In the very center of the expansive front lawn, waving red, white, and blue with the emblem of the Confederacy emblazoned in its upper left-hand corner, was the Mississippi flag. Directly below it was the American flag. As Jeremy and his sister and brothers hurried toward those transposed flags, we turned eastward toward our own school. (1.89)
Taylor pulls the old switcheroo here. When we see "waving red, white and blue," we naturally think of the American Flag. But, no—we are slapped in the face with the image of the Confederate flag (and believe us, a lot of fabric goes into making a flag, so it's a pretty big slap). So, what's up with this? Taylor mentions that the flags are "transposed," which means to "change the position or order of (two things)." We expect the American flag to be higher, so the symbolism is pretty clear: the values of the Confederacy (inequality for African-Americans, basically) take precedence over the American values of equality and justice for all.
[W]e consequently found ourselves comical objects to cruel eyes that gave no thought to our misery. (3.4)
It's all just fun and games to the white kids on the school bus, as they see the Logans and their friends splashed by mud day in and day out. They see the African-Americans as something less than human.
But as we passed one of the counters, I spied Mr. Barnett wrapping an order of pork chops for a white girl. Adults were one thing; I could almost understand that. They ruled things and there was nothing that could be done about them. But some kid who was no bigger than me was something else again. Certainly Mr. Barnett had simply forgotten about T.J.'s order. I decided to remind him and, without saying anything to Stacey, I turned around and marched over to Mr. Barnett. (5.55)
Why do you think Cassie "could almost understand" Mr. Barnett serving a white adult before a black child? What is the major insight she has when she notices that Mr. Barnett serves a white child before black customers who were there first?
"Then you get her out of here," he said with a hateful force. 'And make sure she don't come back till yo' mammy teach her what she is." (5.71)
Talk about a rude awakening. This is a major turning point—Cassie realizes that she's being judged strictly (and unfairly) on her color.
But someone caught [my arm] from behind, painfully twisting it, and shoved me off the sidewalk into the road. I landed bottom first on the ground. (5.91)
Mr. Simms glared down at me. "When my gal Lillian Jean says for you to get yo'self off the sidewalk, you get, you hear?" (5.92)
These days, if the father of a schoolmate did this to you, you could have his behind hauled down to the police station faster than he could say "child abuse." Or at least "child endangerment." In the time period of the novel, though, this was sadly biz as usual. Mr. Simms pushes Cassie into the street because she refuses to apologize for something that wasn't her fault (bumping into Lillian Jean).
"I didn't say Lillian Jean is better than you. I said Mr. Simmons only thinks she is [...]' (6.81)
"Just 'cause she's his daughter?" I asked, beginning to think Mr. Simms was a bit touched in the head. (6.82)
"No, baby, because she's white." (6.83)
Mama's hold tightened on mine, but I exclaimed, "Ah, shoot! White ain't nothin'!" (6.84)
Mama's grip did not lessen. "It is something, Cassie. White is something just like black is something. Everybody born on this earth is something and nobody, no matter what color, is better than anybody else." (6.85)
Holy Major Revelations, Batman! Mama schools Cassie on the situation, and it's not about what Cassie originally thought: that Mr. Simms thinks Lillian Jean is better just because she's his daughter. Nope. It's because she's white. Cassie finally realizes that Mean Old Mr. Simms would still have pushed her out into the road just because she's black, and he thinks white people are better.
"[T]here were some white people who thought that it was wrong for any people to be slaves; so the people who needed slaves to work in their fields and the people who were making money bringing slaves from Africa preached that black people weren't really people like white people were, so slavery was all right." (6.89)
Mama points out that the first step toward enslaving people is to dehumanize them. When people can take away someone's humanity, they are more likely to be able to convince themselves that anything you do to them is okay. What are some other examples of this? You may want to consider the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide as examples.
"Well, Cassie, during slavery there was some farms that mated folks like animals to produce more slaves. Breeding slaves brought a lot of money for them slave owners, 'specially after the government said they couldn't bring no more slaves from Africa, and they produced all kinds of slaves to sell on the block. And folks with enough money, white men and even free black men, could buy 'zactly what they wanted. My folks was bred for strength like they folks and they grandfolks 'fore 'em." (7.51)
This is another example of the dehumanizing influence of slavery: the slaves were bred like farm animals, and selected for desirable traits. Ugh. But at least we know why Mr. Morrison is so big and strong. (Also, irony alert: this breeding program is what made Mr. Morrison so dangerous.)
"I'm a Southerner, born and bred, but that doesn't mean I approve of all that goes on here, and there are a lot of other white people who feel the same." (7.139)
Mr. Jamison's a pretty good guy. Here, he shows his support for the black community and has just offered to back the credit of the poor black farmers so they don't have to shop at the Wallace store. Instead of painting all white characters with the broad brush of stereotypes, Taylor offers some counter-examples of whites who treat the African-Americans fairly (such as Mr. Jamison) and who want to be their friends (Jeremy Simms). Can you think of other examples in the book?
