Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry | Study Guide

Mildred D. Taylor

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Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry | Symbols



Transportation is very important throughout this novel, beginning in Chapter 1 when the children are walking to school. It also applies at other key moments, such as when the Wallaces sabotage Papa's wagon in Vicksburg. However, in addition to the literal meaning and importance of transportation, each mode of transportation carries symbolic importance. The African American children walk to school, while the white children ride a bus, symbolizing the social and economic gap between the races. Some of the children walk more than three hours each way to get to school. This feat shows both their economic disadvantage and their families' commitment to education. The way the white bus driver chooses to splash the children with mud shows transportation is not just literal. The black children are working hard to educate themselves and get ahead by walking to school. But the white children get driven to school and they are entertained by their driver splashing the black children with mud. The white children's transport represents their privilege. The African American children deepen a puddle to trap and damage the school bus. Their act represents the many acts of rebellion in which African Americans engaged while enslaved or oppressed. Uncle Hammer drives a fine car, as good as any owned by whites in the community, but he must sell it to help the family. When Papa isn't with his family, he's working on the railroad, another mode of transportation. In this way certain modes of transportation represent rights that become race-based privileges when they are reserved for whites only.


Like transportation, land and control of the land has immense significance in this novel. Almost everyone in the book makes a living from farming. They literally depend on the land for their livelihood. In part because of this, land also has tremendous symbolic importance. Most of the African American families in the book are sharecroppers working as tenants for the few (white) landowners in the area. They pay a portion of each harvest to the white property owners. They are at the mercy of the landowners, and this relationship limits their freedom and perpetuates inequality. However, the Logans own their own land. This gives them more independence and freedom. They hold onto this land like it is their destiny, rejecting the Grangers' attempts to get it back. The Logan land used to be Granger land, but the Grangers fell on hard times and had to sell a portion of their family holdings. The Logans' land, therefore, symbolizes both autonomy and the African Americans claiming some portion of the social standing that used to be reserved for whites.


Books symbolize power, oppression, and hope in this novel. The very first chapter drives this complex relationship home. Before Miss Crocker distributes books to the children, she makes them chant their promise to take care of them. The children are very excited until they get the books, which are in dreadful condition. The books have been used for 12 years. Only now when they are almost worn out are they given to the black students.

At the same time, books also define the Logan family. Most families own no other books than the Bible. But Cassie takes it for granted they'll have other books at their home, including intellectually ambitious works such as The Negro by W.E.B. Du Bois. When the school district catches Mrs. Logan teaching material that wasn't included in the assigned textbooks, they use that as an excuse to fire her. The Logan family gives books as gifts at Christmas, and the children value them so much they pet and stroke them.

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