Other people’s fields are plowed up; the Logans are lucky that theirs is not. Some of the boys wonder about trying to get CCC jobs. Dube joins them and tells them he heard something from the union men that is quite scandalous: the big landowners like Granger and Montier had overplanted their own lands and were told someone was coming to inspect them, so they told their sharecroppers they’d have to pull up their crops in order for them to meet the stipulations of the AAA.
Walking home, Stuart Walker and his friends drive by, and Stuart stops to talk to Suzella. He asks with whom she is stayingh, and before Cassie can say anything Suzella tells him her name and says she is visiting from New York. He says he’d like to take her out and call on her at home. She demurs but continues to pretend she is white. When Cassie speaks up Stuart shushes her.
After Stuart leaves, Suzella can see that Cassie and her younger brothers are visibly angry. Back at home, Russell is chatting with Mama and Big Ma, and talk turns to the union. Dube joins them and talks of the union as well. Russell asks whether Dube admires Mr. Wheeler. Dube blushes and yes, but adds that he is not an Uncle Tom. Russell, ever kind and open, says that’s not what he meant. Dube is pleased because he has always admired Russell. Russell agrees to go with him to a meeting in a few nights.
Cassie tries to talk to Stacey about Suzella, but he will not hear it. The children help Mr. Morrison with his tasks on the farm. At one point he gently chastises Little Man for using the word ‘gal’ because it is one that white men use for colored women.
Cassie goes to Mama and complains about Stacey. Mama smiles and says that someday they will be close again and she ought not to worry. For a moment Cassie wonders about the ethics of telling her mother about Suzella and Stuart, but she does so anyway. Mama is shaken and approaches Suzella. Suzella defends herself and says she did not say she was white. Mama says that if she did not say she was colored, then it was the same thing as saying she was white. Suzella says she is not colored, and that she had made a promise to herself a long time ago that she would never marry a white man like her own mother did. Mama tells her she has a choice: she can remain here and abide by the rules, or she can leave.
After Mama is gone, Suzella asks Cassie if she’d like her to go home. Cassie sniffs that she wouldn’t cry over it. Suzella tries to explain herself. She says it is wonderful when she and her Mama are out because being thought of as white lets you do anything. After a moment she says Cassie is lucky to have family and friends; she and Mama are pretty lonely. She decides she will go talk to Aunt Mary; she does need to stay because her father wants her to go to school here.
The next morning in Bible class, the children and their friends discuss Suzella. Someone mentions that she might turn out like Jacey. Cassie learns that Jacey is pregnant and the baby is probably Stuart’s. There is nothing that can be done because he will not marry her.
At home that evening, Cassie sees her brother’s hurt and rage. Cassie asks her mama what will happen to Jacey. Mama does not know, but does understand that the baby will have a hard time like Suzella does. Cassie asks if her mama would pass as white if she could, and Mama says no; she likes her black world too much. Cassie’s mind stays on Jacey and Suzella. She feels a little sorry for Suzella but does not plan to like her.
A few nights later Russell and Dube knock on the Logans’ door late at night. They explain hurriedly that the house where the union meeting was held was set afire not long after they’d left, and everyone had to get out or perish. They thought the union leaders made it, but they’d had to run away and the Logan house was the closest safe place. Russell and Dube stay the night there.
News spreads. Without Wheeler and Moses, the union fizzles out. Moses’s body is found.
Papa writes often, but they can tell he is lonely. He only works a few days. Big Ma, Mama, Mr. Morrison, and Stacey seem worried even though their crop is good.
Cassie walks out to Stacey in the field one day, seeing how he is scrutinizing the crop. He begins to confide in her, telling her he is worried and explaining why the good crop isn’t likely to cover their debts and the tax. He says when Papa comes home for the revival he will ask him about getting a job. Cassie is touched by his confidence, and she agrees to not tell Mama about his plan.
Unfortunately, the family learns that Papa is not coming home for the revival since he needs to stay and make as much money as possible.
In August it is time to harvest the cotton crop and take it to the mill to have ginned. It is a big event in the town. Mama and Mr. Morrison, as well as Stacey and Cassie, go to the Granger-Walker mill. They see Stuart there, who grins and is disrespectful toward Mama. Stacey is visibly angry, but she tells him to be calm.
They take care of their crop and Mr. Granger compliments Mama. He offers to buy their land if they can’t meet their financial obligations, but she politely thanks him and says that will not happen. Cassie sees Moe and Stacey talking, but is not sure what is going on.