Moving across the field, slowly, mechanically, as if sleepwalking, was a flood of men and women dumping shovels of dirt on fire patches which refused to die. They wore wide handkerchiefs over their faces and many wore hats, making it difficult to identify who was who, but it was obvious that the ranks of the fire fighters had swelled from the two dozen townsmen to include nearby farmers. I recognized Mr. Lanier by his floppy blue hat working side by side with Mr. Simms, each oblivious of the other, and Papa near the slope waving orders to two of the townsmen. Mr. Granger, hammering down smoldering stalks with the flat of his shovel, was near the south pasture where Mr. Morrison and Mama were swatting the burning ground. (12.91)
There's nothing like the threat of a disaster to forcefully bring people together. Here, we get a glimpse of how things could be: everyone working together, side by side. Temporarily, racial differences don't matter, since all of the people are united by one goal—to put out the fire and save their homes and property. Notice how the handkerchiefs and hats make it "difficult to identify who was who"? Why do you think Taylor describes the people in this way here?
'YES'M MIZ CROCKER," the children chorused.
But I remained silent. I never did approve of group responses. (1.107-08)
How does this "group response" compare to the "group response" of the mob in Chapter 11? How are both symptoms of the same disorder?
'S-see what they called us," I said, afraid she had not seen.
'That's what you are," she said coldly. (1.147-48)
Even when written in a book, the hateful world Cassie reacts to ("nigra") has the power to humiliate and put down. So why does her teacher seem not to mind?
'That's the nigger Sallie Ann said was flirtin' with her." (2.55)
Seems like an unimportant rumor, right? Wrong. This little bit of hearsay is the only justification the Wallace brothers need to go after the Berrys. Statements like this are more powerful coming from whites than from the blacks in this novel. Compare this to how Henrietta Toggins tries to tell the sheriff that the Wallaces have been bragging about burning the men. The sheriff does nothing, since it's her word (a black woman) against theirs (white men).
"And ain't a thing gonna be done 'bout it," said Mr. Lanier. 'That's what's so terrible! When Henrietta went to the sheriff and told him what she'd seed, he called her a liar and sent her on home. Now I hear tells that some of them men that done it been 'round braggin' 'bout it."
You've heard the expression, "I'll give my $0.02 worth," right? Well, here's a prime example with much more at stake. Henrietta's word is worth roughly $0.02, while the white men's is worth more like $2.00. Their deceit is powerful, while the testimony of the blacks is powerless.
As moronic rolls of laughter and cries of "Nigger! Nigger! Mud eater!" wafted from the open windows, Little Man threw his mudball, missing the wheels by several feet. (3.37)
Can you imagine hearing something deeply insulting and hurtful like this shouted out at you day after day? The Logans (and readers) get an earful of the humiliating racist language that was unfortunately standard for the novel's time and place (similar to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). Little Man reacts to this in really the only way he can—with a sort of powerless rage. Smart boy. Anything more than that could get him into some serious trouble.
"Tarred and feathered him [...] I dunno if y'all's little ears should hear this, but it seems he called Mr. Jim Barnett a liar—he's the man who runs the Mercantile down in Strawberry. Mr. Tatum's s'pose to done told him that he ain't ordered up all them things Mr. Barnett done charged him for. Mr. Barnett said he had all them things Mr. Tatum ordered writ down and when Mr. Tatum asked to see that list of his, Mr. Barnett says, "You callin' me a liar, boy?" And Mr. Tatum says, "Yessuh, I guess I is!" That done it." (4.99)
It may sound funny, but being tarred and feathered is no joke. It was actually a quite brutal practice. How is Mr. Tatum's speech here courageous? What else might be he taking a stand against in addition to just an incorrect order at the market?
But she did not speak directly of what the Wallaces had done to the Berrys, for as she explained later, that was something that wavered between the known and the unknown and to mention it outright to anyone outside of those with whom you were closest was not wise. There were too many ears that listened for others besides themselves, and too many tongues that wagged to those they shouldn't. (4.256)
Here we can see how news travels in the community. Sometimes the silences speak just as loudly as the words. Mama is powerless to tell the truth about the Wallaces, because speaking out could have serious repercussions, but the truth ends up getting out anyway.
A burning knot formed in my throat and I felt as if my body was not large enough to hold the frustration I felt, nor deep enough to drown the rising anger. (6.125)
Cassie is so mad here that we're a little afraid she might throw a tantrum any second. Like we tell toddlers: use your words. (Only in this case, it's probably a better idea for her to keep her mouth shut.)
Through the evening Papa and Uncle Hammer and Big Ma and Mr. Morrison and Mama lent us their memories, acting out their tales with stageworthy skills, imitating the characters in voice, manner, and action so well that the listeners held their sides with laughter. (7.42)
Imagine having your family act out your favorite episode of Glee at your next major holiday dinner. Not very appetizing, right? Keep in mind, though, that the novel takes place before television, so this type of storytelling was a major source of entertainment for the time. It also fulfills a significant social function: it preserves the history of the family and of the African-American experience. These memories are "lent" to the next generation so that they can make a better future.
