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1. Compare and contrast the Logan children’s personalities and describe the similarities and differences of Cassie and Stacey’s coming of age
While Roll of Thunder is primarily the coming-of-age story of Cassie Logan, she and her brothers all develop a more mature understanding of race relations in the South during the year described. From the beginning of the novel, Cassie and Little Man are presented as the Logan children most open about their feelings. In contrast, Stacey is from the outset portrayed as more restrained, formulating plans to carry out rather than reacting in the heat of the moment. From their first day of school through the spring revival, the Logan children learn tough lessons about the world around them, each expressing their new-found knowledge in different ways.
Little Man is outraged upon seeing the word “nigra” printed in his first school book, and is most frequently depicted trying to keep clean. As the youngest sibling, he is presented as innocent and worthy of protection from the harsh realities that surround him, a job his older siblings welcome. Christopher-John is a quieter character, who must be encouraged to follow along on the children’s nighttime explorations. He cheerfully goes along, but it is Cassie and Stacey who lead their peers in rebellion.
Cassie is still learning to control her temper, which appears frequently, including when she resists apologizing to “Miss” Lillian Jean Simms. She wreaks her revenge by feigning friendship and earning the white girl’s trust solely to abuse it and regain a sense of her own power. Papa has explained Cassie must choose her battles and that just as he has decided not to pursue Charlie Simms in this particular instance, she, too, must learn when to let things go. Stacey shares his sister’s intense frustrations, but also shows the wisdom of restraint. He masterminds the children’s revenge on the school bus that dirties them by insisting on patience and then returning to the scene to dig the ditch that destroys the offending vehicle. Over the course of the novel, he shows even greater self-discipline, a widening chasm from his sister who is eager to see justice swiftly done. Whether due to her age or gender, or both, Cassie has not accompanied her father on the railroad as Stacey has, and certain elements of his greater worldliness are directly attributable to this difference in exposure. 2. What is the importance of the novel’s title?
“Roll of thunder, hear my cry,” is a line from a spiritual sung by slaves, which appears in a song hummed by Mr. Morrison at the beginning of chapter 11. Its lines include reference to a white man coming whip in hand “but I ain’t gonna let him turn me ‘round,” a clear allusion to the resistance of the Logan family to the racial oppression still evident in the 1930s. Mama, Papa and Big Ma have all imparted their opinions about the legacy of slavery to the Logan children, and shared their sense of injustice at the way things are. They encourage the next generation not to accept the status quo, but to carefully identify their means of resistance to an unjust world order. Rather than depending on the heavens to save them from the anger and fear exhibited by their white neighbors, the Logans organize a boycott of the Wallace store and encourage their black friends to also shop in Vicksburg. But their efforts are met with violence, and the storm metaphor surfaces multiple times in the novel to illustrate the similarities between race relations and weather patterns. Though it is somewhat unpredictable which incident will set off a storm of hate, there is no doubt that something big is brewing throughout the novel, until the crescendo of the fire lit by Papa in an attempt to save his land and family. While it a major accomplishment that, for the first time, blacks and whites are linked in their efforts to fight the blaze, it is not enough that they are united at last against a common enemy threatening life and property. To quell the leaping flames it is a natural rain that is needed. The distant roar of thunder that opens and closes the penultimate chapter lends a sense of foreboding to the storm that has long been brewing. Mama and Big Ma fight the blaze with buckets of water, but it takes a torrential downpour of larger-than-life proportions to spare three-quarters of the Logans’ cotton and to reinforce the fact that all human beings in the story depend on nature. 3. How is friendship explored in this novel?
Besides being blood relatives, the members of the Logan family are bound by a deep respect for one another and a shared value and love for the land. Few of their neighbors grasp this tie, or exhibit it in their own families. The Averys are portrayed as poor and ignorant sharecroppers, and the Simmses as similarly challenged to demonstrate by example to their children how to treat their fellow human beings. Their peers look up to the Logans and seek their acceptance, but none earn their full respect and friendship. T.J. wants nothing more than to be listened to and respected, and will do or say anything to be the center of attention. His lack of respect for the moral order disgusts Cassie and her brothers, who shun him. Stacey understands and sympathizes with T.J. but denies him the prize of his friendship.
Jeremy Simms also desperately craves Stacey’s approval, and from the start attempts to distinguish himself from his family and white peers, extending himself time and again. Although he walks as far as he can along the way to school with the Logans, his gestures are not encouraged or welcomed, through no fault of his own, but rather due to the larger racial forces in operation in full force in the still segregated South. The clear message is that friendship is predicated on racial equality, and until that is developed, true friendship between blacks and whites is as much a dream as Jeremy’s fantasy that he can see the Logan farm from his tree house.
