Chapter Seven Summary:
When Mama asks for Stacey's coat to shorten the sleeves, he has to admit that he has lent it to TJ until he grows into it. TJ was making fun of him, calling him preacher because of the way the coat fit. Mama wants him to get it back, but Uncle Hammer tells Stacey that if he is stupid enough to give his coat away, then TJ can keep it permanently; Stacey will not survive in the world if he lets people take things from him.
Cassie is anxious waiting for Papa to come home, but decides that she will wait to do anything to Lillian Jean until talking to him. She also wants to beat up TJ, but knows that she would be unable to. Finally, before dawn on the day before Christmas, Cassie wakes up and finds that her father is home. They spend all day cooking. That night, the adults tell stories as they sit around the fire, including a silly story about Papa and Uncle Hammer stealing watermelons.
Then, Mr. Morrison tells a story which Mama doesn't want the children to hear, but to which Papa insists they listen. One Christmas during Reconstruction, Mr. Morrison was six and lived in a shantytown with his family. Night men came in pursuit of two teenage boys accused of molesting a white woman whom had hid in his house, hoping his strong father would help save them. Mama explains that slaves were bred for strength like animals during slavery. The night men burned and killed women and children, including his two sisters, and although Mr. Morrison's parents fought hard, they both died too. Though he was only a child, Mr. Morrison makes himself remember that night.
Cassie wakes up before dawn and hears the adults talking in her parents' room about the danger of offering credit to people to shop at Vicksburg. If they use their land as collateral, they may risk losing it to Harlan Granger. On Christmas morning, the children get books (two versions of Aesop's Fables for the two younger boys, The Count of Monte Cristo for Stacey, and The Three Musketeers for Cassie). Papa tells his elder children that their books were written by Alexander Dumas who was a black man. They also get stockings of licorice, oranges, and bananas, as well as clothes from Uncle Hammer.
The Averys and their eight children come over for Christmas dinner after church. While everyone is sitting around after dinner, Jeremy Simms arrives at the door and gives the family some nuts and Stacey a flute that he carved himself. Stacey cannot understand why Jerermy brought him a gift until Papa suggests he gave Jeremy the gift of friendship in the past year. But Papa warns him that friendship between a black man and white man can never be on an equal basis and it would cost too much to find out if this friendship with Jeremy could last.
The next day, Papa whips the children for going to the Wallace store. He, Uncle Hammer, and Mr. Morrison go to Vicksburg. When they come back, Mr. Jamison visits and Big Ma signs the land over to her two sons so that it cannot be taken from them after her death and so that it will require both of their signatures to sell it. Mr. Jamison agrees to put up the credit for a group of black families to shop in Vicksburg and says that not all white Southerners feel the same way as the Grangers. Nonetheless, he reminds the Logans that the Wallace store is on Granger land and that Harland Granger lives in the past. Also, starting a boycott against the Wallace store is tantamount to saying that blacks and whites are equal by seeking to punish the Wallaces for the murder of a black man, a claim that may be dangerous in their town's current racial climate. Even if he cannot beat Granger or the Wallaces, Papa says that he wants his children to know he tried.
A few days later, after taking orders from the other families, Papa and Uncle Hammer take the wagon to Vicksburg to buy goods at the store there. The day after they get back, Mr. Granger arrives at the house. He suggests that their loan for the second two hundred acres of land might come due anytime, especially since the bank owner doesn't like people stirring up bad feelings in the community. He adds that he might have to charge his sharecroppers more than their usual portion of cotton that year, so they might not be able to pay their debts. Granger leaves after saying he plans to get the land back and that there are a lot of ways of stopping David Logan. Papa says he better make them good.
Christian mythology plays a strong role in this chapter, which centers around Christmas. Jeremy Simms plays the role of the Little Drummer Boy, who gives whatever he can as a gift. Cassie balks at Jeremy's gift of nuts, since her family already has so many, but Mama quiets her, knowing the importance of the very act of giving.
Giving is a significant theme both in this chapter and throughout the book. Jeremy gives unselfishly but his gift is insufficient, not because of what it is, but because it is tainted by the world in which they live. Because of their racist environment, Jeremy cannot be trusted, even though he might turn out to be a better friend than TJ. Stacey is forbidden to repay Jeremy's gift with his friendship because of the danger inherent in doing so.
Stacey's "gift" of his coat to TJ, unlike Jeremy's gift, is not unselfish but instead was given ignorantly. Uncle Hammer's decision to let TJ keep the coat emphasizes the importance of deeply considering that which you give away, whether it be clothing or friendship, because gifts have long lasting consequences.
Mr. Jamison and the Logan parents both give the gift to the community, at risk to themselves, of encouraging the boycott of the Wallace store. Their moral conviction, even in the face of danger, contrasts sharply with Mr. Granger's more selfish concerns of making money and accruing possessions. This attitude towards sacrifice is also reminiscent of Christian themes including the Wise Men's gift to the baby Jesus, the defiance of King Herod, and Jesus's final sacrifice. Mr. Morrison's parents, who died to save him, also recall this theme of sacrifice.