A crescendo of ugly hate rose from the men as the second car approached. (11.84)
Language fails and becomes meaningless with the irrational hatred of the lynch mob. There are no words—just an ugly babble of hatred. Yeah, we'd be scared, too.
[T]he boys and I would wear threadbare clothing washed to dishwater color; but always, the taxes and the mortgage would be paid up. (1.18)
The Logans aren't going for eco-conscious street cred here by wearing their clothes until they fall apart. It's actually out of necessity. Like the sharecropping families, the Logans are poor. As we find out, though, they are at least a tiny bit better off than most of the others, since they own their own land.
[A] tall, emaciated-looking boy popped suddenly from a forest trail and swung a thin arm around Stacey. It was T.J. Avery. His younger brother Claude emerged a moment later, smiling weakly as if it pained him to do so. Neither boy had on shoes, and their Sunday clothing, patched and worn, hung loosely upon their frail frames. The Avery family sharecropped on Granger land. (1.20)
The Averys are one of the poorest families in the area, and we find out later they have eight kids (four of them preschoolers). They obviously don't get enough food to eat (look at how skinny they are), and they do not have shoes (which you can imagine must be super difficult in the winter). Are we surprised that T.J. turned out the way he did?
"I got no cash money. Mr. Montier signs for me up at that Wallace store so's I can get my tools, my mule, my seed, my fertilizer, my food, and what few clothes I needs to keep my children from runnin' plumb naked." (4.252)
Mr. Turner exemplifies the poverty of the sharecroppers. Because he's so poor, he has to have his credit at the Wallace store backed by Mr. Montier to buy the things he needs to run his farm and keep his family going. This is pretty much the "company store" model. And if you've read The Grapes of Wrath, this will sound familiar.
"That'll be a few years yet," she answered, readjusting the cardboard lining she had placed in her shoes to protect her feet from the dirt and gravel which could easily seep through the large holes in the soles. She set the shoes on the floor and stepped into them. Now, with the soles facing downward and Mama's feet in them, no one could tell what the shiny exteriors hid; yet I felt uncomfortable for Mama and wished that we had enough money for her to have her shoes fixed, or better still, buy new ones. (6.112)
Imagine if you had to do this on any kind of a regular basis. It would get old very fast. We think Mama is pretty heroic for making sacrifices like this. Plus, Cassie comes off as admirable for wishing her mother had better shoes. The situation really bothers her; she's "uncomfortable" that she has to see her mother wear cardboard lining in her old, worn-out shoes to protect her feet from rocks and pebbles.
Mama had to buy our clothes in shifts, which meant that we each had to wait our turn for new clothes. (6.132)
Did we mention that times are tough? We think we might have. This is just one more example of the hardships the Logan family face.
"When cotton-pickin' time comes, he sells my cotton, takes half of it, pays my debt up at that store and my interest for they credit, then charges me ten to fifteen percent more as "risk" money for signin' for me in the first place. This year I earned me near two hundred dollars after Mr. Montier took his half of the crop money, but I ain't seen a penny of it. In fact, if I manages to come out even without owin' that man nothin', I figures I've had a good year." (4.252)
Slavery may be over, but sharecropping is almost as good. By which we mean bad. The poor farmers will never get out from under the control of the landowners until they are able to buy their own land (like the Logans). And for most of them, that's as likely to happen as Mr. Granger dressing up in a Santa suit and handing out shiny new toys to all the good little girls and boys.
Mama frowned down into the flour barrel. 'Only one tablespoon, Cassie, and not so heaping."
"But, Mama, we always use two."
"That barrel will have to last us until Papa goes back to the railroad. Now put it back." (9.23-25)
Many families had to ration food during the Great Depression, and the Logans are no different. They weren't rich to begin with, but now with their land possibly in jeopardy, they have to stretch things to make them last.
"Mr. Granger making it hard on us, David. Said we gonna have to give him sixty percent of the cotton, 'stead of fifty . . . now that the cotton's planted and it's too late to plant more . . . Don't s'pose though that it makes much difference. The way cotton sells these days, seems the more we plant, the less money we get anyways—" (9.69)
Mr. Granger and the other landowners are punishing the black sharecroppers for boycotting the Wallace store by demanding a higher percentage of cotton for rent. This will put the families in an even worse situation—and some may be kicked off of the land they're renting.
"We'll probably have to sell a couple of the cows and their calves to make them July and August notes . . . maybe even that ole sow. But by the end of August we should have enough cotton to make that September payment." (10.12)
Uh oh. It's never good when you have to start selling your animals. What might be the financial repercussions of selling the farm animals? What does the family do with these animals currently?
"It's better, I think, that you stay clear of this whole thing now, David, and don't give anybody cause to think about you at all, except that you got what was coming to you by losing a quarter of your cotton . . ." (12.143)
This is Mr. Jamison, and there's a significant point buried in here. Papa has lost "a quarter" of the family's cotton crop in the fire. That means that the land may be lost because the Logan family needs every spare cent to pay off the mortgage.