In the evening everyone enjoys the fine summer air. Stacey gives Big Ma and Mama a kiss goodnight; the adults are touched because this is uncommon. He also pulls Cassie aside and gives her his knife, telling her to keep it secret and safe. She is confused but happy.
The next morning the family find a note saying Stacey is heading out to an $8 job far away because he feels he has to.
Stacey’s note stuns the family. Mama looks like she will cry, but she tells Cassie to summon Mr. Morrison. They decide to go talk to Mr. Turner since it seems likely Moe would know where Stacey was, but they learn Moe also left. None of the children or their friends had any idea about this.
Other people begin to hear what happened and try to console Mama. She says she and Mr. Morrison will try to look in Strawberry, but she fears he may have gone further. She learns that there were men recruiting for the cane fields in Louisiana and a truck left this morning. She sends a telegram to Papa.
Papa comes home. He and Mr. Morrison agree that Stacey is probably in Louisiana, but the fields are vast and he could be anywhere. He calls Hammer; Hammer and Papa take the car and go looking for Stacey.
Cassie cannot control her emotions and runs into the forest to grieve. Her younger brothers join her and speculate as to why Stacey left. Jeremy finds them and tries to encourage them that Stacey will be back.
School starts. Suzella skips grades because she is very smart. Cassie is now in Mrs. Mabel Thompson’s sixth grade class.
Days pass, long and sorrowful. There is no news and Cassie always goes to bed helpless and angry. Papa and Uncle Hammer return, exhausted and with no news. Mama is harsh in her questioning. She proclaims she will go look if they can't find her son. Her eyes are hard. Big Ma counsels Papa that Mama is taking Stacey’s absence very hard.
In the evening Cassie hears her father and Uncle Hammer talking. Hammer says he will leave the car for Papa to keep using. He admits that he actually thinks Stacey might be old enough to get himself back here. Cassie is shocked when she hears her Papa crying. Hammer tries to console him by saying they taught Stacey well. He also tells him to straighten things out with Mary and not to take things to personally; her anger is coming from her hurt and fear.
The children have a hard time with their parents’ fighting and aloof behavior. Papa talks to them and tells them they must have faith about Stacey’s return. That night, Cassie cries.
Cassie beats up Mary Lou Wellever when the girl suggests Stacey might be dead. She gets in trouble with Miss Crocker, who tells Suzella to come talk to her cousin. Suzella takes Cassie for a walk even though they are not supposed to leave. She tells Cassie they have a lot in common because they love fiercely. She also says she admires Cassie for sticking up for herself. Cassie comments that she’d never bother Stacey again if he came back, but Suzella suggests Cassie needs to be herself–that’s what Stacey would want. They head back to school.
The children and their friends talk about Stacey. Stacey’s friends are piqued he did not tell them he was going. As they talk, Stuart Walker’s black Hudson pulls up and he asks them if they know a ‘Dube Cross’. Since they all look at Dube, Stuart knows who it is. He questions Dube rudely about the union; Dube can barely speak due to his nervousness.
Papa wonders if he ought to go try to get a job at the hospital, which Mama snarkily says he should have done in the first place instead of going off to the railroad. Cassie and her brothers know that nothing feels the same anymore. Even the warmth between their parents is gone.
Cassie privately asks her mother if she still loves Papa. Mama is surprised and tells Cassie she will work it out, but it’s not something she will discuss with her.
One Saturday after reading with Mrs. Lee Annie, Cassie asks Son-Boy if he knows where Wordell is. Son-Boy looks a little ill. Cassie and her younger brothers have been spending more time with Wordell in the forest since Stacey has been gone. One day they had been surprised to see him with a dead cat, which he had killed because it killed a bird he loved. Cassie remembers how his grandmother had said Wordell would protect anything he loved.
At home, Mr. Jamison is relaying to the family how he’d heard about a place in bayou country that was recruiting. Papa decides to investigate. Cassie overhears her parents talking before Papa leaves. Mama tells him what Cassie asked her, and Papa gently responds he doesn’t know recently if she does love him. They embrace.
Big Ma is canning and the kitchen is insufferably hot. Cassie asks her what the point of this is, and Big Ma tells her that people have to carry on even when times are hard. Life goes on and the everyday things must be done. She looks at Cassie and sees she looks feverish.
