Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9-10

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Chapter Nine Summary:

Spring comes, and classes are about to end at Great Faith at the end of March. Jeremy tells Stacey that he will miss walking with him and offers to visit his house but Stacey says that his father would not like it. Jeremy also says that TJ has been hanging around with his brothers RW and Melvin, who are eighteen and nineteen, and who make fun of TJ behind his back.

Cassie asks her mother why TJ would hang around with the Simms boys, and Mama tells her that they hang around with him to make themselves feel good and to use him. Mr. Jamison comes over and talks to Papa, who is working in the fields. At supper, Papa tells Mama that Thurston Wallace has been talking about stopping the shopping in Vicksburg but that it is not time to be scared yet.

Papa has still not left for the railroad when school ends. When Cassie begs him to stay he tells her he has to go in order to pay the taxes and mortgage. They have planted extra cotton to make up for the fact that Mama was fired. Just then, Mr. Avery arrives and says that he cannot buy things in Vicksburg anymore because Mr. Granger and Mr. Montier have asked their tenant farmers for sixty rather than fifty percent of their cotton and has threatened to kick those who shop in Vicksburg off their land. The Wallaces have threatened to get the sheriff to put those who owe debts on the chain gang. Stacey is angry after he leaves but Papa says that he does not understand the risks that Mr. Avery must face. When Cassie worries that they are giving up, Papa compares them to a little fig tree on their property. It is smaller than the other trees but keeps on doing what it has to do and does not give up.

That night, Cassie sneaks out of bed to eavesdrop on Mama and Papa talking on the porch. Papa wants to bring Stacey to Vicksburg with him so that he'll know how to handle himself, unlike TJ whose parents can no longer whip him. Seven families have decided to keep shopping in Vicksburg, so Papa, Stacey, and Mr. Morrison leave on Wednesday before dawn to do the shopping.

On Thursday, when they are supposed to get back, it begins to rain. Mama is so worried that she considers going out on the horse to look for them, but the wagon arrives. Mr. Morrison carries Papa into the house, his leg splinted with a shotgun and a rag tied around his bleeding head. Mama sends the unwilling children to bed while she prepares to set Papa's broken leg.

In the boys' room, at first Stacey will not say what happened but finally tells the other children that on the way back from Vicksburg, the back wheels fell off the wagon, probably a trick played by some boys he saw standing near it in town. Rather than unload everything, Stacey held the horse still while Mr. Morrison held up the back of the wagon and Papa attached the wheel. A truck with its lights off approached them from behind, and they didn't hear it because of the storm. It suddenly turned on its lights, Papa grabbed his shotgun, and someone in the truck shot Papa, grazing his temple. The horse reared up and the wagon rolled over Papa's leg. Papa told Stacey to hide in the gully. The men shot at and missed Mr. Morrison, who threw one of them to the ground and fought with the other two. Badly injured, the men drove off. Mr. Morrison put the wheel on and they came home.

Cassie asks who the men were, and Stacey tells her he thinks that it was the Wallaces. Christopher-John and Little Man want to know if Papa is going to die, but Stacey insists that he will be fine in the morning.

Analysis:

Previous chapters have foreshadowed retribution against the Logans for organizing the boycott of the Wallace store. Papa's comment, early in this chapter, that it is not time to be worried yet contributes to the building tension and expectation of a crisis. The attack on Papa by the Wallaces, however, does not release this tension entirely. Papa may be alive (and is clearly better off than the Wallaces' other victims, the Berrys) but there is no certainty that retribution is over. Therefore, this crisis is a minor one that increases the tension and conflict of the novel, rather than diffusing it.

This chapter illustrates that the novel is not only Cassie's coming of age story, but also Stacey's. When Mama worries about sending Stacey to Vicksburg with his father, Papa tells her that he is twelve years old, and "a boy gets as big as Stacey down here and he's near a man." The realities of life in the South mean that a young black boy cannot afford to remain a boy even at twelve. In Papa's eyes, doing so means remaining ignorant of the very real dangers of life.

Stacey's impending manhood contrasts sharply with TJ's perception of himself as a man. In the previous chapter, he told Stacey he was "fourteen, near grown." But TJ's "manhood" does not encompass the awareness of the dangers that his actions portend. He thinks that his friendship with RW and Melvin Simms makes him an adult because RW and Melvin are older. Yet Stacey already realizes he cannot be friends with Jeremy, who is his own age. The inequality inherent in TJ's relationship with the other Simms boys, who are both older and white, foreshadows a coming crisis.

