Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5-6

Chapter Five Summary:

Before dawn on a Saturday, Cassie and Stacey depart with Big Ma in the wagon for the market in Strawberry where they will sell butter, milk, and eggs. They have never been allowed to go before, but this time TJ is going along to buy things for his mother, so Big Ma decides to take her grandchildren, too. When they get to Strawberry, Cassie is disappointed to see how small the town is. At first, she doesn't understand why Big Ma parks the wagon so far away from the entrance to the market, but Big Ma assures her that her regular customers will look for her and then tells her that the wagons near the entrance belong to white people.

After lunch, the market begins to break up, and Big Ma goes to Mr. Jamison's law office. Cassie wants to go in and talk to him, since she likes him because he always calls Big Ma "Missus," but Big Ma tells the children to wait in the wagon. After a few minutes, TJ suggests they go ahead to Barnett's Mercantile and buy the goods his mother wants, in order to save time.

At the store, TJ shows Stacey and Cassie a pearl-handled revolver in a display case, which he says he wants badly. He gives his mother's list to Mr. Barnett, but Mr. Barnett stops waiting on him to take the orders of several white customers in a row, including a young white girl. It has been almost an hour, and even though Stacey and TJ try to stop her, Cassie marches over to Mr. Barnett to remind him that he has forgotten about them. He responds angrily, telling her to get her "little black self" back to waiting and calling her a "little nigger." Cassie protests, until Stacey begins to drag her out of the store, and Mr. Barnett tells him to "make sure she don't come back till yo' mammy teach her what she is."

Outside, Stacey tells Cassie that even though she knows that Mr. Barnett is wrong, Mr. Barnett doesn't. Cassie walks down the sidewalk, thinking about Mr. Barnett's words to her, and bumps into Lillian Jean Simms, who is with Jeremy and their two younger brothers. Lillian Jean demands an apology, which Cassie reluctantly gives, and then tells her that she should walk in the street. Cassie is trying to keep from being pushed off the sidewalk by Lillian Jean when Mr. Simmons appears and twists Cassie's arm behind her back.

Mr. Simmons demands that Cassie apologize to his daughter, although Jeremy insists she already did. Cassie tries to run away and is met by Big Mama. Mr. Simms demands that Cassie say "I'm sorry, Miz Lillian Jean," and Big Mama reluctantly makes her comply. Cassie says it and runs crying into the wagon, thinking this is the cruelest day that she has ever endured.


Cassie's difficult path toward adulthood passes another milestone when she realizes the implications of the cliche that life is not fair. Approaching Mr. Barnett to remind him that they have been waiting, Cassie expects that he will react as she does and perceive the unfairness of her situation. When he does not, Cassie is doubly outraged, both by the injustice of his racist reaction and by this upset of her generally positive worldview.

Cassie's journey to Strawberry is a metaphor for her exposure to a wider world beyond her home. She is disappointed when she sees Strawberry because it is a small, shabby place. Racism in Strawberry is more apparent and more acceptable than it is in Cassie's smaller town. In Strawberry, Big Ma is not a supreme power but instead must bow to the will of a powerful white man, no matter how much she might disagree with him.

When Cassie cries at the end of the chapter, her tears represent her loss of innocence. Her tears do not mean that she is a child, as they did in the previous chapter when she broke the bowl, but instead show that she is being pushed away from her childhood innocence.

Chapter Six Summary:

On the way home from Strawberry, even TJ stays quiet. As they put the wagon in the barn at home, Stacey tells Cassie not to blame Big Ma because she had to act as she did. Cassie insists that Big Ma is a grownup like Mr. Simms. Their conversation stops short when they spot what appears to be Mr. Granger's Packard in their barn. They run in the house where they see their Uncle Hammer. The car belongs to him.

As Mama makes dinner, Cassie tries to tell Uncle Hammer about her day in Strawberry but Big Ma keeps interrupting her. Finally, she tells him the whole story, and Uncle Hammer wants to know if it was Charlie Simms who knocked her off the sidewalk. He jumps up, saying he has his own gun when Mama glances at her husband's shotgun, and runs outside. Mama tries to stop him, but he takes off in the Packard. Mr. Morrison jumps in with him right as he is pulling away.

