Chapter Eleven Summary:
The chapter begins with the words of a song beginning "Roll of thunder/hear my cry" which Mr. Morrison sings at the thunder, as he waits outside the house as he has done every night since Papa was injured. Cassie, who can't sleep, hears a tapping at the door. It is TJ. They go in the boys' room and wake up Stacey.
TJ is bruised all over his stomach and chest and thinks "something's busted" inside. His father has threatened to kick him out if he stays out another night, and he needs Stacey to help him walk home. Stacey demands an explanation, and TJ says that when he got to Strawberry with the RW and Melvin, the store was closed. They said it would be all right to take the gun and just say to anyone who saw them that they were planning to pay the next day. They send TJ, who is skinny, in through a narrow window, and then come in wearing stockings over their faces. While they are trying to break the wall cabinet with an axe, Mr. Barnett comes down to investigate and struggles with Melvin, until RW hits him over the head with the flat side of the axe.
Mrs. Barnett comes down, sees her husband slumped on the floor, and screams: "You niggers done killed Jim Lee!" She struggles with RW until she hits her head on the stove and falls to the floor. TJ is not sure if they are dead. When the Simmses won't take him straight home, TJ threatens to tell someone that they hurt the Barnetts. RW and Melvin beat him up, leave him in the back of the truck, and go to the pool hall. TJ hitches a ride past Soldier's Bridge, in order to avoid the Simmses coming home on Jackson Road, then walked to the Logans house.
Stacey wants him to stay and get Big Ma to fix his injuries but TJ insists that he has to go home. Finally, Stacey agrees to walk him home. Cassie insists on following, and then Little Man and Christopher-John wake up and decide to come too. They walk to the Avery house and watch TJ slip in through a window. Suddenly, they see lights approaching and quickly hide in the woods.
Kaleb and Thurston Wallace and RW and Melvin Simms smash their way into the Avery house and violently drag out its inhabitants. They break TJ's jaw when he emerges. One man holds up the gun, saying that RW and Melvin saw TJ and two other boys running form the Barnett's store and demanding the money they took. Kaleb kicks TJ in the stomach, knocking him down, and throws Mrs. Avery back against the house when she protests. Mr. Jamison arrives in his car and tells them to take TJ to the sheriff. The sheriff arrives and says that Mr. Granger doesn't want a hanging on his place. Kaleb Wallace wants to take TJ elsewhere to hang him and mentions hanging Mr. Morrison, too. Someone else suggests Mr. Logan. There are cries for hangings as Mr. Jamison tries to shield TJ with his own body.
Stacey insists that Cassie go tell Papa. He needs to stay in case they take TJ into the woods. Cassie and her younger brothers go to get Papa and Mr. Morrison as thunder crashes and lightening splits the sky.
The metaphor of thunder, which has continued throughout the book, takes center stage in this chapter, which is the crisis of the book. In the song which Mr. Morrison sings at the opening of the chapter, the reader sees the origin of the title. The full lyrics are:
Roll of thunder
hear my cry
Over the water
bye and bye
Ole man comin'
down the line
Whip in hand to
beat me down
But I ain't
gonna let him
Turn me 'round
The song is a spiritual previously sung by slaves and its presence in this chapter speaks to the continued attempts at the whites to dominate blacks seventy years after the Civil War. But the end of the song is most significant, because it portrays blacks' refusal to be dominated.
This chapter begins with "approaching thunder." Immediately after Cassie hears it, she hears TJ tapping at the door. Both sounds are marks of the approaching crisis and destruction. By the end of the chapter, a mob is clamoring to hang TJ (as well as Mr. Morrison and Papa), and the crisis is underway and inescapable.
The destruction of TJ's home and the brutal treatment of his family echoes Mr. Morrison's Christmas story about the night that his entire family was killed by a lynch mob. Earlier, TJ's refuge in the Logan house paralleled the young men who had sought safety in the Morrison home. Just as those boys unwittingly led the mob to attack the Morrisons, as the mob screams for Mr. Morrison and Papa, it seems that the accusations against TJ may lead to still more violence.
Chapter Twelve Summary:
By the time Cassie, Christopher-John, and Little Man arrive home, the adults have awakened and realized they're gone. Cassie tells TJ's story, and Papa sets off with his shotgun to stop the mob from killing TJ or finding Stacey. Mama worries that her husband will be hanged if he uses his gun and wants Mr. Granger to stop them. Papa says Granger would have already if he wanted to and leaves, telling Mama he will do what he has to do, and so will she. He and Mr. Morrison set off together in the direction of the Averys' house.
The children sit up and wait with Mama and Big Ma. Suddenly, they smell smoke. The cotton is on fire and must have been struck by lightening. If it reaches the trees, it will burn all the way to Strawberry. Mama and Big Ma set out with wet burlap and shovel sacks to fight the fire and make the children promise to remain in the house. When the boys realize that the fire is heading for the trees where Papa, Mr. Morrison, and Stacey are, they burst into tears.
