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Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

by Mildred D. Taylor

Language Theme

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words… well, unfortunately, they can actually hurt you. We're going to put it right out there: some of the language used in this novel is not pretty, and it's a testament to how far our society has progressed that we recoil from the more ugly words (or at least we hope you do!). Language is a powerful tool in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. It can be used to hand down history, to assert one's identity, or to engage in hateful and derogatory name-calling ("nigra," "nigger," "mud eater"). Sure, it may sound like a cliché at first, but Taylor shows us how words can be a force for good or can be abused—depending on how the speaker chooses to wield that power. Keep an eye out for who's allowed to speak and who gets shut down, and under what circumstances.

Questions About Language

  1. Where do you see examples of characters having fun with language? Where is it playfully used?
  2. In lots of scenes, adults tell detailed stories of their own childhoods or youth. Why is storytelling so important to the black community in particular?
  3. Ever notice how sometimes nothing you say helps or fixes a problem? This happens several times in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Where are some examples of powerless language? Which characters are affected and why?
  4. Where do miscommunications occur in the book? What are the consequences?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Part of growing up for Cassie involves learning how to control her use of language.

The "Roll of Thunder" spiritual that Mr. Morrison sings is just one example of how language can be used to take a stand against oppression.

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