Throughout the book, the author stresses the economic factors which contribute to racism. It is no accident that the history lesson that resulted in Mama getting fired was about the ways in which white Americans used black slave labor to their economic advantage. Similarly, the Wallaces' anger stems from their financial loss.

Chapter Ten Summary:

A week later, on Papa's first day out of bed, he and Mama discuss their financial situation. They have enough for the June note on the land with only a couple of dollars left, though they will have to scrimp on food. Papa plans to sell the cow and calves and maybe the old sow to pay the July and August notes, and the cotton should pay for the September note. They do not want to tell Hammer what happened and ask him for money because they are afraid that with his temper, Hammer will do something that will get him killed. Papa, however, wishes that he could react like Hammer would and whip the Wallaces. Thurston and Dewberry Wallace are still laid up from what Mr. Morrison did to them. Mr. Morrison has been looking for work with no success.

The children go with Mr. Morrison in the wagon to lend Papa's planter to Mr. Wiggins at his farm, six miles away. On the way back, Kaleb Wallace's pickup truck stops in the middle of the road, blocking their path. Kaleb threatens to gun down Mr. Morrison for hurting his brothers. Mr. Morrison calmly looks in the pickup to see if Kaleb is carrying a gun, then uses his enormous strength to move the pickup to the side of the road. As they drive away, Kaleb yells that he is going to "get" Mr. Morrison. At home, Mama worries about Mr. Morrison putting himself in danger for them but he tells her that her children are like the family he never had.

In August, the children escape the heat by sitting by the pond in the woods. Sometimes, Jeremy joins them. One day, he says that some people are glad that Papa got hurt. Mama has told Cassie that they cannot report the Wallaces to the sheriff because Mr. Morrison might get put on the chain gang for what he did to them. Jeremy also talks about TJ hanging around with his brothers. He invites the Logans to see his treehouse, since his father isn't home, but Stacey coldly refuses.

At home, Mr. Morrison returns from Strawberry with an envelope and meets Papa in the barn where he is repairing a harness. The bank has called in the note on the land, even though they have four more years left to pay. Papa is angry and wants to ride to Strawberry immediately, but Mama persuades him to wait till morning, since the bank won't even be open and he will be putting himself in danger. Big Ma worries about what they will do if Hammer cannot get the money, and Papa promises they won't lose the land.

The annual revival begins the third Sunday of August and is filled with seven days of religious services, socializing, and food. At lunch on the first day, Stacey spots Uncle Hammer walking down the road. He has sold his Packard to pay for the land and is bringing the money to Papa. Though everyone wishes he could stay longer, they think that it would be too dangerous, and Hammer leaves early Monday morning.

It seems to be about to storm on the last night of the revival, but the Logans decide to go anyway. Before the meeting, Little Willie Wiggins and Moe Turner tell Stacey that they have seen TJ with the Simms brothers. TJ and the Simmses come to middle of the gathering and TJ, dressed in trousers, a suit coat, tie, and hat, announces that they are his friends, unaware of the condescending smirks that Cassie sees on their faces. TJ says that his new friends will buy him anything he wants, including the pearl-handled pistol in Barnett's Mercantile. Stacey turns away in disgust and follows everyone into the church, leaving TJ upset that no one cares. RW says they're going to Strawberry to buy him the pistol but TJ stands, looking puzzled and undecided, before finally following them.

Analysis:

The novel continues to move towards its climax as yet another crisis occurs when the bank calls in the note. The theme of strength found in family recurs when Uncle Hammer sells his beloved car to save the land. That car had symbolized equality to Hammer, because it was the same model as Mr. Granger's. However, Hammer chooses family over the outer appearance of equality. Mr. Morrison's choice to remain with the Logans, despite the danger to himself, also emphasizes the importance of family.

The land, of course, is a symbol of the family and its strength. Possession of the land means that the Logans are not beholden to the whims of white landowners, the way sharecroppers like the Averys are. Papa's assurance to Big Ma that they'll keep the land is a recurring refrain throughout the book.

Through Stacey's relationship with Jeremy, we can see an alternate view of race relations. Jeremy's tree-house, from which he believes, or wishes, that he can see all the way to the Logans' land metaphorizes his hope for a greater connection with the Logan children. His is far-reaching view from atop the treehouse is a vision of inclusiveness, in which the geographical as well as social boundaries cease to separate white and black friends. Stacey's insistence that Jeremy cannot possibly see to the Logans' land is a product of the harsh life lessons he has learned throughout this book and of his growing understanding of the longstanding racial inequality in the South.