Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry | Study Guide

Mildred D. Taylor

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Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry | Chapter 8 | Summary

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Summary

As they walk to school, Cassie hails Lillian Jean. She says she's thought over what happened in Strawberry and has realized how she should act and she "should've seen it all along." She offers to carry Lillian Jean's books, and the white girl accepts eagerly. They part ways and head to different schools; Cassie's brothers criticize her for what she did. But T.J. praises her for finally figuring out how to get ahead. When Little Man wants to tell Mama on Cassie, Stacey forbids it. T.J. then changes the topic to the upcoming exams, saying he really has to pass and their mother gives the hardest tests.

Uncle Hammer leaves on New Year's Day. Cassie and Papa take a walk in the forest to talk about what happened in Strawberry. They talk about forgiveness, Cassie's temper, and Cassie's relationship with Lillian Jean. He also explains if she inflicts retribution for what happened to her, there could be "trouble" with larger forces striking back. Cassie continues to carry Lillian Jean's books throughout January, building trust. Late in January, Mama catches T.J. cheating on exams. That same day Cassie sees her opportunity. Cassie tells Lillian Jean she (Cassie) has something to show her. Cassie leads Lillian Jean into the woods. She then knocks Lillian's books to the ground. When a baffled Lillian asks her to pick them up, Cassie says, "Make me." Lillian hits Cassie in the face, and the two girls fight. Lillian fights wildly, but Cassie fights strategically, only hitting Lillian Jean in places that won't leave marks. Beaten, Lillian threatens to tell what happened. Cassie responds by threatening to expose all the secrets Lillian told her when they were walking together.

When she's back in school, Cassie sees Kaleb Wallace through the window. Cassie asks Miss Crocker for permission to go to the restroom. She follows Kaleb Wallace, Mr. Granger, and two other white men to the second-grade classroom, sneaking in through a broken window. She hears Mr. Granger tell Mama they've heard what she teaches and want to observe. Mama teaches as she always does and tells the truth about slavery. Mr. Granger compares what she says to the official textbook and confronts her about teaching things that aren't in it. She says she can't teach what is in the book because it isn't true. Mr. Granger fires her for her disobedience.

Analysis

At first glance the two major events of this chapter—Cassie's fight and Mama getting fired—seem to have little to do with one another. However, in another sense, they are deeply related. They can be seen as attempts by two similar people to stand up for themselves and to fight back against the racism shaping their lives. Cassie led Lillian Jean on for quite some time, tricking her into believing Cassie has accepted her "rightful," inferior place. She then takes private revenge. She makes sure she wins her encounter and no one else sees it. By contrast her mother's clash is public and much more complicated. Her mother technically loses the exchange—she is fired—but Mama can be seen as winning a much larger principle. She stands for truth and speaks as an equal to powerful white men of her region.

This is one of the points in the novel where using Cassie as the narrator might stretch the reader's credulity. The school might have a broken window. But is it likely a teacher who had already disciplined Cassie would give her permission to use the restroom at exactly the right time? Is it also likely the broken window would be where it needs to be for her to sneak in to witness this crucial confrontation?

This is another point at which Taylor weaves several of her themes together. Mr. Granger really gets Mama fired in hopes of breaking the Logans financially. But the reason he provides is she isn't teaching what she is supposed to teach. Instead of the official history, she is teaching the real history of slavery. Mr. Granger was raised hearing stories of the great days of slavery before the Civil War. In the novel this is a point at which the themes of communication, race, and history collide in a complex and dramatic fashion.

Through much of the novel, Cassie is a very straightforward character. This quality makes her very useful as a narrator. Readers can trust her to tell the truth, just as they can assume T.J. will always shade or distort any story he tells. In the encounter with Lillian Jean, though, Cassie takes another approach. She engages in ongoing deception, coolly planning her revenge on Lillian Jean and fooling everyone around her until she gets that revenge. In this chapter of the novel, Cassie acts like a trickster, a longstanding character type in African American literature and folktales. Tricksters are known for deceiving with both deeds and language, as Cassie does here.

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