Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry | Study Guide

Mildred D. Taylor

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Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry | Chapter 5 | Summary



Several days later Cassie and Stacey get in the wagon to go to Strawberry to sell eggs and butter on market day. They leave very early in the morning and pick up T.J. at 3:30 a.m. They set up their wagon far from the entrance, leaving the better spots for the white people's wagons. About noon, as the market crowds thin out, Big Ma leads them to Mr. Jamison's office. Cassie asks to go inside, but Big Ma turns her down.

Once Big Ma leaves the children alone, T.J. leads Stacey and Cassie to the Barnett Mercantile store. He wants to show them a pistol he has his eye on. He then gives Mr. Barnett a list of purchases his mother wants. The man starts to fill the order but stops to wait on a white woman, then other white adults, and then finally a girl. T.J. accepts this, but Cassie objects to being kept waiting. At first she thinks Mr. Barnett has just forgotten T.J. and tells him so. When he doesn't answer, she repeats herself. Mr. Barnett explodes with anger, calling out, "Whose little nigger is this?" Cassie protests. When another woman speaks up in her defense, Mr. Barnett snaps at her as well. When Stacey takes Cassie's hand to guide her from the store, Mr. Barnett tells him not to let Cassie come back until her "mammy teach her what she is." This sets Cassie off again, but Stacey pushes her outside. She protests that Mr. Barnett was wrong, and Stacey agrees but says Mr. Barnett doesn't know it.

They split up again. Cassie walks around thinking, turning at one point to go back to the store but realizes how much trouble that would cause, and turns away. When she does, she bumps into Lillian Jean Simms. This white girl makes Cassie apologize, then decides that's not enough. She insults Cassie, who tells her off and starts to walk past. Her brother Jeremy tries to calm things, but their father shows up. Mr. Simms pushes Cassie off the sidewalk so hard she falls in the street. He tells Cassie to step off the sidewalk when his daughter says to. Mr. Simms's sons chime in, identifying Cassie as "the same little nigger" who caused trouble in the store. The confrontation stretches on until Cassie is afraid he's going to hit her. She eventually gets up and runs for the wagon. Mr. Simms follows and has Big Ma force Cassie to apologize again, more formally. Cassie then collapses in tears.


This chapter offers a shining example of Taylor's remarkable efficiency as a writer. The description of the trip to the market would have been rich enough to include by itself. However, Taylor combines it with the introduction of the revolver T.J. has his eye on. The gun will resurface late in the novel as T.J.'s main motivation for taking part in a crime. If that weren't enough, in that same extended scene Cassie must face another example of institutional racism. The store owner stops waiting on her simply because white customers ask for help. This offends Cassie's innate sense of fairness. It also shows the cost of the difficult road the Logans are trying to walk. They are protecting their children and raising them to have a clear sense of self-worth. They allowed Little Man to be surprised and disgusted by the racist treatment he found in the school textbooks in Chapter 1. They also allow Cassie to be more vulnerable than someone like T.J. to this quiet racism in the marketplace.

This chapter also does three more crucial things, all of which revolve around race relations. First, when Cassie calls Mr. Barnett on his rudeness, he does not just get offended. He asks, "Whose little nigger is this?" This sort of language indicates a strong holdover from the time of slavery when blacks belonged to whites. Second, after the incident when Cassie runs into Lillian Jean, she rightly apologizes. She even acknowledges she had run into the girl. However, when Mr. Simms and the other white adults get involved, the encounter moves beyond one of simple manners (apologizing for bumping into someone on the street) and becomes a massive and perhaps life-threatening encounter. Cassie cannot simply do what she thinks is right, and neither can Big Ma when Cassie makes it to the wagon. Instead, they must give in to the power dynamics of their society, accepting something they know is wrong as the price of survival.

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