Near dawn, Jeremy Simms arrives at the Logan house. He was sleeping in his treehouse, smelled the smoke, and got his father. Mr. Simms, RW, and Melvin, and the group of men from town have been all fighting the fire. Jeremy assumes that the lightening must have struck the Logans' fence post and sparked the cotton. Papa, Mr. Granger, and Stacey are all out there digging a trench together to prevent the fire from spreading. Jeremy says that the one thing that would help would be if the rain would come. He is just setting off down the road to go home when it does begin to rain. The children jump around laughing from relief in the rain.
After dawn, the fire is out after an hour of heavy rain. Cassie and Little Man head off to see what has happened, but Christopher-John won't come because they were told to stay in the house. When they get to the scene of the fire, they see that the trench was successful. Men and women covered in hats and handkerchiefs, nearly indistinguishable, continue to put out small blazes. Mr. Lanier, Mr. Simms, Mr. Granger, Papa, Mama, and Mr. Morrison all work side by side. Kaleb Wallace checks the burned stalks of cotton and does not even notice that Cassie and Little Man are staring at him.
The children rush to Mama, Big Ma, and Stacey, who tell them that Papa, Mr. Morrison, and Claude are all right but say nothing about TJ. Finally, Mama says that the sheriff and Mr. Jamison took him into Strawberry. Stacey says that the men stopped hurting TJ when Mr. Granger sent them to fight the fire, so Papa and Mr. Morrison didn't have to use guns to fight the men. The fire started, and Mr. Morrison got Stacey out of the woods. He says that Papa couldn't climb the slope with his bad leg, but Cassie is suspicious. She has seen her father move fast on that leg when he had to. Mama also assures Cassie that the taxes will get paid, despite the fact that a quarter of their cotton was burned and destroyed. She sends the three younger children in to bed, but Cassie reemerges to join Stacey on the porch.
Stacey tells her what happened after she left. The men stuffed TJ in a car, but Mr. Jamison jumped in his car and parked it across the road so that nobody could pass. Mr. Granger would not do anything more than to tell Hank Wade, the sheriff, to take care of the situation. Kaleb Wallace tried to grab Mr. Jamison's keys, which he threw into a flowerbed, and then RW and Melvin moved Mr. Jamison's car to the side of the road. Suddenly, Mr. Granger noticed smoke coming from his land and demanded that they men give TJ to the sheriff and join him in fighting the fire.
As Papa and Mr. Morrison walk up the driveway, Mr. Jamison's car pulls up. He tells them that Jim Lee Barnett died at four o'clock in the morning. TJ has a couple of broken ribs and a broken jaw but will "be all right...for now." Mr. Jamison is going to bring the Averys to town and Papa wants to go, but Mr. Morrison suggests he stay clear of the situation to avoid suspicion. Cassie is confused by this comment, until she realizes that Papa started the fire himself to keep TJ and Stacey safe. She knows that this fact is "something never to be spoken, not even to each other."
Stacey asks Papa what is going to happen to TJ and Papa says that he is in jail and could possibly go on the chain gang. Stacey asks if TJ could die and Papa says that he never lies to his son but wishes that he could now. Stacey's eyes fill with tears and he runs off into the woods. Mama and Papa tuck Cassie into bed. Only after she watches Papa setting off into the forest after Stacey does she begin to cry.
Cassie realizes that TJ will never be free to do all of the things she and her brothers do. She never liked him but he had always been there. She cries for the things which had happened that night: "for TJ. For TJ and the land."
When Cassie tells Papa that there is a mob clamoring to hang TJ, he says to his wife: "This thing's been coming a long time, baby, and TJ just happened to be the one foolish enough to trigger it off." A tone of inevitability pervades this chapter. All of the events of the book--the rising racial tensions, the previous incidents of violence--have led to this point. TJ is simply foolish, not evil, and only functions as a catalyst for an incident bound to happen in such a tense and violent climate.
Here, the weather metaphor of the previous chapter becomes full-fledged. The weather functions as a force as strong as that of hatred or love. It appears to be a sympathetic force, beginning to rain just when the fire cannot be stopped any other way.
In the image of men and women, black and white, working together to stop the fire, the author displays her most powerful suggestion yet of the possibility of racial harmony and cooperation. Race is symbolically erased by the bandanas and hats the people wear to protect themselves and their faces from the fire. This image suggests that, in a time of crisis, great divisions can be overcome.
However, it is important to remember that the reason that everyone fights the fire together proceeded not from an unselfish impulse but from Mr. Granger's desire to protect his own land. Here and throughout the book, Mr. Granger is a foil for Papa. The men have many surprising similarities, and both place an enormous importance on land and on family. While these feelings spur Papa to protect others, they lead Mr. Granger to act selfishly, hurting or ignoring others. Because of these parallels, however, Papa is able to conceive of a way to make Mr. Granger act by appealing to what he holds dear: his land rather than his sense of justice.
The book has a dual focus on the earth and on human life. Cassie's thoughts conclude the book, and she realizes that some things like the mud and the dust will pass away, while others, like her memory of this night will not. She cries for TJ and the land, for both have been punished for things beyond their control.