Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry | Study Guide

Mildred D. Taylor

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Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry | Quotes



Cassie, Chapter 1

The children at Great Faith Elementary School never had textbooks before. This year they do. Before she hands out these books, Miss Crocker makes them all chant this line. When Cassie and her siblings see the books, they realize they are dirty and worn out, and are tremendously disappointed. Little Man opens his book and finds a sheet listing the condition of the book for each year. There is also a list of the race of the student receiving it. Though Miss Crocker calls them "new," this record says their condition is "Very Poor" and indicates the student's race as "nigra." This chant communicates several things. The black children are being asked to do what the white children did not (care for the books). They're being asked to take part in the pretense the books are new, and they are forced to engage in this public display of obedience.


I would wait until the evening to talk to her; there was no rush now. She understood.

Cassie, Chapter 1

These are the final lines of the first chapter. Cassie thinks them after listening to Miss Crocker confront Mama about the incident with the books. Cassie had intended to tell her mother about the incident before anyone else did. This is because she is honest and because punishments are lighter if the Logan children tell their parents what they did wrong. Cassie, therefore, overhears this conversation accidentally. However, it is very useful for her as a character—and as a narrator. Cassie hears her mother agree she and Little Man had to be punished because they broke the rules. Her mother's tone makes Cassie realize her mother's sympathies lie with her. It is one of the many cases in the novel in which how something is said is as important as what is said.


In this family, we don't shop at the Wallace store.

Papa, Chapter 2

Papa says this line to several black adults. Since they are talking about the Berry family being burned, and blacks lynched by whites, the line might seem almost unrelated. However, it is a quiet assertion of a personal position that will grow into a larger grassroots protest. The Wallace family is racist. They manipulate and take advantage of blacks at their store, and are almost certainly involved in any night riding that happens. Rather than accepting this situation, Papa is holding his family to a higher standard by choosing not to support the Wallaces. This will later become a community-wide boycott, leading to backlash from the whites.


Oh, how sweet was well-maneuvered revenge!

Cassie, Chapter 3

Cassie thinks this after the Logan children dig a deep puddle to trap the bus carrying the white children to school. Cassie goes back and forth in the novel between being a fully realized character and serving as a simple viewpoint for the reader. In this case Cassie functions more like a stand-in for the reader. Rather than responding as an excited nine-year-old girl who just took part in a tremendous prank, Cassie sounds like a reflective adult.

This line also foreshadows later events. At the time their revenge seems especially "well-maneuvered," since the children successfully trick the bus driver. However, when the children learn white men have tarred and feathered someone from their community, they are suddenly afraid it was their fault. They think their revenge was not so "well-maneuvered" after all.

This line also works to foreshadow Cassie's revenge on Lillian Jean.


As we turned away from the entrance, Melvin Simms said, 'Just look at all the little niggers come to dance,' and the laughter of the men filled the room.

Melvin Simms, Chapter 4

A common belief during this period was African Americans loved to dance and would do so in any circumstance, no matter how inappropriate or humiliating. This is what Melvin Simms's statement refers to here. It also indicates Melvin's character and the contempt he has for blacks, something that makes T.J.'s later association with him all the more distressing.


Whose little nigger is this?

Mr. Barnett, Chapter 5

Mr. Barnett, owner of the mercantile store in Strawberry, yells this after Cassie confronts him about his rudeness. He (an adult, white, store owner) chooses to serve white customers first, even though Cassie was there first. His words show at least three variations of racism in a single line. First, he's offended Cassie feels bold enough to correct his manners. Second, he feels free to call her a "little nigger." Third, he asks who she belongs to. This is a sign in his mind, African Americans still essentially belonged to whites.

Tellingly, when Mr. Barnett speaks to T.J. earlier, he asks T.J. if he is "one of Mr. Granger's people." T.J. answers, "Yessir," showing he understands the power structure in their society better than Cassie does (at least in the short term).


White people may demand our respect, but what we give them is not respect but fear.

Mama, Chapter 6

Mama says this to Cassie near the end of their discussion of Cassie's encounter with Lillian Jean Simms and her father in Strawberry. Her explanation of how racism works intertwines with their family's history. Mama makes clear distinctions between forced respect and real respect. In delivering it Mama is speaking not just to Cassie but to any possible white readers. Cassie often serves as the point of view for readers, but in this case she also receives this communication as an audience.


But one day we'll have to pay for it. Believe me ... One day we'll pay.

