Uncle Hammer returns for Christmas and helps the family get and decorate a tree since Papa is not home. The children ask him what working in the cane fields is like, and express their hopes that Stacey will be home. Papa comes home on Christmas Eve with no news.
On Christmas morning the family wakes up early and gathers around the fire and sing a song called “Let the Circle be Unbroken.” They go to church and greet all of their friends, including Russell, who is in town. Cassie sees Son-Boy alone without Don Lee and realizes how much Don Lee’s death affects her; however, she is glad in a selfish way that it was someone else’s brother.
Many families gather in the evening to laugh and tell stories though there is an underlying sadness. At one point Mrs. Lee Annie announces that for her 65th birthday she is going to try to vote. Everyone bursts out with criticisms and fearful predictions. Mrs. Ellis is particularly upset and says Mrs. Lee Annie will ruin them.
Jake Willis comes by and Mama politely asks him to stay. He smiles and says he has a present for Suzella, but Papa says she is too young to be courted and is not able to accept the gift. Jake becomes angry and says that everyone thinks that white-looking girl is too good for him. Papa controls his anger and says that Suzella is under his care. Jake pretends to be okay with this, and leaves.
Cassie is proud of Mrs. Lee Annie and asks her parents if she can go with her when she tries to vote. They say they will think about it because they know it could be dangerous. Later when she goes to bed she can hear them talking. Mama says she thinks it might be something Cassie needs to do, and that they should be proud of Mrs. Lee Annie.
Cousin Bud arrives a few days later. He tells the family that he and Suzella’s mother are getting a divorce, and that he has come to take his daughter home. Cassie and her brothers realize how much she has come to mean to them.
While Suzella is packing, Cassie goes to speak to her. She learns Suzella is going to live with her mother. She tells her she is sad she is leaving, and Suzella laughs that she thought Cassie couldn't wait to get rid of her. Cassie hugs her.
Before Cousin Bud takes Suzella away, a truck drives up to the house. Inside are Mr. Tate Sutton, Mr. Simms, and Jeremy. Although Mr. Simms is disrespectful to Papa, both men are there to say they’ve heard the people working on the Walker lands are being kicked off and they’re interested in getting the union going again. Papa will not commit to anything.
Suzella says her goodbyes and Cassie glimpses her and Russell kissing outside. Suzella seems happy and confused.
Suzella, Cousin Bud, Cassie, and her brothers drive the truck down the road. They see Dube and give him a ride. As they are driving, Stuart’s car comes up behind them. Bud pulls over to let them pass, but they pull up alongside. Stuart maliciously says to Bud that he must be the man who sired a pretty girl like Suzella. He tells Bud that his daughter pretended she was white and he bowed and scraped to her. He orders Bud out of the car. Pierceson plays along but Joe Billy looks uncomfortable.
The group insults Bud, asking if he sleeps with white women. Suzella insults Stuart by calling him white trash. Stuart is furious, and orders her father out of the car. They tell him to start taking his clothes off. Bud pleads with them that the children and his daughter are there. Dube jumps out and tries to help, and they punch him. Bud takes off a few items of clothes. Stuart taunts him.
Suddenly Little Man leaps out of the car and starts running down the road because he sees Mr. Morrison in his wagon. Joe Billy warns Stuart that this isn’t an ordinary black man, and they ought to go. Mr. Morrison comes over and Stuart threatens him that he better leave. Mr. Morrison is calm but says that they had both better go their own ways. Stuart cannot do anything about this tall and imposing man and angrily leaves with the other young men.
Bud reaches for his clothes and throws up. Mr. Morrison helps him and they walk into the woods for a few minutes. The children are quiet. When they return Bud says he is fine.
They continue their drive. Later that night, Bud and Suzella leave.
The new year is uneventful until Mr. Jamison comes by and tells the family he heard from a sheriff in a town in Louisiana that there had been information about a couple boys from Mississippi who had worked at a plantation. He also heard those boys may have been in jail. Mama and Papa are excited and anxious for Mr. Jamison to follow up on this. The children do not speculate, for it seemed too fragile a thing to speak aloud.
