Let the Circle be Unbroken

Let the Circle be Unbroken Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7-8


Chapter 7

Papa comes out to see Cassie, and to her surprise, he tells her that he thinks Uncle Hammer was right to be so upset. He reminisces about his grandpa’s father, a white man who kept slaves. He does not want white boys looking at Cassie even though someday they will. Maybe in the future this mixing will be fine, but right now it does not work. She asks about Mr. Jamison and he replies that he has a lot of respect for him and there is no better man, either black or white.

Cousin Bud leaves that evening and Mama is clearly upset. Papa suggests to Uncle Hammer that he go talk to her, and they make up.

No one knows how Mr. Farnsworth is doing and the week draws on with no one coming to ask the children anything. On Saturday they go out to the fields to work. Around noon, sheriff Hank Dobbs and another man arrive. Dobbs introduces the man, Mr. Peck, as the new county agent.

Dobbs asks Papa what he knows; Papa replies that he heard talk, but does not know anything else. Dobbs relays Mr. Farnsworth’s explanation that it was white men, and that Mr. Peck has his protection. He thinks this might be because of all the dangerous union talk, which he finds to be a socialist conspiracy. He adds that people are riled up and a man named ‘Jake Willis’ knifed another man in a card game. Papa says the name is not familiar; Dobbs and Peck leave.

After they depart Papa says he will let the union meeting be at his barn, but that they will choose the people to invite. Two nights later the meeting is held, with union men talking about their plans and how they can achieve them. Some of the attendees wonder about the white-and-black aspect of the union, for “there had been too many years of distrust, too many years of humiliations and beatings and lynchings and inequalities” (159). They will wait and see what happens.

A few days before Hammer is to leave, Papa also announces he has to go away on the railroad. Mama is very upset, but Papa protests that they need the money for the land and this is important for the children.

Big Ma tells her son that she understands how Mama feels and that he leaves her a lot of the time; perhaps he ought to try to come home for short times in between working.

Not long before Papa and Hammer will both depart, Hammer comes to see Cassie. He tells her he’s noticed how she has not had much to say to him. She is quiet. He says she does not need to be afraid of him: he loves all of the children and thinks of them as his own. Cassie is relieved and wants to hug him, but that has never quite been their relationship.

The family bids goodbye to the brothers, watching them drive away along the dusty road.

Mrs. Lee Annie announces she wants to vote. Big Ma protests her friend’s idea, but Mrs. Lee Annie is stubborn. She remembers how her father voted and what a fine feeling he said it gave him. She knows about the poll tax and the test. Only when Mama mentions that Harlan Granger might not like it does she pause for a moment. They know he won’t like his colored tenants acting up.

Finally, Mrs. Lee Annie says she has waited sixty-four years to take a stand: she plans to do so and will not back down. She asks if Cassie and Mama will help her study.

She is an enthusiastic student and Big Ma, Mama, Mr. Tom Bee, and Cassie all become excited by the lessons. Mr. Tom Bee in particular sits in the back and listens. Cassie is interested in the words of the constitution and wonders if someday she will get to experience a little bit of liberty and justice.

May arrives and the children spend long days weeding. June follows with the exciting news of the beginning of the construction of the new hospital. Stacey and Willie discuss going down there to see if there is work. Cassie and her younger brothers accompany them to the site where they first see a line of about a hundred white men and then find the line of colored men. They see Dube, who directs them to a ‘Mr. Crawford’.

Before they can find Mr. Crawford they run into Jake Willis, who smiles at them and offers a snarky comment. After he walks away they all feel a strong sense of dislike.

Stacey and Little Willie talk to Mr. Crawford, telling him they are fourteen and want jobs. Mr. Harrison, an elderly white man whose land borders theirs, praises the boys as good workers. Mr. Crawford acknowledges Mr. Harrison’s comment as likely, but says there is a line of men who need jobs and need to provide for their families; Stacey’s father has a job. Stacey replies that he is trying to keep what he has, just like everyone else. This impresses Mr. Crawford and he tells Stacey to come back when he is sixteen.