"[The Berrys] live way on the other side of Smellings Creek. They come up to church sometimes." (1.32)
The Berrys can't just hop into their SUV or family van and drive on up from Smellings Creek. They kick it a bit more old school and probably either walk, or (if they're lucky) use a horse and wagon (like the Logans do). Why do you think the Berrys are willing to make this long and uncomfortable journey for church? What important functions does the church fulfill? What do you think the Berrys get out of attending?
The class buildings, with their backs practically against the forest wall, formed a semicircle facing a small one-room church at the opposite edge of the compound. It was to this church that many of the school's students and their parents belonged. (1.91)
The church is literally at the center of the Great Faith Elementary and Secondary School; all of the other buildings physically face it. The arrangement of the space suggests just how important church is to the community. And, don't forget that most of the school supplies and everything else is mostly paid for by church members.
At church the next morning, Mrs. Silas Lanier leaned across me and whispered to Big Ma, 'John Henry Berry died last night." When the announcement was made to the congregation, the deacon prayed for the soul of John Henry Berry and the recovery of his brother, Beacon, and his uncle, Mr. Samuel Berry. But after church, when some of the members stopped by the house to visit, angry hopeless words were spoken (2.51)
A jumping social joint might not be the first descriptor to pop into your head when you think of church. Here, though, we see that it stands at the heart of the social network in the black community, so lots of social activities take place there. It's a place where important news travels and where people can take comfort in each other.
In fact, she said, the county provided very little and much of the money which supported the black schools came from the black churches. (3.5)
Think about the different sources of support here. The county (which is controlled by the white men like Mr. Granger) doesn't exactly have the item "Educate African Americans" high up on its "To Do" list. The church, though, is very invested in its people. This is just one more example we see in the book of the church being foundational to the black community.
"They also said that slavery was good for us because it taught us to be good Christians—like the white people." She sighed deeply, her voice fading into a distant whisper. "But they didn't teach us Christianity to save our souls, but to teach us obedience. They were afraid of slave revolts and they wanted us to learn the Bible's teachings about slaves being loyal to their masters." (6.90)
There's always a downside to a good thing. Like this: religion can be used to teach mindless compliance and obedience. In some ways, Christianity helped to shore up the system of slavery.
"But my mama and daddy they loved each other and they loved us children, and that Christmas they fought them demons out of hell like avenging angels of the Lord." (7.52)
As he reached the door, I cried after him, "Merry Christmas, Jeremy!' Jeremy looked back and smiled shyly. "Merry Christmas to y'all too." (7.92)
You've heard of the "Christmas spirit," right? (And no...we don't mean these Christmas spirits.) Well, after initially dissing Jeremy when he shows up bearing gifts, Cassie chills out a bit and wishes him a Merry Christmas. Check out the "Friendship" section to learn more about why a possible friendship with Jeremy is complicated.
"Good for you, Cassie," replied Lillian Jean enthusiastically. "God'll bless you for it."
"You think so?"
"Why, of course!' she exclaimed. "God wants all his children to do what's right." (8.10-12)
Sorry, Lillian Jean, but you're not God's mouthpiece. It's clear that her idea of what God wants is very different from what is likely taught in most churches. Here, "what's right" seems to mean whatever Lillian Jean happens to think is right at any given time (or what the corrupt Southern whites during this time thought was right).
"You know the Bible says you're s'pose to forgive these things […] But the way I see it, the Bible didn't mean for you to be no fool." (8.34, 38)
Papa is certainly no one's fool, and he's trying to get Cassie to understand A Major Point here. Jesus may have said to "turn the other cheek," but he didn't mean that you should let someone step all over you. There are times when you have to take a stand—and Papa's trying to teach Cassie when that is appropriate (and when it's not worth it, like in the situation with Lillian Jean).
"Lord Jesus! Lord Jesus!' cried Mrs. Avery, wrenching herself free from the men who held her and rushing toward her son. "Don't let 'em hurt my baby no more! Kill me, Lord, but not my child!" (11.75)
Even though T.J. has been, well, difficult (don't forget that he disobeys his parents by going to the Wallace store, cheats on tests, etc.), his mother is still willing to sacrifice herself for him. So, it's not surprising that she evokes Jesus. Here, she is ready to suffer for the sins that her son has committed.
"When Henrietta went to the sheriff and told him what she'd seen, he called her a liar and sent her on home. Now I hear tells that some of them men that done it been 'round braggin' 'bout it. Sayin' they'd do it again if some other uppity nigger get out of line." (2.58)
It's a sad fact that in the world of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, law enforcement is unfairly biased toward whites. The Wallaces are not punished for what they do (murder!), even though they go around town bragging about the burnings. The African Americans clearly do not have equal protection under the law.
"You know I'm glad no one was hurt—could've been too with such a deep ditch—but I'm also glad it happened." (3.110)
It's Poetic Justice Time: for their cruelty, the white school children are getting a taste of what it's like to have to walk to school (and keep in mind that some of the black children, like Moe Turner, have a three-and-a-half-hour trek to school). Mama's comment shows justice tempered by mercy, though. The white schoolchildren are getting what they deserve, but haven't been significantly harmed in the process. We'd feel better if they got splashed by mud a few times, just to really get the whole effect, though.