Mama, Chapter 6

Mama says this to Uncle Hammer after his symbolic victory at Soldiers Bridge. Uncle Hammer relishes making the white drivers back down. However, Mama sees the larger picture. The Wallaces cannot let a black man get the better of them or even accept a symbolic defeat at black hands, as they receive here. She knows this will cost them dearly. This is yet another sign of the powerful influence of race in this novel. And the backlash won't fall on Hammer alone but will threaten the rest of the Logan family.


Seems to me if Stacey's not smart enough to hold onto a good coat, he don't deserve it.

Uncle Hammer, Chapter 7

When Uncle Hammer comes to visit for Christmas, he brings presents for everyone. His present for Stacey is a fine coat, a present Stacey doubly appreciates because it is winter and he is cold. When T.J. sees the coat, he teases Stacey about it, saying he looks like a fat preacher, until Stacey gives him the coat. This line is part of Hammer's response to learning Stacey has given up his present. He turns Stacey's loss into a lesson on the boy's character, following this line with a tirade about Stacey's need to learn to think for himself.


There's lots of ways of stopping you, David.

Mr. Granger, Chapter 7

Mr. Harlan Granger says this line at the end of an extended talk with Papa when Granger tries several different tactics to get Papa to give up the land. For example, he threatens to charge the black farmers on his land more. When Papa holds firm, he issues this vague threat. Throughout this novel, people who are willing to state their minds directly are praised. Those who lie or beat around the bush receive less respect, and that's the case here. Papa flatly tells Granger he won't be giving up the land. Granger, in turn, threatens something.


Far as I'm concerned, friendship between black and white don't mean that much 'cause it usually ain't on an equal basis.

Papa, Chapter 8

Papa says this to Stacey as part of their extended discussion on Christmas day about Jeremy and his relationship to Stacey. While the Logan parents guide their children on race-related topics throughout the book, this is one of the most direct statements either of them makes on the topic. It carries extra weight because he is not angry, as Hammer often is, or hurting from a recent insult. This is the best, most measured reflection an intelligent man living in a racist culture can offer.


What good's a car? It can't grow cotton. You can't build a house on it. And you can't raise four fine babies in it.

Uncle Hammer, Chapter 10

When Hammer visits at Christmas, he is proud of his car, which is as fine and expensive as the one owned by Mr. Granger. It also plays a role in a great symbolic victory when he drives onto Soldiers Bridge and forces the Wallaces to back down. However, when the Logan family is in financial trouble, he sells the car and travels down to give them the money himself so they won't lose their land. Though he does not live there and does not work the land, Hammer understands its importance.


But T.J. did not follow immediately. He remained standing in the middle of the compound, his face puzzled and undecided.

Cassie, Chapter 10

T.J. comes to the revival to show off his new clothes and his new friends. They are both part of his new life of crime. For all that T.J. has been stealing from people he knew, and betraying his community (his race), he hasn't fully committed to his path of destruction and self-destruction until now. Here Taylor (through Cassie) shows something rare in literature: the moment in which someone makes a truly bad decision. T.J. makes it, in part, because he is, as Cassie notes, the most desperately lonely person she'd ever seen. His actions have distanced him from the black community, but his race prevents him from ever being part of the white community.


'But it was R.W. and Melvin—' I started before Stacey clasped his hand over his mouth again.

Cassie, Chapter 11

For something to be included in the novel, Cassie must witness it or hear about it afterward. Sometimes this narrative voice is surprisingly objective and distant for a nine-year-old girl. Other times, it is rich with emotion and tightly involved in the situation, coloring what she observes. That's the case here. Since she has already noticed this is R.W. and Melvin (the white Simms brothers who befriend T.J. and lure him further along the road of crime), when Cassie repeats this information aloud, it is a sign of her outrage. Just as when she speaks up about the treatment she receives in the mercantile store, here Cassie is the voice of moral indignation. She thinks this shouldn't be happening. The Simms brothers should not be there to lynch T.J. It is fundamentally wrong, and Cassie's verbal explosion indicates this.


I cried for T.J. For T.J. and the land.

Cassie, Chapter 12

This is the final line in the novel. Cassie thinks it after she and her family discuss T.J. and what will happen to him. As Cassie thinks just before this final reflection, she does not even like T.J. and never has. But he had been part of her, like "the mud and the rain" around her. Now he is gone, but she and her family are still healthy and free. T.J. is in prison and may die for his actions (and because of racism). This marks a permanent change in her life, something that "would not pass."

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