Mama insists he's not going anywhere and Christopher-John says that Mr. Morrison will stop him, but Cassie and Little Man envision what he might do to Mr. Simms. Mama sends the three youngest children to bed and comes in to talk to Cassie. She says that Big Ma did what she did because she didn't want Cassie to get hurt. She tells Cassie that Mr. Simms thinks Lillian Jean is better than her because she is white, even though it's not true. He is the type of person who needs to believe whites are better than blacks to make himself feel big.

Mama tells Cassie the story of slaves who were brought over from Africa, like Big Ma's great-grandparents. White people preached that people from Africa were not human so that they could make them slaves. They taught the slaves Christianity to make them obedient but even so people like Big Ma's father Papa Luke ran away three times. After the Civil War, when Papa Luke and Big Ma's mother Mama Rachel were freed, people continued to believe that blacks were not equal to whites. People like Mr. Simms hold on to that belief to make themselves feel important. Mama says that what black people give white people is fear, not respect. Cassie may call Lillian Jean "Miss" because she has to but she calls the black girls at her church "Miss" because she respects them.

The next morning, Uncle Hammer and Mr. Morrison are both in the kitchen at breakfast, looking tired. When Cassie goes to take her bath in a tub in Mama's room, Mama tells her that Uncle Hammer will take them to church in his car. Cassie watches her mother dress and do her hair and has her fix her own hair in her "grown-up hairdo." She looks as Mama puts on her shoes, which have large holes in the soles which she has patched with cardboard.

After breakfast, Stacey tells his siblings that he asked Mama outright and she said that Mr. Morrison talked to Uncle Hammer all night and did not let him go to the Simmses. He says that Big Ma told Mama that if Mr. Morrison hadn't stopped him, Uncle Hammer would have been killed. Before they leave for church, Uncle Hammer sees Stacey's too-small raggedy coat and gives him his Christmas present early. It is a beautiful new coat. They drive to church in the Packard, which attracts a lot of attention. TJ is jealous of Stacey's new coat.

After church, they drive around town, taking the Old Soldiers road which the Rebel soldiers had marched up to save the town from Yankees. Cassie wonders if Strawberry was worth saving. When they pass the Wallace store, Uncle Hammer says he would like to burn the place because he grew up with the Berrys. Mama tells him there is another way. They reach Soldier's Bridge, which can only handle one vehicle at a time. Black people driving wagons often have to back down the bridge when a white person starts down it from the opposite side. A Model T truck has started down the bridge, but Uncle Hammer speeds the Packard across and it backs up. Its passengers, the Wallaces, all touch their hats as the car approaches, thinking it is Mr. Granger, and freeze when they see the Logan family inside. Mama says they will have to pay for this later.


When Cassie accuses Stacey of acting like a know-it-all since going to Louisiana with Papa the previous year (after he explains to her that maybe Big Mama didn't have a choice but to obey Mr. Simms) she demonstrates the difference in the degrees they have become aware of the realities of race in the South. The incident in Strawberry and Mama's subsequent explanation of the reasons for Big Ma's actions is the proccess by which Cassie learns a lesson that Stacey has learned a year ago.

Uncle Hammer and his Packard provides a marked parallel to Mr. Granger. On the surface level, Hammer provides a means for Cassie to see the possibilities available to black men beyond becoming farmers and workingmen like Papa and Mr. Morrison. The Packard is a mark of status, which symbolizes that Uncle Hammer is just as good as, or even better than any white man.

Hammer also provides a contrast to Papa, a man who is normally careful and thoughtful in his reactions. Hammer's knee-jerk reaction to Cassie's experience validates its injustice, but Mama's worries about what might happen to Hammer if he confronts Mr. Simms make it clear that even a black man of high status will not receive equal protection under Southern law.

Soldier's Bridge, which the family crosses in Uncle Hammer's Packard, dates back to the Civil War and symbolizes the continued but crumbling domination of Old Southern racist attitudes that only allow one way of thought and one group, whites, to have power. That it is old and falling apart suggests that these ways too will crumble.