This chapter also highlights the power of history. Papa insists that his children hear about the night men who killed Mr. Morrison's family. Storytelling in the African-American literary tradition is more than a way to pass the time; it is also a means of testifying to and remembering the past in hopes of helping future generations.
Chapter Eight Summary:
Cassie catches up with Lillian Jean as she is walking to school and tells her that after what happened in Strawberry, she has come to see how the world actually works. She says: "I'm who I am and you're who you are," and offers to carry "Miz Lillian Jean's" books. When Lillian Jean turns toward her school at the crossroads, Jeremy tells her she didn't have to do that. Her younger brothers and TJ want to tell on her to Mama but Stacey makes them promise that they won't. Stacey also won't have anything to do with TJ's plans to cheat on the upcoming final exam.
Cassie tells the reader that on New Year's Day, after Uncle Hammer left, Papa took her to the hollow with the cut-down trees. He told her that there were some things in life that you have to do to survive and that if she makes the wrong decision about Lillian Jean, Charlie Simms will get involved and there will be trouble.
During January, Cassie calls Lillian Jean "Miz," carries her books, and listens to the secrets that she tells about the girls she is friends with. After school on the last day of exams, Cassie meets Lillian Jean on the road and tells her that she has something in the woods to show her. After walking into the woods, Cassie throws Lillian Jean's books down on the ground. When Cassie won't pick them up, Lillian Jean slaps her. After the older girl has struck her first, Cassie thinks that it is fair to fight back. Cassie has had Big Ma braid her hair flat to her head so Lillian Jean cannot pull it, but Cassie grabs onto Lillian Jean's long loose hair and twists it until she apologizes for her superior behavior and for the incident in Strawberry. Cassie lets her go saying that if she tells her father about the fight, she will tell Lillian Jean's friends all the secrets that she knows about them. Lillian Jean just cannot understand that Cassie had been fooling her and says "You was such a nice little girl..."
At school the next day, Miss Crocker makes Cassie sit in the cold back of the room, under the window, after catching her daydreaming. Cassie sees Kaleb Wallace outside. Claiming to have to go to the bathroom, she follows to watch from the top of a woodpile as Kaleb, another man, and Harlan Granger enter Mama's classroom. They say that they are representing the School Board and watch as Mama continues the history lesson she that she had been teaching about slavery. Mama talks about its cruelty and the economic benefits that the ruling class got from the free labor of others. Mr. Granger opens a student's book, with the paper pasted on the front cover, and accuses Mama of teaching things that aren't in the book, which was approved by the School Board. He fires her.
The children meet their mother after school and walk home with her. When they get home, she tells Papa, Mr. Morrison, and Big Ma that she has lost her job, and says that it is their way of getting back at the family for shopping in Vicksburg. She worries about where they will find enough money for the mortgage, and Papa says that they will manage. She goes for a walk, and Mr. Morrison offers to get a job now that Papa is back, but Papa says he will be leaving again soon. He tells Little Man that Grandpa was a tenant farmer who saved every penny to send Mama to high school in Jackson and teacher training school, and that Mama was meant to teach like "the sun is to shine."
Little Willie Wiggins tells Stacey the next day that TJ had been complaining about Mama failing him on his final exam in the Wallace store and talked about the pasted book covers in front of Kaleb Wallace. TJ has stayed home from school that day, so the Logan children follow Claude home, and Stacey accuses TJ, who tries to blame it on Little Willie. Stacey doesn't believe TJ but doesn't beat him up, saying he has something worse coming to him. At school the next week, everyone shuns TJ, who still will no take the blame. TJ tells Stacey that it doesn't matter because he has better friends now who treat him like a man and who are white.
The theme of friendship reappears at the end of this chapter and foreshadows disaster. Papa has warned Stacey of the danger in friendships between blacks and whites because of the inequality involved. TJ proclaims himself to be superior to the Logans, who he calls babies, because they are younger than he. The that time he spends at the Wallace store, befriending the very men who burned the Berrys, suggests that TJ is putting himself in danger.
TJ's belief that he can have white friends is contrasted with Cassie's "friendship" with Lillian Jean. Both are attempting to use these friendships to their advantage, TJ to quell the inadequacy he feels about being poor and being held back in school, and Cassie to get revenge. Unlike TJ, Cassie embarks on her "friendship" well aware that it can never be real. TJ and Lillian Jean provide interesting foils for one another in this chapter. Just as TJ boasts of his new friends, Lillian Jean does not suspect that Cassie's friendship is an act and continues to be surprised even after Cassie beats her up. Cassie care to not leave any marks on Lillian Jean's face is both pragmatic (there is no evidence against her) and metaphorical, because it shows that Cassie understands the importance of appearances in a way that Lillian Jean and TJ do not.
While Cassie is acting as Lillian Jean's "slave," TJ calls her an "Uncle Tom." In part, of course, this is an allusion to Harriet Beecher Stowe's abolitionist novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. The word has also been transformed into a derogatory term for a black person who behaves in a sycophantic manner toward whites. This statement is in part ironic because it is TJ who is playing the Uncle Tom figure by ratting out Mrs. Logan to the Wallaces.