"Ah, shoot! White ain't nothing!' (6.54)
We feel you, Cassie. It seems incredibly unfair to her that people be judged by their skin color, and not less superficial traits (like actions).
"The older children are drinking regularly there now, even though they don't have any money to pay, and the Wallaces are simply adding the liquor charges to the family bill . . . just more money for them as they ruin our young people. As I see it the least we can do is stop shopping there. It may not be real justice, but it'll hurt them and we'll have done something." (7.58)
How is the Wallace story boycott reminiscent of the types of protest strategies used in the Civil Rights movement? Can you think of any more recent examples? A clue: In this case, not of the fried-in-Kentucky variety.
"But even more important than all that, you're pointing a finger right at the Wallaces with this boycott business. You're not only accusing them of murder, which in this case would be only a minor consideration because the man killed was black, but you're saying they should be punished for it. That they should be punished just as if they had killed a white man, and punishment for a white man for a wrong done to a black man would denote equality. Now that is what Harlan Granger absolutely will not permit." (7.153)
So, the boycott means more than just not shopping at the Wallace store and hurting them in the wallet. It goes much deeper than that. The Logans and other sharecroppers want justice for the blacks that were burned and killed. By boycotting the store, they are basically taking a stand against the entire system of oppression that the corrupt whites in the novel are propping up. To cut right to the chase, they're basically asserting their equality to the whites—and that's a dangerous move.
"The sad thing is, you know in the end you can't beat him or the Wallaces."
Papa looked down at the boys and me awaiting his reply, then nodded slightly, as if he agreed. "Still," he said, "I want these children to know we tried, and what we can't do now, maybe one day they will." (7.15-57)
This is a poignant moment in the text. Mr. Jamison (the first speaker here) points out that there is no way the Logans will win with their boycott against the Wallaces. The system of racist oppression and injustice is just too entrenched. Papa doesn't let that stop him, though. He has to set an example of striving against all odds for his children. Someday, he hopes, they can win. And, of course, history shows Papa to be correct.
And she apologized. For herself and for her father. For her brothers and her mother. For Strawberry and Mississippi, and by the time I finished jerking at her head, I think she would have apologized for the world being round had I demanded it. (8.84)
What kind of justice is Cassie dispensing here? Do you think she is right? Are her actions just? Are Lillian Jean's apologies sincere?
It seemed to me that since the Wallaces had attacked Papa and Mr. Morrison, the simplest thing to do would be to tell the sheriff and have them put in jail, but Mama said things didn't work that way. She explained that as long as the Wallaces, embarrassed by their injuries at the hands of Mr. Morrison, did not make an official complaint about the incident, then we must remain silent also. If we did not, Mr. Morrison could be charged with attacking white men, which could possibly end in his being sentenced to the chain, or worse. (10.88)
Yes: it really should be that simple, shouldn't it, Cassie? But nothing's simple in the pre-Civil Rights South—unless you're white.
But once out of the car, [Mr. Jamison] stood very still, surveying the scene; then he stared at each of the men as if preparing to charge them in the courtroom and said softly, "Y'all decide to hold court out here tonight?" (11.77)
You go, Mr. Jamison! Look at how he puts a stop to the little kangaroo court that the Wallaces and Simmses are about to call to session to punish T.J. for his "crimes." Mr. Jamison, one of the few white supporters of the black community in the novel, firmly but quietly reminds the rabble that they are not, despite what they might think, a rightful court of law.
"Mr. Granger sent word by me that he ain't gonna stand for no hanging on his place. He say y'all touch one hair on that boy's head while he on this land, he's gonna hold every man here responsible." (11.86)
So, why the italics here? Taylor doesn't use them very much, so they must mean something, right? Well, try saying this sheriff's sentence aloud, and place heavy emphasis on those two italicized words. Good. Now, try doing that but raise your eyebrows ominously on those italicized words. See how that adds emphasis? Good. Finally, do both of those things, and throw in a nod of your head toward your neighbor's yard. See what the sheriff's saying now? Don't do it here, but Mr. Granger doesn't have any particular qualms about you doing it over there.
Stacey and I carried cans of milk and butter, and Christopher-John and Little Man each had a jar of beef and a jar of crowder peas which Mama and Big Ma had canned. Mrs. Berry took the food, her thanks intermingled with questions about Big Ma, Papa, and others" (4.248)
The Logans take care of the less fortunate members of their community. It even seems like they feel this is part of their responsibility, since they're a bit more privileged than others.
"What if someone would be willing to make the trip for you? Go all the way to Vicksburg and bring back what you need?" (4.261)
Here, we see the beginning of Mama's future community organizing activities. The wheels are turning in her head to find a way to help out the neighboring families to have a choice of where they shop.
"Mr. Avery come by after y'all was asleep last night wanting T.J. to go to Strawberry to do some shopping for a few things he couldn't get at the Wallace store. Lord, that's all I need with all the trouble about is for that child to talk me to death for twenty-two miles." (5.5)
So, the secret is out: this is why Cassie all of a sudden gets her big break and is allowed to go to the market in Strawberry for the first time—because Big Ma doesn't want to hear T.J. run his mouth the whole way with no one else to serve as a "buffer" between them. But here's the catch: we think Big Ma would have taken T.J. by herself anyway. That's just the kind of community spirit she embodies.
