Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry was written by Mildred D Taylor and was first published in 1976. The story is set in Mississippi in the 1930s and, although the characters and specific plot are fictional, it is based on real-life events.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry tells the story of a black family, the Logans, and their life at a time when blacks in Mississippi faced a lot of prejudice and discrimination. The book is written from the perspective of Cassie Logan, and her naivety, as she grows up learning about the unfairness in the world around her, makes the reader feel the impact of the situation on the black people.
There are various intertwined storylines throughout Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, but through them all the reader encounters the themes of racism, growing up, hope, history and rebellion. Triumphs over the white rule are few, but the few that occur give the black people hope for a future equality.
Although Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is the story of the oppressed black people in Mississippi, Mildred D Taylor keeps the story realistic throughout. She does not make all the black characters good or the white characters bad, and it is this humanity which is given to her characters which brings the respect from her readers.
Cassie Logan is the main character in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. She is a young black girl and the story is told in her own words.
It is Cassie's childishness and naivety which often help to highlight the cruelty of white rule in Mississippi and as she grows up the reader learns with her about the way blacks are treated and the history behind this.
Stacey is Cassie's older brother and feels a responsibility for his sister and two brothers. He tries to protect them from putting themselves in danger by rebelling against the whites, but nevertheless he is angry when he is treated badly and will put his own life in danger to help his black friends.
Christopher John Logan
Christopher John is the older of Cassie's younger brothers. He likes to keep out of trouble and tries to be friendly with everybody. Despite this, when his brothers and sister get involved with trouble he will not be left out!
Little Man (Clayton Chester) Logan
Little Man is the youngest of the Logan children but he still has strong views of his own. He is very particular about his appearance and is outraged when he is made to feel inferior by the white people.
It is through Little Man that the reader learns a good deal about the children's life at school since he, being new there that year, notices things that to the other children are just part of everyday life.
Papa, Mama, Big Ma and Uncle Hammer
Papa, Mama, Big Ma and Uncle Hammer make up the rest of the close Logan family. Papa and Mama are the children's parents while Big Ma is their grandmother who lives with them and Uncle Hammer is their uncle.
Papa and Mama teach the children about life with the whites and it is from them and Big Ma that a lot of history can be learned and the situation understood. Uncle Hammer, on the other hand, acts more as a demonstration of how the blacks feel about their treatment. Uncle Hammer has a very strong temper and from him the reader can feel the aggravation and anger caused by the treatment.
TJ Avery is a black boy who begins as Stacey's best friend. As he grows up, he becomes worse and worse in character until he is tricked by some white boys and ends up being sent to prison.
TJ is an essential character to the book in two ways. Firstly, the author shows that she is being realistic and that not all black people are good, and secondly Cassie and the reader learn first-hand how the blacks were sometimes used, tricked and cheated on by the whites.
Jeremy Simms is a white boy who tries to be friendly with the blacks. He too acts to add realism to the story, but is also a symbol of hope for the future of an equal society.
Mr Jamison is a white lawyer who is friendly with the Logans. Again, he is a symbol of hope for the future. In addition the reader learns from him the problems faced by white people who try to help the blacks.
Other Less Important Characters
Melvin and RW Simms - the white boys who lead TJ astray then blame their own crime on him. They are brothers of Jeremy.
Lillian Jean Simms - white girl who has a confrontation with Cassie, and sister of Jeremy Simms.
Mr Morrison - black man living with the Logans to protect them.
Mr Granger - white land owner who harasses the Logans to sell their land.
Who Would Read This Book?
Hearing that Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is a story where the main character is a young girl might suggest to someone that the book is intended for young children. This view would also be supported by the fact that Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry has won various children's books awards1. On the other hand, the book would seem unsuitable for young children due to the content, which is frightening, and the length, about 200 pages, each containing around 350 words.
Shortly after it was published, Mildred D Taylor entered the story in the Council on Interracial Books for Children Competition. This would suggest that she did intend the book to be read by children, perhaps in order to catch them early and teach them about racial discrimination before they became prejudiced themselves.
Nevertheless, it seems improbable that the book is intended for very young children, especially since the later books in the series are about the children when they are teenagers.
Puffin (a publisher in the United Kingdom) gets around the problem by categorising the books as Teenage Fiction. This suggests that they agree that, while the book would be unsuitable for young children, it is aimed more towards younger people than adults. Perhaps this is because the characters are young so young people will be able to relate to them better.
Mildred D Taylor
Mildred D Taylor was born in Jackson, Mississippi and grew up in Toledo, Ohio (USA). During her life she has worked with the Peace Corps in Ethiopia and has worked at structuring a Black Studies course at the University of Colorado.
During her childhood, Mildred D Taylor heard many stories of the history of the blacks from her family and it is upon these that Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and other books in the series are based. However, it was not until she met a young girl named Cassie Logan that she felt able to write these stories down as books. Cassie's character provided a powerful way to tell her readers the stories.
Other Books in the Series
Mildred D Taylor has also written a number of other stories about the characters introduced in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry:
- The Well
- Let the Circle be Unbroken
- The Road to Memphis