Mr. Harrison turns to Stacey and asks if he might like a job whitewashing windows for five dollars. Stacey says he will ask his mother, and Mr. Harrison drives the children home to get her answer. Mama thanks him for the offer but sternly says no, because, with David gone, Stacey is needed in the fields.

After Mr. Harrison leaves, Stacey and Mama argue. Cassie is surprised to hear him talking back to her by saying he is not a baby and she should not have a say in what he does. Everyone watches him run off. Big Ma comments that he needs a whipping, but Mama stoically responds that he needs his father.

Chapter 8

Stacey is growing up. He is taller and has a baritone voice. He is also much more private and Cassie misses his confidences. She cannot decide what is worse: his ignoring her or telling her to leave her alone.

One day, Cassie is with Stacey and Moe. They ignore her and talk about Jacey Peters. Moe asks if he likes her and if he thinks she is messing around with the white boys. Stacey thinks she would not do that and that perhaps he does want to talk to her sometimes. Red ants start to bother Cassie and she jumps up in alarm. This alerts Stacey and Moe to her presence, and Stacey displays his annoyance. They change the subject to cotton and Moe’s desire to get out of sharecropping. Suddenly Christopher-John and Little Man run over to them and tell them Cousin Bud is back with his pretty daughter Suzella.

They all return to the house and greet Uncle Bud. Cassie is told to go get Suzella. The young woman has creamy skin and long auburn hair; she looks a lot like Mama. She is very friendly until Cassie asks her what it is like to have a white mama. She softly says she is not colored; rather, she is mixed blood.

Suzella says hello to everyone else and they seem entranced by her. Cassie decides she does not like Suzella very much. Time passes. Mama and Suzella talk and laugh a lot as if they were good friends. The boys are all enthralled by her and want to please her, but she does not favor any particular boy or man in town. One day Cassie is pulling out jiggers and Suzella asks what she is doing. She volunteers to help Cassie with one, but Cassie is reluctant. Suzella insists and helps her. Christopher-John chides Cassie for not saying ‘thank you’.

Out in the forest, the children and Suzella fish and get gum from trees. Talk turns to the topic of Mr. Morrison, and Suzella comments that he scares her a bit. Cassie blurts out that he broke a white man’s back, and the boys look at her keenly: there are some family secrets that ought not to be shared outside the immediate circle.

Irritated, Cassie heads back to the house. Suzella goes with her and Cassie thinks to herself how she resents her cousin. Cassie goes to look for Mr. Morrison but does not find him. Back inside she hears Mama and Suzella laughing and talking. She sees Mama happily trying on one of Suzella’s dresses. Suzella gushes that they could be models for Vogue.

Cassie turns away and tries to find solace in Big Ma, but her grandmother chastises her for not being kind to her own blood.

Later Cassie works with Mrs. Lee Annie, reading a passage that says a Negro marriage to a white person is null and void. After the reading she goes back down to the forest. She hears music and comes across Wordell and his harmonica. In the distance, the boys and Suzella play water tag.

Cassie grumbles that Suzella is taking that away from her too, and Wordell looks at her curiously. Cassie bursts out how frustrated she is with her cousin, and how she wants things to be the same again. All Wordell says is that she is wrong and she knows it. Cassie is miserable.

At church Cassie’s friends sniff that Suzella is not that pretty. Alma teases Mary Lou that she has a crush on Stacey. Cassie walks away. She notices Jake Willis leering at Suzella in a way that is uncomfortable. She asks Joe where Wordell is, and he says he has not seen him.

The teenage boys discuss how pretty Suzella is and wonder if they have a chance with her. Cassie is slightly miffed to hear Ron Shorter being a part of that conversation, since she’d recently come to look at him a little differently. Moe mentions to Cassie that he and his father are upset because their cow died last night.

After church, Cassie stares at herself critically in the mirror, assessing her appearance and wondering if anyone will ever think her pretty like her cousin. She starts to play with her lovely thick hair and Suzella comes in. She offers to help Cassie, but Cassie hotly declines. Suzella asks her why she does not like her and tells Cassie she cannot blame her for having a white mother.

