In the author’s note to Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred Taylor writes that her father was a master storyteller. She says that from his storytelling, she “learned to respect the past, to respect my own heritage and myself.” Storytelling plays a similar role for Cassie in the book. During Christmas, for example, several of the adults in the black community tell stories about their families. The stories are a way for Cassie to learn about her past and what she can be proud of—but some of them also reveal societal injustices that get Cassie thinking about all the ways that life isn’t fair, especially for black people.
Storytelling is especially important for the black community because it isn’t their history that’s taught in schools. Instead, teachers are forced to teach extremely biased versions of the past. When there aren’t written words to back up their past, they have to resort to oral history.
Language is often used as a weapon in the book. Characters use name-calling and derogatory language to put others down. Cassie also learns to hold her tongue during the course of the book, since her outbursts at the beginning only get the family into trouble. She learns that dignified silence, too, can be powerful.
Storytelling and Language ThemeTracker
Storytelling and Language Quotes in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
“See, fellows, there’s a system to getting out of work,” T.J. was expounding as I sat down. “Jus’ don’t be ‘round when it’s got to be done. Only thing is, you can’t let your folks know that’s what you’re doin’.”
And in the fireplace itself, in a black pan set on a high wire rack, peanuts roasted over the hickory fire as the waning light of day swiftly deepened into a fine velvet night speckled with white forerunners of a coming snow, and the warm sound of husky voices and rising laughter mingled in tales of sorrow and happiness and days past but not forgotten.
“You see that fig tree over yonder, Cassie? Them other trees all around…that oak and walnut, they’re a lot bigger and they take up more room and give so much shade they almost overshadow that little ole fig. But that fig’s got roots that run deep, and it belongs in that yard as much as that oak and walnut…It don’t give up. It give up, it’ll die. There’s a lesson to be learned from that little tree, Cassie girl, ‘cause we’re like it. We keep doing what we gotta, and we don’t give up. We can’t.”