Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
by Mildred D. Taylor
T.J. Avery is Stacey's friend, even though the other Logan children can't quite figure out why. Tall and skinny, he comes from a poor sharecropping family. And he's bad news.
A Very Flawed Character
We hate to say it, but T.J. is foolish, lazy, manipulative and vindictive. Check out his master strategy on avoiding work:
See, fellows, there's a system to getting out of work [...] Jus' don't be 'round when it's got to be done. Only thing is, you can't let your folks know that's what you're doin'. See, you should do like me. Like this mornin' when Mama wanted to bring back them scissors she borrowed from Miz Logan, I ups and volunteers so she don't have to make this long trip down here, she bein' so busy and all. And naturally when I got here, y'all wanted me to stay awhile and talk to y'all, so what could I do? (4.77).
If that makes you a bit leery about old T.J., check out how vindictive he can be. This is after he gets caught cheating on Mrs. Logan's history test:
Ah, man leave me be! All y'all Logans think y'all so doggone much with y'all's new coats and books and shiny new Packards! [...] I'm sick of all y'all. Your mama and your papa, too! (8.58)
After this, he promptly tells the Wallaces about the boycott, and gets Mrs. Logan fired from teaching. Boo, T.J.!
Sounds pretty bad, right? But it's not a simple matter of black and white (no pun intended). Remember his sense of rejection when the Logans blow him off at the revival meeting:
He remained standing in the middle of the compound, his face puzzled and undecided. I had never seen him look more desolately alone, and for a fleeting second I almost felt sorry for him. (10.213)
This is a really sad image of T.J.—all the more so since we're getting it from Cassie, who has never really liked him.
Sure, T.J. is flawed. He makes bad choices. Your parents would definitely warn you to stay away from him. But in the end, we can't help but feel sorry for him. Taylor uses him as a catalyst for the violence that erupts at the end of the novel. His decisions are partially influenced by circumstances beyond his control: the racist system that keeps his family poor and makes him desperate to be accepted by someone—anyone.
That's why he starts hanging out with the Wallaces when the Logans reject him. And the Wallaces just use him because they think it's fun. The Point of No Return for T.J. is when he agrees to rob the Barnett Mercantile, which leads to Mr. Barnett getting killed, and him (T.J.) getting blamed for it.