"What we give to our own people is far more important because it's given freely. Now you may have to call Lillian Jean 'Miss' because the white people say so, but you'll also call our own young ladies at church 'Miss' because you really do respect them." (6.94)
Cassie here learns a major lesson, although it doesn't sink in right away. Mama teaches her the difference between empty respect and earned respect. Being forced to address someone as "Miss" isn't true respect, so Cassie shouldn't feel humiliated.
Through the evening Papa and Uncle Hammer and Big Ma and Mr. Morrison and Mama lent us their memories, acting out their tales with stageworthy skills, imitating the characters in voice, manner, and action so well that the listeners held their sides with laughter. (7.42)
How does this type of storytelling work to strengthen bonds between members of the family and the community? Are there parallel examples of the children also engaging in such storytelling?
After the church services, the Averys returned home with us for Christmas dinner. All eight of the Avery children, including the four pre-schoolers, crowded into the kitchen with the boys and me, smelling the delicious aromas and awaiting the call to eat. (7.75)
Why do you think Taylor specifically mentions the number of children in the Avery family here? What larger point about "community" is she trying to make?
Stacey took one handle of her heavy black satchel and I took the other. Christopher-Jean and Little Man each took one of her hands, and we started across the lawn. (8.113)
Check out how the family literally carries the load for Mama after she's fired. They comfort her with their presence and support, so sharing her burden is both literal and figurative.
"I ain't never had no children of my own. I think sometimes if I had, I'd've wanted a son and daughter just like you and Mr. Logan . . . and grandbabies like these babies of yours . . ." (10.76)
Okay, this makes us kind of sad for Mr. Morrison. Why do you think he doesn't have a wife or kids? What do we know about his family history?
[The revival] was the year's only planned social event, disrupting the humdrum of everyday country life. Teenagers courted openly, adults met with relatives and friends they had not seen since the previous year's "big meeting," and children ran almost free. (10.141)
Courting openly! Kids these days! Seriously, though: remember that people couldn't just jump into their cars and go wherever they wanted, and most people didn't have the money to throw parties. Why do you think the revival meeting is the major social event of the year? Do you think this community gets other opportunities to socialize like this? What might be some reasons that they do not?
No matter how low the pantry supplies, each family always managed to contribute something, and as the churchgoers made the rounds from table to table, hard times were forgotten at least for the day.
You ever hear that old Stone Soup story? Well, this is a rendition of it. Everyone pitches in to produce something that everyone can enjoy.
"Look out there, Cassie girl. All that belongs to you. You ain't never had to live on nobody's place but your own and long as I live and the family survives, you'll never have to. That's important. You may not understand that now, but one day you will. Then you'll see." (1.17)
It's all about independence for Papa. And the land that they own allows them to have more independence than the vast majority of the other black people in the area. (Well, when you put it like that, it makes sense.)
Some if it belonged to Stacey, Christopher-John, and Little Man, not to mention the part that belonged to Big Ma, Mama, and Uncle Hammer [...] But Papa never divided the land in his mind; it was simply Logan land. (1.18)
Why is it so important for Papa to think of the land as whole and undivided, even though parts of it actually belong to different family members? Do you think this has anything to do with why Big Ma later signs over ownership to the land to Papa and Uncle Hammer?
"They go away, they always come back to it. Couldn't leave it […] [N]ow all the boys I got is my baby boys, your papa and your Uncle Hammer, and this they place as much as it is mine. They blood's in this land, and here that Harlan Granger always talkin' 'bout buyin' it." (4.236-37)
This is Big Ma talking about the Logan land. Their connection to the land is deep—their "blood's in this land." Does working the land and being willing to fight for it (in some cases, literally shedding blood) mean more than the the type of ownership Mr. Granger wants to assert?
"If you remember nothing else in your whole life, Cassie girl, remember this: We ain't never gonna lose this land." (7.68)
Never say "Never," Papa—especially considering the danger the land is in at the end of the book. Here, though, Papa tries to reassure Cassie when she's afraid they'll lose the land if they use it to back people's credit.
As we neared the pond, the forest gapped open into a wide, brown glade, man-made by the felling of many trees, some of them still on the ground. They had been cut during the summer after Mr. Andersen came from Strawberry with an offer to buy the trees. The offer was backed with a threat, and Big Ma was afraid. So Andersen's lumbermen came, chopping and sawing, destroying the fine old trees. Papa was away on the railroad then but Mama sent Stacey for him. He returned and stopped the cutting, but not before many of the trees had already fallen. (4.214)
Okay, seriously. This is low behavior. Here, Cassie remembers when a white businessman threatened to make the Logans sell some of their trees. What threats now face the Logan land? What could be the consequences of fighting back against these threats?
"For a while we stood looking again at the destruction, then, sitting on one of our fallen friends, we talked in quiet, respectful tones, observing the soft mourning of the forest" (8.33).