Perhaps the most compelling example of friendship in the novel is that between David Logan and Mr. Morrison, the man he brings home from the railroad to protect his family. Mr. Morrison appreciates the generosity of food, shelter and company, and repays the Logans by shielding their children from further attack, keeping watch in the night with a shotgun by his side. He is honest in explaining how he lost his job, for fighting with white men, and is rewarded for this quality which the Logans greatly value.
Although friendship is an important theme throughout Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, it is mostly the bonds of family that remain unquestioned and intact by the novel’s end. Family loyalty, to each other and to their shared land, is prized above all else.
4. What is the symbolic value of the land inRoll of Thunder, Hear My Cry?
As Big Ma repeats frequently in this novel, the Logans cherish their land and will protect it at any price. Her refrain is echoed by her sons, David and Hammer, the only living men in the family, and David’s wife Mary who shares in working and appreciating it. As a schoolteacher, Mary knows well that her husband’s family struggled to pay for the 400 acres on which they reside, not only tilling the soil and cultivating the cotton crop yearly, but also warding off those who wish to reclaim it for white ownership. Slavery is a fresh wound in the family’s collective memory, the horrors of which are most often recounted by Big Ma, whose forebears were not born free.
Because they own their own land, the Logans have an important place in the black community. While their neighbors share-crop on white-owned land and must borrow from the Grangers to buy their supplies, the Logans are self-sufficient and able to provide for themselves, even demonstrating their independence by boycotting the racist Wallace store in favor of shopping twenty-two miles away in Vicksburg.
Unlike the Logans, who respect the land for both the gifts it gives in sustaining them and for its symbolic value in making them more equal to the white landowners, Harlan Granger wants to buy back their 400 acres to demonstrate the superiority of the white race. He is living in the past and wishes to return to the era of slaves and masters, which he believes the “right” order of things. Of the white adults, only Mr. Jamison questions this belief, and instead upholds the legal right of the Logans to their land.
Land is portrayed as the central concern of the elder Logans, who have learned through the generations before them that the independence it enables is key to success in this country. Besides the economic benefits of working it instead of another’s acres, the Logan land is responsible for the closeness of the family. They share important memories in its trees and fields and depend upon it to create the same respect in the next generation of Logans.
5. How is a sense of hope conveyed throughout the novel?
Despite the ugliness of racism and violence permeating the novel, its main characters share a sense of hope that they will yet emerge triumphant. While the forces of hate run deep and the white families still teach their children anger and fear of difference, the Logans encourage Cassie and her three brothers to develop a sense of respect for themselves before they expect others to treat them with respect. Big Ma, as the oldest character in the novel, has seen many decades of similar mistreatment of her friends and neighbors, yet is the one to most often tell the youngest character, Little Man, that the sun will shine again. The most appealing characters in this book are youthful and optimistic, with even Cassie’s parents resorting to creative means to see justice done in the community. They persuade their neighbors to band together and shop in Vicksburg rather than contribute to the Wallaces’ and Grangers’ meager profit at their own expense. Clearly there are problems enveloping them all much bigger than anyone can solve, but David and Mary Logan insist on the importance of doing their part and trying to create another way.
By being told in the first-person by a nine-year-old losing her sense of naivete and opening her eyes to the racial realities around her, this novel is by nature hopeful. As Cassie grows and changes, thinking before she speaks or acts and beginning to help her younger brothers do the same, her observations deepen and she becomes a stronger agent of change in her community. Instead of the child she was in the opening chapter, joining her brother in rejecting the dirty school books out of a sense of righteous indignation, by the novel’s close she has developed into a more worldly young adult, still somewhat in her older brother’s shadow but peering out of the woods in which she’d been hiding with a far more adult pair of eyes than she possessed at the start of the school year. Although most of this learning took place outside the schoolhouse, Cassie nevertheless emerges an educated and independent person, likely to follow in her parents’ footsteps in seeking all means possible to do what she must in paving the way towards racial equality for future generations.
Questions for Chapters 1-4
Comprehension and Recall
1. What does T.J. want Stacey to do about Mrs. Logan's tests?
Get the answers beforehand
2. Why does it take the Logans and their friends an hour to walk to school?
Only white children have a bus; few provisions are made for educating black children.
3. What happens to the Berrys?
White men set them on fire; John Henry dies.
4. Why doesn't Cassie like T.J?
He's sneaky; cheats and gets Stacey in trouble.
5. Why does the Great Faith School start later and end earlier than the Jefferson Davis County School?
Black children must work in the fields from early spring until October.
6. How do the Logan children get back at the bus driver?
They dig a ditch which fills with rain; the bus breaks an axle.
