Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry | Study Guide

Mildred D. Taylor

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Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry | Chapter 1 | Summary



The Logan children are walking to the Great Faith Elementary and Secondary School, where they attend and their mother teaches. It is the first day of the school year in the fall of 1933. Siblings Little Man (age 6), Stacey (12), Christopher-John (7), and Cassie (9) walk along muddy roads past woods and farmland. They pass extensive land owned by Harlan Granger, a major white landowner. As they walk, Cassie, the narrator, thinks about how their family bought their land. She also remembers how a 1930 drop in cotton prices forced their father to leave home to find work laying track for the railroads. She also thinks about their family: her mother Mama and Big Ma, her grandmother, and how hard they all work.

They run into T.J. Avery and his little brother, Claude. T.J. failed their mother's class the previous year. He praises their mother for being a great teacher. He also suggests they'll find it easier because she'll let them cheat. Stacey rejects this idea. As they walk, they talk about how some white men recently burned the Berry farm—and Mr. Berry. The conversation shifts to how Cassie nearly got T.J. whipped that morning. She mentioned she'd told their mother T.J. had gone to the Wallace store, which they aren't allowed to visit.

As they walk on, they run into Jeremy, a white boy who is friendly toward them, and his sister Lillian Jean, who is not. Jeremy complains about the white school having started earlier. When the siblings get to school, they see friends and acquaintances. Cassie is immediately caught up in school politics. She gets in trouble with Miss Crocker, her fourth-grade teacher.

Miss Crocker is filling in for Miss Davis for a little while. She leads the class through repeating their commitment to work, share, and sacrifice in a Christian fashion. She notices when Cassie doesn't shout "YES'M, MIZ CROCKER" with the rest of the students. After singling Cassie out for mild discipline, Miss Crocker shocks the class by announcing they will get books that year. Cassie's family has books, but most students had never even touched a book except for their families' Bibles. Before handing out the books, Miss Crocker makes the students chant "WE PROMISE TO TAKE GOOD CARE OF OUR NEW BOOKS!"

The books are in terrible condition. Little Man asks for a different book because his is dirty. He eventually takes a book, but after he looks inside it, he throws it on the floor and stomps on it. When he refuses to pick it up, Cassie looks inside her own book and sees why. There's a page listing how the book has been assigned. For the first 12 years, the student's race was "White." It is now listed as "nigra." Cassie shows this to Miss Crocker, thinking it will explain Little Man's reactions. Instead, Miss Crocker sees no problem with this label. Cassie rejects her book, too, and Miss Crocker punishes them both.

Cassie goes to tell her mother what happened but finds Miss Crocker explaining the situation to Cassie's mother, Mary Logan (Mama). Mama agrees she was right to punish the children for disobedience but isn't very upset by their actions. Instead, she glues paper over the offending page. Miss Crocker suggests they'll get in trouble. Mama dismisses this. She says the school board couldn't care less about what goes on and plans to modify all the books in the same way.


Taylor includes an incredible amount of information in this first chapter and sets most of the book's major plotlines in motion. She introduces the Logan family in a way that emphasizes both the siblings' close ties to one another and the children's close ties to their parents. The very first pages also emphasize the way the present and the past intertwine. Even though the narrator, Cassie, is just nine, she knows the history of her family's farm. She realizes how issues around its ownership have roots reaching back to the Civil War. This underscores a fundamental principle throughout the book: the past is still alive and influencing the present.

Introducing T.J. and Jeremy shows how the Logan family relates to both other black families, such as the Averys, and white families, such as the Simmses. T.J.'s suggestion the Logans are sure to pass their mother's tests because she lets them cheat introduces a fundamental component of T.J.'s character. He assumes the system is dishonest, and personal influence is how people get ahead.

The bits of story about the Berrys and how they suffered a "burnin" accent the dark role of race throughout the book. The children don't get all the details, but T.J.'s suggestion white men intentionally set fire to the Berrys is horrific. It is a reminder of the brutal and highly dramatic form racism frequently took during this period. The children's experience with their books is another example of racism, this one institutional racism. On the one hand, the fact the children get books at all is an exciting novelty and could be seen as a measure of progress. On the other hand, the books are in very poor condition. The fact the school board not only labels the race of the receiving students but does so casually shows how pervasive racism was. Little Man's response to being reminded of this racism shows how intensely racism hurts those affected by it.

Mama's response to the offending label is an act of near genius. She can't change the school board or how they label the children, but she can remove the offending label. This seems a great victory at the time but will come back to haunt Mrs. Logan later when the political situation gets more heated.

It is a measure of Taylor's ability to structure the narrative that she introduces all these themes and plot elements in a way that seems natural and almost casual. They seem to unfold without relation to one another. Not only will these early seeds grow throughout the novel, they will all interact as they do so, creating a highly unified story.

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