Cassie and Big Ma show respect for their land and the things that are nurtured upon it. So, she's not out cavorting with sparrows and squirrels like Sleeping Beauty, but Cassie does seem to have a real connection with nature throughout the novel.
"You were born blessed, boy, with land of your own. If you hadn't been, you'd cry out for it while you try to survive . . . like Mr. Lanier and Mr. Avery. Maybe even do what they doing now. It's hard on a man to give up, but sometimes it seems there just ain't nothing else he can do." (9.87)
Do you blame Mr. Lanier and Mr. Avery for giving up? Why or why not?
"What good's a car? It can't grow cotton. You can't build a home on it. And you can't raise four fine babies in it." (10.164)
So they drive the same car... so what? Here's the big difference between Uncle Hammer and Mr. Granger. Even though they're both fairly well-off, and both drive the same slick Packard car, in the end, Uncle Hammer is a generous man willing to sacrifice for his family, while Mr. Granger is just a greedy man who cares more about his land than about human life.
"You see that fig tree over yonder, Cassie? Them other trees all around . . . that oak and walnut, they're a lot bigger and they take up more room and give so much shade they almost overshadow that little ole fig. But that fig tree's got roots that run deep, and it belongs in that yard as much as that oak and walnut. It keeps on blooming, bearing good fruit year after year, knowing all the time it'll never get as big as them other trees. Just keeps on growing and doing what it gotta do. It don't give up. It give up, it'll die. There's a lesson to be learned from that little tree, Cassie girl, 'cause we're like it. We keep doing what we gotta, and we don't give up. We can't." (9.91)
If you guessed that this passage is important because it's one of the only extended metaphors in the novel, you're totally correct. The fig tree is one of the major symbols in the book, and stands for the Logan family and its connection to the land.
Near the slope where once cotton stalks had stood, their brown bolls popping with tiny puffs of cotton, the land was charred, desolate, black, still steaming from the night. (12.85)
So this is why Cassie cries for the land at the end of the book: it's been wounded. Plus, the "still steaming" imagery means that the struggle isn't over yet. Since a quarter of Papa's cotton crop was destroyed, the Logan family land is in serious danger.
Because the students were needed in the fields from early spring when the cotton was planted until after most of the cotton had been picked in the fall, the school adjusted its terms accordingly, beginning in October and dismissing in March. But even so, after today a number of the older students would not be seen again for a month or two, not until the last puff of cotton had been gleaned from the fields, and eventually most would drop out of school altogether. (1.91)
"And to all our little first grade friends only today starting on the road to knowledge and education, may your tiny feet find the pathways of learning steady and forever before you." (1.103)
What is Miss Crocker's tone here? Do you think she is honestly concerned for the children's education? What do we know about her that might complicate this view?
"See, Miz Crocker, see what it says? They give us these ole books when they didn't want 'em no more." (1.143)
Cassie sees the degrading language in the schoolbook, and realizes that their school (the black school) only gets these "new" textbooks when they are totally unsuitable for the white children's school. Talk about humiliating.
"In the first place no one cares enough to come down here, and in the second place if anyone should come, maybe he could see all the things we need—current books for all of our subjects, not just somebody's old throwaways, desks, paper, blackboards, erasers, maps, chalk. . ." (1.169)
No matter how poorly funded your school is, it's probably not nearly as bad off as Great Faith Elementary and Secondary school.
"One day you'll have a plenty of clothes and maybe even a car of yo' own to ride 'round in, so don't you pay no mind to them ignorant white folks. You jus' keep on studyin' and get yo'self a good education and you'll be all right." (3.12)
Don't be a fool—stay in school! Big Mama gives basically this pep talk to Little Man when he gets frustrated at being doused in mud every day on the walk to school. Education was seen as a way out of poverty, and could provide some upward mobility (like Mama and the school principal). Plus, maybe having a car like Uncle Hammer isn't a bad perk.
In addition to the books there was a sockful of once-a-year store-bought licorice, oranges, and bananas for each of us and from Uncle Hammer a dress and a sweater for me, and a sweater and a pair of pants each for Christopher-John and Little Man. But nothing compared to the books [...] Little Man [...] throughout the day [...] lay upon the deerskin rug looking at the bright, shining pictures of faraway places, turning each page as if it were gold [...]' (7.74)
Sweaters, schmweaters. We here at Shmoop are totally on board with Cassie's attitude toward getting books as gifts. The books the children receive are more valuable than the sweets and the clothing (which they really need). Check out the word choice here: "bright," "shining," "gold." These books are treasured by the children.
"You sure giving folks something to talk 'bout with that car of yours, Hammer," Mr. Granger said in his folksy dialect as he sat down with a grunt across from Papa. In spite of his college education he always spoke this way. (7.164)
What's the effect of the contrast between Mr. Granger's "folksy" way of talking and his college degree? Why do you think Taylor points this out? What insight does it give us on his personality? Is there a negative connotation to this?
"Son, your mama ...she's born to teaching like the sun is born to shine. And it's gonna be hard on her not teaching anymore. It's gonna be real hard 'cause ever since she was a wee bitty girl down in the Delta she wanted to be a teacher." (8.132)
Teaching is a natural part of Mrs. Logan's character, just like the "sun is born to shine." There's a downside to this imagery, though. Since she can't teach anymore, her world is about to turn dark (figuratively speaking), since this job is her calling.