7. Why does Stacey disobey Mama and go to the Wallace store?
To get T.J. who got him in trouble
8. How do the landowners and storekeepers take advantage of the sharecroppers?
Landowners sign to get credit for sharecroppers at store; store then charges huge interest on sharecropper purchases. When crops come in, landowners take half the profit, store gets paid back and charges fees for extending credit. Sharecropper never gets any cash and is always in debt.
Higher Level Thinking Skills
9. Why is the land so important to the Logans?
It represents freedom from being a sharecropper; a kind of pride and independence.
10. Why is Miss Crocker so pleased with the old, dirty books?
It's the first time the school has had any books; she is probably used to being treated shabbily; she “knows her place.”
11. Why does Miss Crocker say Mama is “biting the hand that feeds” her?
Mama isn't grateful for the old books; she speaks of other things the school needs.
12. Why does Mr. Grimes, the bus driver, go out of his way to get the black children dirty?
Possible: He's prejudiced; thinks it's funny.
13. Why does Stacey say he'll tell Mama what happened at the Wallace store?
He knows it's the right thing to do; Mr. Morrison has let him make his own decision.
14. What problems do you predict for the Logans and others in the rest of the story?
Answers will vary.
15. Voice: Who is telling this story?
16. How do you feel about the way black children were educated in the 1930s?
Questions for Chapters 5-8
Comprehension and Recall
1. How does Mama want to retaliate for the burning of the Berry men?
She wants people to boycott the Wallace store.
2. How does Mr. Granger threaten the Logans?
He says they'll lose their land f they stir up trouble because the bank won't honor their mortgage. He also says the sharecroppers will get less for their cotton and won't be able to pay their debts.
3. How does Mr. Granger take his anger out on Mama?
He gets her fired.
4. Why does Stacey drop T.J. as a friend?
T.J. is responsible for getting Mama fired; T.J. speaks negatively of her because he failed her class.
Higher Level Thinking Skills
5. Why does Big Ma take Cassie and Stacey to market?
She has to take T.J. and doesn't want to put up with him alone.
6. Why doesn't Cassie understand Mr. Barnett's behavior?
She sees that it is rude and unfair, but doesn't realize this is how African American people are usually treated.
7. Why does Big Ma make Cassie apologize to Lillian Jean?
She's afraid of trouble and violence; she's protecting Cassie.
8. What kinds of arguments do you think Mr. Morrison used to persuade Uncle Hammer not to visit the Simms?
Possible: You'll get hurt or killed; think about your brother; Mama and the children will get hurt. Wait, find another way to handle this. Turn the other cheek — there is more at stake here than Cassie's pride.
9. How would you describe Uncle Hammer?
Possible: proud, angry, resentful, tough, impulsive, hot-headed, defiant, generous
10. Why does Cassie think Uncle Hammer's tongue-lashing is worse than her father's whipping?
Uncle Hammer is very angry, gets cold look in his eye, shows his disgust with Stacey's stupidity. She's more sure of Papa's love and values.
11. Why will boycotting the Wallace store be dangerous?
Harlan Granger owns the land the store is on and gets part of the income. It means pointing a finger and saying the Wallaces should be punished for burning and killing a black man.
12. Mood: What is the mood of the story at the end of Chapter 7?
Ominous, dangerous, threatening, defiant
13. How do you feel about the way Cassie handles her problem with Lillian Jean?
Questions for Chapters 9-12
Comprehension and Recall
1. Who kills Mr. Barnett?
R. W. hits him with an ax.
2. How does Papa get Mr. Granger to stop the crowd at the Averys?
He sets fire to the cotton.
Higher Level Thinking Skills
3. In what ways are Mama and Papa brave?
They are risking a lot — friendships, their land, their family's safety, their lives — to stand up to injustice.
4. Why does Papa defend Mr. Avery's and Mr. Lanier's decision to back out of the boycott?
He understands what is at stake for them — being sent to a chain gang; they are sharecroppers and don't own any land.
5. Why does Papa think Stacey should go with him when he asks people about Vicksburg?
He feels Stacey should be strong and learn how to handle himself.
6. How does Stacey grow up after the wagon accident?
He feels responsible; tries to protect his brothers and sisters from harshness of story.
7. Why is the revival so important?
It's a chance for people to get together, feast, reaffirm beliefs.
8. How does Uncle Hammer show that the land is important to him?
He sells his car to raise money for the mortgage.
9. Why does T.J. believe the Simms brothers care about him?
He isn't very bright; he wants to feel important; he thinks highly of himself.
10. Character: Why does Stacey decide to help T.J. after the robbery at the Barnetts' store?
He understands that T.J. is vulnerable and in real trouble. He feels responsible for T.J.'s safety; he's loyal.
11. Mood: How does the author create an ominous mood in Chapter 11?
Storm, thunder, lightning, heavy air
12.What is your response to the story's ending?