Mama wakes up Cassie and says she is allowed to go with Mrs. Lee Annie and herself to see the older woman register to vote. She warns Cassie she must keep her mouth shut because it will perhaps be a tense situation. Papa and Uncle Hammer go to town to get information about Stacey, meeting up with Mr. Morrison and Mr. Jamison. Mr. Tom Bee, Wordell, and Mrs. Ellis are also there, but only the women will go into the registrar’s office.
Inside the office, Doreen, the woman working there, is surprised and annoyed when Mrs. Lee Annie announces she is there to register. She gets her supervisor Mr. Boudein, who asks whose ‘nigger’ she is. He then fetches Mr. Granger, who comes in and asks her why she is doing this, because it is white people’s prerogative. He looks at Mrs. Ellis and asks if they might want a new place to live. Mrs. Lee Annie will not back down, though.
Suddenly Stuart runs in calling frantically for Mr. Granger. They talk privately for a bit and then Mr. Granger comes back in and tells Mrs. Lee Annie she can register. Everyone is surprised. Mr. Boudein is rude and throws down the paper, commenting that she will not understand the constitution. Dignified, Mrs. Lee Annie says she knows every word and begins to take the test.
Russell pokes his head in and summons Mama. She and Cassie are running across the street to find Papa when Jake Willis calls over to them and asks if he can get a ride because he lost all of his money in a game. She agrees coolly and he goes to wait with Russell.
Noise is heard in the street, and to everyone’s surprise they see a long procession of wagons, people, piled furniture, and trucks. The people are white and black; they are the farmers thrown off the Walker lands. Someone yells for the sheriff.
Papa and the other men join them, they have no info about Stacey yet. They heard that there were five boys, two of whom are in jail in Shokesville, and one of whom was killed. This makes them all silent and afraid.
The crowd grows louder. They see Mrs. Lee Annie and Mrs. Ellis standing on the steps near the sheriff and Mr. Granger; this confuses them. The sheriff calls out that this is an unlawful assembly, but people do not want to hear it. They proclaim they should have had the union. Stuart yells out at them that it is a communist conspiracy. People drown him out in fury.
Mr. Granger waits quietly and peacefully. He begins to speak and sway the crowd by talking about whites and blacks coming together in the union. He suggests the blacks will want full equality. People are taken aback and start to murmur. Mr. Granger then gestures to the confused Mrs. Lee Annie and announces she just tried to register to vote. Shock and fury course through the crowd.
Russell and Morris Wheeler, who is also there, try to tell the crowd what Mr. Granger is doing, and that voting has nothing to do with their union. Russell’s words provoke a bottle being thrown at him, and shots ring out. Russell and Jake Willis, who was standing near Russell, fall to the ground. Chaos descends. Mr. Morrison grabs Cassie and puts her in the wagon. She is terrified, having seen Wordell rushing toward the man who threw the bottle. Mr. Morrison stops him.
The sheriff calls for the crowd to disperse and threatens to call the National Guard. Talk of the union vanishes again. Russell gets bandaged up. They learn Jake Willis lost an eye, and warn Russell that Willis is angry with him.
Before everyone returns home they hear Mr. Granger telling Mrs. Lee Annie and Mrs. Ellis to pack their things and get off his land by morning. The women cry out in anguish.
Papa, Mama, Hammer, and Cassie drive to Shokesville. It is very late so they sleep in the car. In the morning they head to the jail and the sheriff tells the deputy to go get the boy. The sheriff talks languidly as the family waits expectantly. He comments how the boys probably left their contracts but he has no sympathy for the landowners and the way they treat their workers.
A tall, gaunt figure comes down the hallway. It is Stacey, and he weakly falls into his parents’ arms. There is an explosion of laughing and crying and hugging. Moe comes up too, but he is very sickly and wan. Papa’s voice become a little harsh as he says he once planned on whipping Stacey when he found him, but it softens as he says that he forgot about that a long time ago.
The family speaks with Mrs. Mattie Jones, an elderly black woman who tended to the boys when they were in jail and tried to help them with letters.
Cassie hangs back a bit from Stacey, who seems much more grown up. He notices this and says that change is good and people do not want to be babies forever. She says he has not grown up that much, and he laughs. Cassie is happy because she realizes what her Mama said about them being friends again was true.
