott of the Wallace store. Mama and Papa’s struggle to teach their children to resist injustice demonstrates that there is hope for change in the future.

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Racism ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Racism appears in each chapter of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Racism Quotes in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Below you will find the important quotes in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry related to the theme of Racism.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Finally T.J. said, “Okay. See, them Berrys’ burnin’ wasn’t no accident. Some white men took a match to ‘em.”

Related Characters: T.J. Avery (speaker)
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

The four siblings' walk begins rather peacefully; the tensions between the children are only manifested in irritated words, never in physical conflict. Stacey's friend T.J., with his own younger sibling Claude, soon infringe on this familial conversation, however, when they appear in the road and join them. T.J. seems to relish his position as the source of information, as he tells the Logan children that white men burned the Berrys. The adults in the Logan family had not told their children about this horrific incident, so T.J. is responsible for inserting this anecdote, and introducing the broader themes about violence and racial prejudice into the narrative's opening.


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[Little Man] ran frantically along the road looking for a foothold and, finding one, hopped onto the bank, but not before the bus had sped past enveloping him in a scarlet haze while laughing white faces pressed against the bus windows.

Related Characters: Cassie Logan (speaker), Little Man
Related Symbols: Modes of Transportation
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

The novel opened with Cassie encouraging her brother to move more quickly, and Little Man refusing to do so, afraid that he might dirty his clothes on the first day of his first year of school. Little Man kept fastidiously moving slowly along the dusty and dirty road, attempting to keep his Sunday clothes clean -- until the white children's schoolbus foils all of his efforts, in the moment that it rushes by. This small, seemingly innocent incidence represents the core struggle of the novel: the structures which benefit white society prevent African Americans from maintaining their property. Yet, Little Man is still naive about this reality; he even asks his older sister why only white children have a schoolbus. This suggests that the effects of racism penetrate one's earliest days, although consciousness of these issues may only arise when one is older and able to articulate his or her losses of dignity.

“In the first place no one cares enough to come down here, and in the second place if anyone should come, maybe he could see all the things we need—current books for all of our subjects, not just somebody’s old throwaways, desks, paper, blackboards, erasers, maps, chalk…”

Related Characters: Mama (speaker)
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

After the first day of school ends, Cassie finds her mother discussing the state of the school's books with Cassie's teacher, Miss Crocker. Miss Crocker is willing to accept the pitiful condition of these books, which the school is only allowed to borrow from the county's superintendent office, but Mama is rightfully disturbed enough to glue together the pages of books meant for her classroom. When Miss Crocker protests that an employee of the superintendent could inflict punishment on Mama or the school in response to this, Mama laughs off this concern; no one comes from the county because "no one cares" about this school for black children. And that would be the least of this school's worries; it lacks "all the things" needed for a proper education -- "desks, paper, blackboards, erasers, maps, chalk..." This response, and this scene, demonstrates how Mama is unafraid of voicing the truth about the circumstances which she and her family face. She does not accept the situations which threaten to undermine her dignity. 

Chapter 2 Quotes

“Did the other men get fired?”
“No, ma’am,” answered Mr. Morrison. “They was white.”

Related Characters: Mama (speaker), L.T. Morrison (speaker)
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

Papa returns with Mr. Morrison, a black man who was fired from his job for fighting with other men. When Mama briefly questions Mr. Morrison, likely to quickly ascertain his character before granting him the ability to stay in her home as a hired helper, she asks him who was responsible for starting that fight. Mr. Morrison replies that the white men initiated the engagement. As the conversation continues Mr. Morrison also reveals that these men weren't fired--because they were white. Brief instances such as these reveal the ways that racism is implicit and assumed in this society. It creates unfair, yet undeniable, customs which adults acknowledge without words.

“These folks getting’ so bad in here. Heard tell they lynched a boy a few days ago at Crosston.”

“And ain’t a thing gonna be done ‘bout it,” said Mr. Lanier. “That’s what’s so terrible! When Henrietta went to the sheriff and told him what she’d seed, he called her a liar and sent her on home. Now I hear tells that some of them men that done it been ‘round braggin’ ‘bout it. Sayin’ they’d do it again if some other uppity nigger get out of line.”