The next day, Big Ma tells Mama she is going to take a cow over to Mr. Turner. Mama and the children go along with her. It is a gorgeous day outside and everyone enjoys the blissful, languorous walk.

Mr. Turner is initially hesitant to take the cow, but Big Ma insists; he thanks her sincerely. They all admire the fields of cotton, Moe in particular bragging to Stacey.

A few moments later, Mr. Peck and Deputy Haynes arrive. To Mr. Turner’s horror, Mr. Peck nervously and haltingly explains that there was an issue with the stipulations of the AAA and parts of the cotton will have to be immediately plowed up. Moe is stunned and begs his father not to do it. Mr. Turner hits his son and Moe drops to the ground.

Mr. Peck apologizes but says he has to witness the plowing up of the cotton being done right now. Wordlessly, Mr. Turner hitches his mule to his plow and destroys his fields. Moe walks out and looks at an uprooted plant and begins to cry. Cassie feels like crying too.


These two chapters are perfect amalgams of the macro and the micro. There are the larger issues such as voting, institutionalized racism, and the Depression, but there are also Cassie’s deeply personal feelings about her brother, her cousin, her body, and her parents, and her uncle. Cassie may deal with the direct and indirect effects of racism and poverty, but she is also a girl on the cusp of young adulthood; thus, she is sometimes more concerned with the way her crush acts and the indignity of being chastised by her grandmother and friends than these bigger issues.

Cassie’s privileged status as the narrator of the novel does not prevent the novel from celebrating the communal. Family and community ties are immensely strong, as are Taylor’s ties to those about whom she writes. Taylor dedicates the novel to “the memory of my beloved father, who lived many adventures of the boy Stacey and who was in essence the man David…this is his legacy.” Her characters are intimate, personal creations. Scholar Robert Con Davis-Undiano writes that Taylor “strikes against a tenet of recent literary studies, as well as a trend in mainstream literature, by asserting her identity as an ‘organic’ writer–that is, a writer who acts on behalf of the community.” This has been seen as a relic of the past in that contemporary writers often respond to style and technique that are unconnected to the community and its values. Taylor, though, “moves in a different direction altogether by presenting herself to readers as a writer always working fundamentally on behalf of her community.”

In terms of the aforementioned “macro” elements of this section of the novel, Chapter 8 has one of the most heartbreaking and infuriating moments of the entire novel. Mr. Turner and his son are justifiably proud of their cotton crop and expect it to reap them a decent amount of money; furthermore, Moe hopes that he will be able to escape the sharecropping cycle altogether and finish school. This seems likely when Cassie and her family visit their fields and see how fecund they are. Not long after, though, Mr. Peck arrives to instruct Mr. Turner that there was an issue with the AAA (which later turns out to be the machinations of Mr. Montier, the landowner) and he has to plow up a portion of the field for no compensation. This scene indicates how terrible things were for farmers in general but also how black farmers had it even harder. They were manipulated by wealthy white landowners and suffered unfairly under some of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. This mirrored the situation in cites and towns where the unemployment rate was 50% for blacks. Adding to the problems during the Depression was the fact that many blacks, by dint of the work they often performed, were ineligible for Social Security. Taylor does not shy away from revealing how the Depression was worse for blacks than it was for whites.

In terms of the “micro” elements of this section of the novel, Taylor takes us into some of Cassie’s deeply personal concerns. She is jealous of her cousin Suzella not only for the attention everyone pays her but also for the older girl’s stunning beauty and grace. Cassie is a typical young girl in that she is struggling to accept her own looks. The moment where she stares at herself in the mirror, wondering if people will ever see her the way they see Suzella, is moving and relatable.

Taylor also shows us more of Stacey’s growing pains. He is very intelligent and has a strong sense of responsibility for his family, which leads him to chafe at his inability to help out and resent his mother for keeping him from taking a job and treating him like a baby. It is not difficult to understand where she is coming from in terms of not wanting him to work and “bend” for white men, but we also see how frustrating it must be for Stacey to watch his parents worry.