Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Why is the land so important to Big Ma and the family?

chapter 4

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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.