Chapter Three Summary:
In October, the weather turns to heavy rain, and the Logan children are soaked walking to school. The driver of the white children's school bus enjoys splashing them with mud when he drives by. This particularly upsets Little Man, who can't understand why the black children don't have a school bus of their own.
One day, the weather starts out looking beautiful but quickly turns into a thunderstorm as the Logan and Avery children walk to school. A water-filled gully separates the road and the forest bank, which is too slick with mud in some places to climb. At first they wait on the bank where the gully is narrow and easily passable, but they figure that they have left too early to meet the school bus.
At TJ's suggestion, they set off down the road rather than wait in the rain, and five minutes later the bus passes, veering close to them and forcing them to jump in the slimy, muddy gully to avoid being hit. A furious Little Man tries to throw mud at the schoolbus from which the white children yell "Nigger!" and "Mud eater!" When Jeremy tries to join them walking to school, Stacey ignores him.
Stacey makes Little Man, Christopher-John, and Cassie promise to meet him in the school toolshed at lunch. They take buckets and shovels and return to the spot where they were forced off the road. There, they dig a ditch across the area that fills with gully water and makes it look as if the road washed out from the rain.
After school, they rush back to the spot that they had worked on. As a result of hard rain during the afternoon, their "yard-wide ditch" has become a "twelve foot lake." They hide in the forest bank and watch as the Jefferson Davis schoobus approaches. Thinking that it is a puddle, the driver drives the bus straight into the hole, breaking the axle and waterlogging the engine. The white kids fall in the muddy ditch on their way out of the bus and must walk home in the rain. The bus driver tells them it will probably be two weeks before the bus can be towed and fixed.
That evening, Mama tells Big Ma that she heard Mr. Granger tell Ted Grimes, the bus driver, that they will have to wait until the rain stops to move the bus. She and Big Ma both admit that they are happy that it happened. The children are secretly proud of their revenge and cannot help laughing until Mama separates them to do their homework in different parts of the house.
Just then, Mr. Avery appears at their door and announces that "They's ridin' t'night." Mama sends the children straight to bed, but Cassie sneaks around the outside of the house into the boys' room. They hear that the "devilish night men" have been "set off." Cassie worries that the men are coming after them because of what they did to the bus, and Stacey feels as if it were his fault because it was his idea to dig the ditch.
Cassie sneaks back into her room and pretends to be asleep as Big Ma pulls a shotgun out from under the bed and sits at the window. Later in the night, she wakes up and Big Ma is gone. She goes out on the porch to revisit the boys' room and then hears something, but it is only Jason, the hound dog.
Just then, headlights from a series of cars approach the house. Jason hides, but Cassie sits frozen as two men get out of the cars and stare at the house. Then, one man waves the others away and the cars all turn around and drive off. When they are gone, Jason begins barking and Cassie sees Mr. Morrison standing at the side of the house, holding a shotgun. She goes inside and goes back to bed but cannot fall asleep until dawn.
Once again, thunder plays a symbolic role in Cassie's world. On the morning of the incident with the schoolbus, the children set off with sun behind the clouds, only to have the weather change quickly. "Soon the thunder rolled across the sky, and the rain fell like hail upon our bent heads." The seemingly unpredictable changes in the weather mirror the children's seeming luck in escaping the bus. The hope for sunny weather is dashed when the thunder storm begins just as the children's hopes of escaping the schoolbus where the gully is smallest are dashed when they end up jumping into the muddy gully.
Earlier in the chapter, Big Ma has assured Little Man that the sun will shine again. Her words are an intentional metaphor, reminding the child not to lose hope. Though the children temporarily lose hope after being forced into the gully, they triumph over the bus in the end, not only forcing the white children to walk home that day but also for two weeks thereafter.
Cars, too, function as symbols of power and of self-determination. Mr. Granger's is the first car that the reader sees in this chapter. For him, the car is a possession which, like his land, demonstrates that he is rich. But the car is also a means of showing that Mr. Granger has more control over his transportation, and thus his life, than the Logan children or parents have over theirs.
In this chapter, cars are solely a white possession. White children ride the schoolbus, while black children walk. White landowners (Mr. Granger) drive cars while black landowners (Mama) walk. Even more explicitly, cars are a symbol of whites' power over blacks' lives. Cassie does not need to see the occupants of the train of cars in the night to know that they are white and threatening. Whites' responses to blacks' possession of cars demonstrates that they are symbols of power. The Berry's were burned by angry white men after driving around town in their car, a transgression of race lines.
Big Ma's suggestion that Little Man might someday have a car, then, may remind the reader that even if that day comes, Little Man may have something to fear from white men. On the other hand, it may illustrate her hopes for a world in which her grandchildren can drive cars safely and freely.
In this society, blacks who outwardly hold power seem dangerous to whites. That is why even children like Cassie and her brothers must exercise their power subversively and secretly. Even children as young as Cassie and Stacey realize that if someone had seen them, the mob could have come after them.
The train of cars that turns around in the Logans' driveway demonstrates that children are not exempt from the danger that faces adult blacks. Notably, Cassie witnessses the cars' arrival alone. Even the dog, Jason, leaves her and hides. Despite the fact that mama tries to shield her children from the truth by putting them to bed early, Cassie's realization of the danger that her family could face is one step on her way to growing up.
