Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
Late on the night of the last day of the revival, a storm is brewing when T. J. knocks at the Logan's door. Cassie quietly lets him into the boys' room. He is badly hurt. Stacey is very suspicious. T. J. explains that he went with Melvin and R. W. to Strawberry, thinking that they were going to buy him a pearl-handled pistol he had been wanting. Instead, they rob the store and injure the owners. The White boys were wearing masks. The children resolve to help T. J. to his home, but just after T. J. goes inside, a lynch mob drives up and begins to beat up T. J. and his family. The mob thinks that T. J. and some other black children were responsible for the robbery. In fact, Melvin and R. W. are a part of the mob. Mr. Jamison arrives to try to break up the mob, but they threaten to continue to the Logan property and hang L. T. and Papa along with T. J. At this, Cassie and the two younger boys rush home to warn their family while Stacey stays to see about T. J.
Cassie tells the rest of the family everything. Papa and L. T. leave, carrying guns. Soon, Mama notices that the cotton field has caught fire, apparently from a lightning strike. She and Big Ma go to fight it. The children wake up to find Jeremy knocking at their door. It is almost dawn. He says that the fire has been put out. Cassie and Little Man go out to investigate. They see that many nearby farmers, black and white, are working together to put out the last glowing embers. Everyone is safe; even T. J., although he has been arrested. The fire distracted the lynch mob. Stacey and Cassie are very upset about T. J., even if they did not like him very much. At first, Cassie does not quite understand what happened. Then, it dawns on her that her father started the fire.
The events of these final chapters are somewhat complicated. As the novel has progressed, Cassie, the narrator, has been privy to fewer and fewer important events. Now, she sleeps through the resolution of the novel. This is a valuable plot device, because it adds an element of suspense to the story. At first, the reader thinks that a miraculous fire brought together the community. Then, the reader learns that it was Papa who started the fire. At first, it may seem that it was slightly criminal of Papa to fool the men by starting a fire. But, on the other hand, he burned his own land. Also, throughout the novel, the Logan family has indulged in small acts of civil disobedience, such as the sabotage of the bus. Papa told Cassie that the Bible says to forgive Lillian Jean, but if she cannot live without teaching Lillian Jean a lesson, then she must teach Lillian Jean a lesson. Papa did what he had to do.
It may seem contrived to some readers that the novel has such a happy ending. Of course, there is the tragedy of T. J.'s arrest and inevitable punishment, but this has been foreshadowed with each of T. J.'s mistakes and betrayals. There is no lynching; no one dies. In fact, the whole community is forced to work together. What is Mildred Taylor trying to say? Obviously, she is saying that black and white people can and should work together. But she is also saying that they are most likely to work together in a state of emergency, when their material resources are endangered. In many ways, the reader may be unsatisfied with this ending. Many of the dangers faced by the Logan family have been resolved, and the novel has described the process by which Cassie learned about the realities of racism. The Logans have heroically stood up to racism, as much as was possible. The final message of the novel, perhaps, is that survival is possible, but that there are inevitable losses along the way.
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