Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
by Mildred D. Taylor
Speech and Dialogue
Taylor tells us quite a lot about certain characters by the language they use. Harsh language toward the African Americans ("nigger," "mud eater," "nigra") signal characters who are ignorant, mean-spirited, and cruel, like Mr. Barnett, Mr. Granger, the Wallaces, plus the unnamed kids on the school bus.
On the flip side of this, we see characters who are more caring and non-discriminatory. Take Jeremy Simms, for instance. He puts himself out there by telling the Logans: "'C-cause I just likes y'all" (2.46). No name-calling from him—he is one of the few white characters in the book that genuinely respects and regards the African Americans as friends.
From Mama making the rounds of the sharecroppers' homes to deliver extra food, to T.J.'s foolish cheating and store robbery, actions in this novel certainly do speak louder than words. Or—at least as loud as words.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Uncle Hammer is a hothead: he rushes out of the house to confront Mr. Simms for pushing Cassie. And then there's Mr. Granger, who stops a hanging, but does so for very selfish reasons—to save his land.
Taylor also uses clothing to provide important clues to the traits and values of the characters in this book. Think about Mama's shoes, which she repairs by putting cardboard in the soles to cover up the holes. This tells us she's thrifty and self-sacrificing. She probably bought her children's treasured books as Christmas gifts instead of buying herself new shoes.
On the flip side, T.J.'s new clothing shows us that he's a thief. When he shows up at the revival meeting at the end of the novel, he was "dressed in a pair of long, unpatched trousers and, as sticky hot as it was, he wore a suit coat and a tie, and a hat cocked jauntily to one side" (10.195). There's just no way T.J. earned the money to buy this suit. At least—not by honest means.