Chapter Four Summary:
One Sunday, Cassie helps make butter and hears Mama and Big Ma talk about how she and the children have been acting strangely for several weeks. She cannot tell her mother what is wrong because she and her little brothers promised Stacey that they would say nothing about the bus. When she breaks a dish, Mama sends her to find the boys.
In the boys' room, TJ suggests that Stacey look for the questions to the upcoming history test in his mother's room. He then tells the Logan children that the "night men" tarred and feathered Sam Tatum because he accused Mr. Barnett, who owns a store in Strawberry, of charging him for things he didn't buy. Later, when the children go outside to milk the cows, TJ returns inside to get his hat. They come in and find him looking at one of Mama's books, but he says he just wanted to learn more about the Egyptians.
On the way to school the next day, TJ offers to share his cheat sheet with Stacey, and Stacey rips it up. After school, Cassie and her younger brothers see TJ run off into the forest with three boys following him. A boy named Little Willie says that Stacey was caught with a cheat sheet which he'd grabbed from TJ in class and was whipped by his mother. Stacey and all the other children take off after TJ, and Moe Turner tells them that he went to the Wallace Store.
Stacey tries to get his siblings to go home but they follow him to the Wallace store. There, the Wallaces and the older Sims brothers make disparaging remarks about "little niggers" while older students from Great Faith dance. Stacey finds TJ and the two get in a fist-fight until Mr. Morrison arrives and breaks it up. He takes the Logan children home on his wagon and says that he won't tell their mother that they went to the store, but that it is up to them to tell their mother themselves.
When they arrive at home, they see Mr. Granger's Packard driving away from the house. He had been badgering Big Ma to sell her land to him. Cassie goes with Big Ma to a clearing of trees. This area was formed when Mr. Anderson, to whom she refused to sell the trees, chopped them down anyway before Papa came home and stopped him. She tells Cassie about marrying her husband, Paul Edward, who had been born a slave in Georgia and who was working as a carpenter in Vicksburg when she met him. They bought their first two-hundred acres of land from a Yankee named Mr. Hollenbeck who had bought it during Reconstruction from the Grangers, and the second two-hundred acres from Mr. Jamison, who was a lawyer. Harlan Granger has always wanted to buy back all the Granger land but Paul Edward wouldn't sell it. Their two daughters died as babies, their son Mitchell died in World War II, and their son Kevin drowned, and now the land is Big Mama's, Cassie's father's, and her son Hammer's. She says that she will never sell it.
Stacey confesses to his mother that he went to the Wallace store. Mama sends them to bed early and then, on Saturday, takes them to see the Berrys. Mr. Berry is burned beyond recognition and cannot speak. His wife cares for him. When they leave, Mama reminds the children that the Wallaces did that to him.
On the way home, Mama stops at different farms and talks to various families about finding another store to patronize without directly mentioning what the Wallaces have done to the Berrys. Moe's father, Mr. Turner, says that he would like to participate in a boycott, but that he has credit at the store and that driving to Vicksburg overnight, like the Logans do, would take too long. Finally, Mama convinces him to promise that if she could get him credit and buy the things he needs in Vicksburg for him, then he would be able to stop shopping at the Wallace store.
In this chapter, Cassie's struggle to grow up is further represented through the divisions which separate her from her mother and grandmother. Believing herself to be responsible for the "night men," she takes on adult-sized worries. Cassie's decision to hold to her promise to Stacey not to speak of the bus, even when her mother asks her what is wrong, shows the reader that the Logan children live by the same principles as their parents.
Cassie's accident, breaking the molding dish at the beginning of the chapter, illustrates her difficulties in assuming these new adult responsibilities. Cassie tries to overcome the limitations of being a child (being short) by balancing on a stool, but ultimately, she is still too small to carry these responsibilities. Her crash off the stool foreshadows her coming inability to keep her adult-size secrets to herself.
The author places this book in a long tradition of African-American literature with her reference to W.E.B. DuBois's The Negro, the book that Stacey catches TJ holding in his mother's room. DuBois believed that blacks would gain equality by proving that they could excel in education and business. TJ's attempt to use the book to cheat, then, is an ironic allusion to Mama and Big Ma's shared belief in the importance of education.
The story that Big Ma tells Cassie about her life with her husband is part of a tradition of oral narrative central to the African-American literary tradition. Paul Edward's birth, two years before slavery ended, connects the story to the tradition of slave narratives, like that of Frederick Douglass. Slave narratives usually tell a story in which a slave frees himself and gains independence through his own ingenuity. Paul Edward Logan earns his four-hundred acres of land through hard, honest work. The references to the honest white men who sold him the land (Mr. Hollenbeck, a Yankee carpet-bagger) and Mr. Jamison, who cares more about the law than farming, demonstrates that all white landowners are not racist and greedy like Mr. Granger.
Once more, land is seen as a symbol of freedom and autonomy in this chapter. Big Ma emphasizes the importance of owning the land and keeping it in the family. Unlike slavery days when families could be separated at their owner's whim, Big Ma has the power to keep her children close to her and to give her land to them. The story about Mr. Anderson, who cut down the trees that he was forbidden to buy, illustrates to the reader that neither the Logans nor their land are entirely safe.