"But he'd [Mama's dad] promised your grandmama 'fore she died to see that your mama got an education, and when your mama 'come high school age, he sent her up to Jackson to school, then on to teacher training school." (8.134)
If you're wondering what "teacher training school" was, check out this link. We don't really use that term anymore; we just call it "going to college to get an education degree." You'll get a nice run-down of the training Mama received back in the Depression era, and how it might be different from how teachers are educated now.
But although every living thing knew it was spring, Miss Crocker and the other teachers evidently did not, for school lingered on indefinitely. In the last week of March when Papa and Mr. Morrison began to plow the east field, I volunteered to sacrifice school and help them. My offer was refused and I trudged wearily to school for another week. (9.2).
We've already seen that fieldwork interferes with the black children's educations (their school year is cut short). Many of the kids not much older than Cassie end up dropping out of school altogether (1.90). But the Logan family places such value on education that they aren't willing to let Cassie sacrifice hers—even though she'd probably be a big help at home.
No one answered him and he said no more. When we reached the crossroads, he looked hopefully at us as if we might relent and say good-bye. But we did not relent and as I glanced back at him standing alone in the middle of the crossing, he looked as if the world itself was slung around his neck. (3.48)
Things look pretty rough for Jeremy Simms here. Just check out Taylor's word choice—it's very somber and heavy. Why is Jeremy "hopeful"? Why do you think he looks like "the world itself was slung around his neck"?
"Friends gotta trust each other, Stacey, 'cause ain't nothin' like a true friend." (4.117)
Irony alert. First, T.J. says that friends have to trust each other. But think about what he's doing right now: going through Mrs. Logan's room to find the test questions. Second, T.J. is not a true friend to Stacey, but Stacey is a true friend to T.J.
Anybody who was a friend of Papa's was all right in our book; besides, when he was near, night men and burnings and midnight tarrings faded into a hazy distance. (4.119)
Friendship is security, like a warm blanket. Mr. Morrison is a friend, and brings Cassie a feeling of safety. He would need one honkin' huge blanket for himself, though.
"It—it ain't much," stammered Jeremy as Stacey tore off the wrapping. "M-made it myself." Stacey slid his fingers down the smooth, sanded back of a wooden flute. "Go 'head and try it," said a pleased Jeremy. "It blows real nice." (7.85)
We have to hand it to Jeremy for putting himself out there like this. Why do you think Jeremy's stammering here? What kind of a risk is he taking as he gives this gift to Stacey? Ugh, this scene kind of bums us out.
"Actually, he's much easier to get along with than T.J.," Stacey went on. 'And I s'pose if I let him, he could be a better friend than T.J." (7.106)
For Taylor, friendship is not just a black and white issue (so to speak). It's shaded and nuanced. T.J. may be black, but he's actually less of a friend than Jeremy, who's too dangerous to befriend.
"Far as I'm concerned, friendship between black and white don't mean that much 'cause it usually ain't on an equal basis. Right now you and Jeremy might get along fine, but in a few years he'll think of himself as a man but you'll probably still be a boy to him. And if he feels that way, he'll turn on you in a minute." (7.107)
This is a hard lesson for Stacey to learn: he can't be friends with Jeremy because the two aren't on equal footing. In what ways has this changed since the 1930s? Do you think that everyone is on equal footing now, so that this type of friendship can totally work?
"Maybe one day whites and blacks can be real friends, but right now the country ain't built that way. Now you could be right 'bout Jeremy making a much finer friend than T.J. ever will be. The trouble is, down here in Mississippi, it costs too much to find out . . . So I think you'd better not try." (7.109)
Is it worth the risk for Stacey to try out a friendship with Jeremy? What do you think would happen in a sequel to this story that featured a growing friendship between Stacey and T.J. as the main plotline? Do you think the same type of violence might erupt as happens here?
As I stood in the doorway, he lingered over [the flute], then, carefully rewrapping it, placed it in his box of treasured things. I never saw the flute again. (7.111)
Stacey clearly values the flute that Jeremy has made for him. He "linger[s]" over it, and then places it in his treasure box. What is the significance of Cassie never seeing the flute again? Do you think that has positive or negative connotations?
"They just don't do him right."
"How?" asked Stacey.
"Thought you didn't like him no more."
"Well. . . I don't," replied Stacey defensively. 'But I heard he was running 'round with R.W. and Melvin. I wondered why." (9.17-20)
Stacey clearly still feels something in the friendship realm towards T.J., and doesn't like how he's being treated. The suspicious pause here clinches it.
As far back as I could remember, Stacey had felt a responsibility for T.J. I had never really understood why. Perhaps he felt that even a person as despicable as T.J. needed someone he could call "friend," or perhaps he sensed T.J."s vulnerability better than T.J. did himself. (11.41)
Friends—or frenemies? What are some characteristics of their relationship that qualify as "friendship"? In what ways does their relationship seem to not be "friendship"?