Related Characters: Mr. Avery (speaker), Mr. Lanier (speaker)
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:
After Church services on Sunday, Cassie's community congregates in support of the Berry's family, and individuals discuss the horrific nature of recent events. For instance, Henrietta Toggins, who was with John Henry and the Beacon on the day they were burned, supposedly witnessed drunk and unstable white men threaten the Berrys earlier in the day. The police refused to believe her story, however, which makes the story of the Berrys' death even more tragic and unjust. Black individuals may be thus inappropriately accused of lying and deprived of the dignity associated with speech. They do not only experience terrible crimes, but they can only discuss these occurrences among themselves, lest they be even further mistreated. 
Chapter 3 Quotes

Knowing that the bus driver liked to entertain his passengers by sending us slipping along the road to the almost inaccessible forest banks washed to a smooth baldness…we consequently found ourselves comical objects to cruel eyes that gave no thought to our misery.

Related Characters: Cassie Logan (speaker)
Related Symbols: Modes of Transportation
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

The schoolbus filled with white children often veere dangerously close to the Logan children as it passee them on the road, forcing them to climb the slippery slopes along the edge of the road. The driver intentionally movee the bus this way every morning because the white schoolchildren delight in observing the Logan children struggle. The white children watch the Logans' struggles, but they do not truly see them. They did not attempt to truly consider how the Logan children are feeling; instead, they laugh. From their position of privilege, the white children do not need to understand the Logans' perspective; they have far greater mobility, in both the figurative as well as literal sense.

Chapter 4 Quotes

“Sometimes a person’s gotta fight,” he said slowly. “But that store ain’t the place to be doing it. From what I hear, folks like them Wallaces got no respect at all for colored folks and they just think it’s funny when we fight each other. You mama knowed them Wallaces ain’t good folks, that’s why she don’t want y’all down there, and y’all owe it to her and y’allselves to tell her. But I’m gonna leave it up to y’all to decide.”

Related Characters: L.T. Morrison (speaker), Stacey Logan, Mama, The Wallaces
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

After Mr. Morrison catches the Logan children observing Stacey fight T.J. at the Wallace store, a place which Papa has forbidden, Mr. Morrison delivers a powerful lesson. He admits that combat can be necessary in confrontation, and in the face of particularly hostile or overpowering circumstances, "sometimes a person's gotta fight." In addition to this general teaching, though, he specifically disciplines the children for going to the Wallace store. Mr. Morrison does not merely support the previously established rule, but he also explains its purpose; the Wallaces are morally questionable and they openly disrespect black individuals. 

Mr. Morrison also indirectly provides a foil to T.J.'s secrecy, when he explains that he will make the Logan children themselves tell Mama about their journey to the Wallace store. Through his actions, he advocates for honest language and forthcoming behavior, providing yet another way that the Logans can strive to differentiate themselves from secrecy, which so often co-exists alongside racial prejudices and violent acts.

Chapter 7 Quotes

“Far as I’m concerned, friendship between black and white don’t mean that much ‘cause it usually ain’t on a equal basis. Right now you and Jeremy might get along fine, but in a few years he’ll think of himself as a man but you’ll probably still be a boy to him. And if he feels that way, he’ll turn on you in a minute.”

Related Characters: Papa (speaker)
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:

Just as T.J.'s manipulative ways prevent an authentic friendship between him and Stacey, Jeremy's unequal status as a white boy prevents a healthy friendship -- as Papa reminds Stacey on Christmas evening, after T.J.'s family has left the Logan house. With this observation, which will hopefully prevent his son from being disappointed or hurt by an unequal friendship, Papa reintroduces the broader social issues into the holiday celebration (after there seemed to be a reprieve, in which Stacey refused to be as influenced from T.J. as he was earlier in the novel). These general issues only resurfaced after other families became involved in the celebration, which provides further support for the concept of familial cohesion.