Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry: Chapters 10-12
Papa’s broken leg is worrisome for several reasons, not least of which is making the mortgage payments without his railroad work. Papa resists borrowing money from his brother Hammer, who he fears will discover why and come to take revenge on those responsible for his injury and likely get himself in trouble, too. Mr. Morrison emerges from the shed in which he’s been staying and announces he’s going to see about some work down at the Wiggins’ farm, and agrees the children can come along. On the way back, when a truck comes into view, he tells Cassie to get in back, and Kaleb Wallace approaches the wagon. Mr. Morrison calmly asks him to move the truck blocking their path, and when the white man refuses, gets down and picks it up himself, moving it aside. The story soon makes its way back to the children via Jeremy Simms, who tells them of his tree house, which he invites them to come and see sometime. Stacey coldly refuses and Jeremy seems to understand, though offers to help them build their own sometime anyway.
Mr. Morrison has just returned from making the August mortgage payment in Strawberry and hands Papa an envelope, which he opens and then becomes angry. Their note has come due ahead of schedule, and Papa is ready to go and fight immediately. Mama calms him down and convinces him to wait until the next day, and with cooler heads prevailing he calls Hammer. By the time of the church revival, Hammer has joined them all, but has had to sell his car among other things to make the payment. He’s only in town a short while, which the children lament, but the adults are relieved he came and went without anything setting off his temper.
T.J. makes an appearance at the revival, his new friends, R.W. and Melvin Simms, in tow. T.J. announces they’ve been giving him everything he wants, from the suit coat he’s wearing to anything he asks for. They’ve even offered him the pearl-handed pistol he’d been coveting since he first laid eyes on it at the Barnett store in Strawberry.
Thunder is audible in the distance when Cassie wakes in the night to Mr. Morrison humming a low spiritual and T.J. tapping at the window. He explains the Simms brothers have gotten him into big trouble, and begs Stacey to help him home. Stacey refuses until knowing what has happened, and T.J. tells of how when they got to town the store was closed, but R.W. and Melvin decided to help themselves anyway, urging T.J. behind the counter to take the pistol. The white boys had covered their faces with dark stockings, so weren’t recognized when the Barnetts awakened and descended to defend their property. The Simmses beat the couple, and when T.J. threatened to tell on them, beat him, too. He crawled from their truck and got a ride with a farmer close enough to limp to the Logans.
Stacey agrees to walk T.J. home but Cassie refuses to be left behind, and soon Christopher-John and Little Man are with them, watching from the woods as T.J. slips in his bedroom window. Immediately afterwards, Kaleb and Thurston Wallace appear among the half dozen cars that have pulled up with their headlights on. Cassie and her younger brothers agree to run home, but not before watching the Averys come outside only to be beaten, and Mr. Jamison and the sheriff join the Simms as the anger continues unabated to threaten T.J’s life.
Before their parents can punish them for being out in the middle of the night, Cassie blurts out the horrible happenings down the road, and Papa grabs his gun. Mama begs him not to use it, but he can only promise he’ll do what he has to do, and adds that she will, too. Waiting with Mama and Big Ma, the children are nervous, and before long smell smoke. Mama realizes lightning must have set fire to the cotton, and she rushes to put out the blaze, insisting the children stay in the house. Jeremy Simms shows up to check they are all right, having seen everything from his tree house loft. He tells them Stacey and everyone are fine, looking at them strangely for asking whether Papa is all right. It’s Stacey who Cassie forces to tell the details when he gets home. He starts telling from when Mr. Morrison had found him in the woods, but is interrupted when Papa and Mr. Morrison are told by Mr. Jamison that Jim Lee Barnett has died from his wounds. Cassie realizes suddenly why Mr. Morrison came for Stacey alone; the fire was no accident, but had been deliberately set by Papa to distract the white men and avoid bloodshed. His efforts may have prevented a lynching, but T.J. is not fated to live much longer. Cassie recognizes that he will not be there when they next march to school, and she cries for the loss, “for those things that happened in the night and would not pass,” “for T.J., and for the land.”
Analysis Chapters 10-12
The song Mr. Morrison sings at the beginning of chapter 11 is a spiritual that was sung by slaves before the Civil War. It begins with the words “Roll of thunder, Hear my cry” and explains the origin of the book’s title. Its use here shows that in some respects, conditions in the South have not changed, because black people are still being oppressed by whites. However, as the last line of the song states (“But I ain’t gonna let him turn me around”), black people are also defiant and do not accept the subservient position in which they have been placed.
The economic tension builds towards the bank calling for the Logans’ payment of the note to their land. First, Papa was hurt physically by the Wallaces, and this he escaped with just a broken leg, faring quite a bit better than the Berry men they’d burned. But the economic penalty now invoked and the threat of the loss of land are a lot more potentially damaging.
T.J. pays for his multiple betrayals with his life, currently serving a term in jail but likely to die on the chain gang. Even without sharing in the responsibility for the horrors that have befallen her community, Cassie is left with little recourse but to weep. Mississippi is quite literally burning with pent-up rage, and the sacrifice of youthful T.J. may not be enough to hold back further fires from flaming and continuing to destroy. Interestingly, the fire set by Papa as a creative alternative to shooting, creates a moment of solidarity, with blacks and whites working together to save the cotton fields. Since Harlan Granger could not be motivated to act out of a sense of justice, Papa cleverly found a way to provoke him to act out of a desire to save his own land. The white man has acted as a foil for Papa throughout the novel; both men care a great deal about their families and take great pride in owning their own land. But in contrast to Papa teaching his family to look out for one another and the greater community, Harlan Granger has resisted participating in healing the racial tensions until forced to take action to preserve his own property.
In contrast to the white adults in the novel, Jeremy Simms is the sole white character to see things differently, or as they might be. From his tree house he insists he can see the Logan farm, and that from high above the realities on the ground, there is hope for equality, a naive vision Stacey quickly dismisses. The night of the fire, the Logan children are silent night-time witnesses to a potential change in racial relations in the coming era, and there is hope for calm after the storm. But there is little evidence that the future is any more predictable than the weather. Just as rain throughout the novel has relieved anger, so does it now fall on the men and women working side by side against forces beyond their control. With race nearly erased by their improvised coverings against the storm, they fight the fire with their limited tools, but depend in the end upon the sky extinguishing what they could not. This sense of helplessness is apparent in Cassie’s concluding thought, that while some things will pass, her memory of this year’s events will stay with her forever.