Stacey begins to tell his story. He describes the conditions where they slept–rats, shacks, and dirt. Anything they used would be charged to their pay, which would all come at the end. Chopping cane was miserably difficult and they worked six days a week. Stacey wrote letters weekly but he realizes now that they were never sent. He hurt his foot and realized he did not want to work there anymore. He and Moe decided to come home and asked Toussaint, the plantation owner, for their pay. The man said they owed him money. It had been ten weeks of hard work and Stacey realized he would get nothing for it.
Three other boys named Charlie, Ben, and Jimmie B decided they were frustrated as well and planned to leave. Before they did, Charlie stole the money that was owed them. Moe, Stacey, and Jimmie B wanted nothing to do with this, but Ben went along with Charlie. Those boys headed west. Jimmie B was shot and killed in the course of Moe and Stacey’s escape. They were wanted for the theft and thrown in jail. Stacey talks a bit longer and then breaks down crying.
It is late at night when the family arrives back at home after dropping Moe off to his joyful family. Lights are on and Big Ma’s voice is heard asking if they brought the boy home. Stacey answers in the affirmative, prompting Big Ma and the two younger Logan boys to burst out of the house. Stacey says that home is the best place to be, and Cassie happily agrees.
The final chapters of the novel deal even more incisively with the injustices of racism. First, there is Mrs. Lee Annie and her ill-fated attempt to register to vote. Her courage and tenacity are inspiring but do not result in her actually successfully registering. The power of white landowners like Mr. Granger will seemingly always be more than that of a black woman trying to exercise her constitutional rights. Along with not registering, Mrs. Lee Annie and her family lose their land and a bit more of their dignity. There seem to be no silver linings; Taylor is blunt in her depiction of just how much Mrs. Lee Annie loses. However, this can still be a lesson for Cassie about courage and perseverance, albeit one laced with sorrow and failure.
Mr. Granger uses Mrs. Lee Annie in his speech to the dispossessed farmers as an example of how blacks will forget their place and usurp the position of whites. The speech is a masterly display of cunning, manipulation, and fear mongering. Mr. Granger preys on the despair of poor white farmers who have just lost their lands, stoking their fears of slipping even further down the economic ladder. These people are already worried about feeding their families and now they have to putatively fear blacks taking what they are so desperately trying to hold onto. They have to fear the social hierarchy shifting in a way that means they may end up on the bottom. This is the same sort of thought process white slave-owners encouraged for poor whites; poor whites had more in common with slaves in terms of their exploitation but sided with slave-owners because this allowed them to retain a slightly more elevated social position.
Stuart’s treatment of Bud is perhaps one of the novel’s most horrific displays of racism (which is, of course, saying a lot). As a young white man Stuart possesses much more social standing than a man who is older than him but happens to be black. His treatment of Bud exposes the moral degradation that a racially divided society tends to promote. It is base, callow, and cruel; it is humiliation and an assertion of power out of all rational bounds. This happens due to Suzella’s earlier pretense to whiteness and is perhaps unexpected because she is not the one who is directly targeted; rather, she watches her father experience the full weight of Stuart’s outrage. We do not know what will happen to Suzella, but we can hope that witnessing the depravity of whites and starting to develop feelings for a handsome and intelligent black man will lead her down a path of embracing her blackness.
Despite all of these terrible moments, Taylor does end the novel on a happy note with the return of Stacey. Ever true to the spirit of her realistic, complex tale, though, she laces the boy’s homecoming with sobering commentaries on the exploitation of black workers and, more generally, the dangers of being black in America. Stacey does not triumphantly return home with money for taxes; he returns home penniless, disillusioned, and full of haunting and humiliating tales of life in the cane fields and jail. He was falsely accused of a crime, lost a friend, and experienced the fear of never seeing his family again.
He has learned his lesson, though, and will no doubt come out a wiser, stronger young man. Cassie sees this and comes to realize the merits of growing older and experiencing the world. Both characters have exhibited a desire to break through the constraints of their existence in many capacities, but at the end of the novel their shared opinion that “home…is the very best place to be” (339). Home, family, and community are to be cherished and preserved; they are the only things that stave off the cruelties of the wider world and provide meaning and hope.