Cassie comes down with scarlet fever and is bedridden. She drifts in and out of dreams; sometimes Stacey is in them. Her fever finally breaks; she learns that, while Papa is back, he has no news of her brother. She also learns Don Lee died and many others were sick. The children muse about what death must be like. Cassie hears that Wordell came by every day since she had gotten sick, and played music down by the road. When Suzella comments that she does not know why Wordell does the things he does, Cassie tells her not to bother to try.
Cassie goes to sleep and when she wakes up she sees Papa in a rocking chair. He reminisces about when she was born. He was twenty-four and working for an old cracker named ‘Joe Morgan’. Morgan liked him but became angry when Papa would not drink with him. Morgan grabbed at him and Papa told him he better plan on killing him if he touches him. Papa gathered his things and left, and when he arrived home he saw his newborn baby girl. Tha was all he needed in the world.
Papa prepares to leave and Cassie is allowed out of bed. She sees Wordell and thanks him for the music because it got her through the boring days of recuperation. She starts to tell him about the dreams and wonders if the dreams that showed Stacey dead were actually visions. He replies quietly that everyone has to die, but he touches her shoulder before he walks away. He does not play music for her again.
Although the entire novel deals with the weighty theme of racism, these chapters introduce other heady topics that the Logan children are forced to confront. In particular, death and loss permeate these chapters in very real ways. John Moses is found dead, alerting the children to the dangers of political organizing. Cassie sees Wordell with a dead bird and sees that he is capable of taking a life when primitive impulses of protection and revenge take over.
Perhaps most importantly, Cassie grows very sick and almost dies; furthermore, when she wakes she hears that many people, including her friend Don Lee, have died. Taylor does an excellent job of delving into the psyche of a young girl dealing with loss. She writes in Cassie’s voice, “When I had first learned of Don Lee’s death, it affected me very little; the news that he was dead had only been words to me” (279). Even though Cassie eventually feels sadness, she also admits to herself that “I felt selfish and sinful, for even as I attempted to console Son-Boy I was thankful that if anyone had to die, it had been someone else’s brother and not mine” (280). This is a very human thought and not one we can imagine to be confined only to children.
Loss in another capacity is evinced in the disappearance of Stacey. The young man’s sense of responsibility for helping his family leads him to seek a job elsewhere. The adults’ responses are mixed and the reader feels sympathy for all perspectives. It is easy to agree with Uncle Hammer that Stacey is mature and wise enough to find his way home when he is ready, but it is also easy to feel the grief of Mama and Papa as they wonder what kind of dangerous, cruel world of which their eldest son has become a part. One of the most difficult things for African American parents is watching their children come to understand the realities of the world they inherit–a world that diminishes them, oppresses them, renders them second-class citizens. Mama and Papa’s fears are thus entirely legitimate.
Returning to the issue of racism, Suzella’s complicated racial makeup and her concomitant feelings regarding it manifest themselves in a very awkward exchange with Stuart Walker in which he assumes she is white and she does not correct him. Taylor’s deep sympathy for her characters extends to Suzella even as she does something that is easy to condemn. Suzella opens up to Cassie and explains to her that living as a white woman is so much easier; furthermore, she has seen how difficult her mother’s marriage to a black man was and she does not want that for herself. Suzella straddles two worlds and tries to belong to the one that does not minimize her as a human being. Unfortunately, this also means that she is in some sense betraying her kin and creating a dangerous situation for them (seen in the last chapters). When Cassie asks Mama whether she would pass as white if she could, Mama answers in a thoughtful way –“No, my sweet child, I wouldn’t. I love the people in this black world I’m in too much” (226). This is the answer with which Taylor most likely would agree, but Suzella remains a sympathetic character.
The exchange between Suzella and Stuart is one of many that involve white boys and black girls. The black adults in this story do their best to instruct their children that black girls are doubly victimized by the racist society they inhabit: their skin color and their gender both open them up to assault by white men. Papa tells Cassie that she should be wary of Jeremy Simms even though he seems like a good boy now, and Mr. Morrison tells Christopher-John and Little Man not to use the word ‘gal’ because they must promote respect for women in their own community. The most obvious cautionary tale is Jacey, whose pregnancy by Stuart dooms her and her child to an even more marginalized existence. Suzella does not have a similar problem, but even by encouraging Stuart’s attention, she opens herself and her family up to persecution.