Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry: Chapters 4-6
Upset the next day while churning butter, Cassie is tempted to blurt out the whole truth, but remembering the pact she and others swore to Stacey that they would keep their role in the bus mishap a complete secret, she says nothing. After tumbling from a stool due to her distraction, she is sent out with the boys to sit by the fire, where all are listening to T.J. who chatters about everything from cheating to visiting the Wallace store to the Night Men’s visit. Finally striking this point of interest, he continues, telling of last week’s tarring and feathering episode nearer town. Christopher-John concludes the nighttime visit was unrelated to the bus, and it takes a moment for the Logan children to notice T.J.’s absence. They find him looking at books in Mama’s desk, but he replies smoothly to their accusing glances that friends must trust each other, and that he wasn’t looking for the test questions on their upcoming history test.
The trust was obviously misplaced, for the cheat notes come out and when Stacey takes them away from T.J. during the test, Mama catches and punishes him instead. After school lets out, the rest of the children watch T.J. run from the building towards the Wallace store, and inform Stacey when he emerges. Although he tries to steer his siblings home, Cassie and the boys follow and see Kaleb Wallace behind the counter. He sends them round back to the music where they are confused by the “dancing” of older couples back there, then watch the fight that breaks out between Stacey and T.J. until Mr. Morrison arrives and breaks it up. As they ride home, Stacey is afraid Mr. Morrison will tell his mother, a role the older man declines, suggesting quietly that is for Stacey to do himself. As Jack pulls his load home, they witness Mr. Granger’s car leaving, but Big Ma is elusive as to the reason for the visit. Cassie loves listening to her tell of the “Caroline,” the tree-lined portion of the land her husband Paul Edward named for her. When they return to the house, the children are surprised to be spared punishment, but when their mother takes them to visit the ailing Berrys the next day, it is clear she had another lesson in mind. The haunting image of the speechless barely human form stays with Cassie as they continue visiting black families in the area, warning them, too, of the Wallaces’ behavior and suggesting they, too, shop in Vicksburg rather than giving business to such a family. This presents a problem to sharecropping families like the Turners, who depend on store credit until their crops come in, but Mama convinces them to at least consider switching should they find someone to sign for them.
A week has passed and it is market day in Strawberry, the first time Cassie’s pleas to go are met with approval. Big Ma prepares the wagon at 3:30 in the morning, and Stacey and T.J. are the sole other passengers going into town. Cassie is disappointed at the small town, and further dismayed that the family’s spot in the market is so far back and hard to find. She suggests moving it to a more favorable place, but Big Ma explains only white families sell up front. Rather than waiting for Big Ma as instructed, the three children walk to the store run by Jim Lee Barnett, where T.J. ogles a pearl-handled pistol. T.J. has an order to fill, but after beginning to gather the items on his list, Mr. Barnett tends to other customers before finishing. Cassie approaches him and reminds him they were first, and an outraged Mr. Barnett bellows “whose little nigger is this” before Stacey can whisk her away, forbidden from ever returning. To add insult to injury, Cassie literally bumps into Lillian Jean Simms, who insists she not only apologize but get down in the road off the sidewalk to do so, which Cassie refuses to do. Mr. Charlie Simms arrives and forces her to do as his daughter says, and far from protecting Cassie from this indignity, Big Ma is complicit in forcing her to apologize to “Miz Lillian Jean.” As Cassie reflects, “no day in all my life had ever been as cruel as this one” (87).
Cassie’s resentment of her mistreatment in town disappears upon returning home to an unexpected visit from Uncle Hammer, whose silver Packard is at first mistaken for Mr. Granger’s. When Cassie tells him of the day’s humiliations, he dashes off in anger to the Simms’, and it is all Mama can do to send Mr. Morrison after him in an attempt to quell his temper. She explains to Cassie why Mr. Simms behaved as he did, believing “white people are better than black people to make himself feel big” (96) and launching into a history lesson on slavery. She concludes that blacks give whites not respect but fear, and summarizes “Baby, we have no choice of what color we’re born or who our parents are or whether we’re rich or poor. What we do have is some choice over what we make of our lives once we’re here” (97). The next morning, all are relieved that Mr. Morrison was successful in bringing Uncle Hammer back, as Mama had said she knew would happen. As the family dresses for church, Hammer comments on Stacey’s threadbare coat, and gives him his Christmas present early. It’s a new wool coat, a bit big, but Stacey beams his thanks until T.J. teases him that it makes him look like a preacher, calling him “Reverend Logan.” The family takes a ride around town in Hammer’s car afterwards. As they near a tiny bridge, they see a Model-T truck overflowing with red-headed children about to cross. Rather than wait as expected, Hammer takes advantage of being mistaken for Harlan Granger and shoots across, shocking the white Wallace family on the other side when their true identities become visible. Mama’s words are foreboding that “one day we’ll have to pay for it” (105).
Analysis Chapters 4-6
Further development of the various characters already introduced presents a wide spectrum, from T.J. and his cheating ways to Mama’s gentle reminder to Cassie of the moral choice each individual can choose for him or herself. White characters, too, begin to be better defined, from Lillian Jean Simms and her insistence on being called “Miss” to the efforts of Jeremy Simms to break the race barrier and befriend the Logans. These choices are clearly not easy for adults, either, as the introduction of Hammer Logan and his temper and the pandering of Jim Lee Barnett to customers of his own race make clear. Kaleb Wallace is depicted as an angry and ignorant store owner, but as Cassie’s visit to Strawberry confirms, his attitudes are representative of the white population in town as well.
Hammer and Mr. Jamison are the only characters who know northern, more cosmopolitan ways, and upon returning to his hometown, Hammer cannot resist mocking the local population by driving an identical car to Harlan Granger’s, taunting the Wallaces by zipping across the rickety bridge before they realize who he really is. The playful tone that emerges from a story told by a child contrasts markedly with the very grown-up topic of slavery and its effects over generations. This is especially clear when Cassie ventures for the first time from the safety of her home into the town of Strawberry, which represents the wider world and illustrates a myriad of issues she will soon have to confront. The fact that the black families’ wagons are not permitted in front closer to the customers rankles with Cassie, whose own sense of justice is confused by the unfairness she witnesses in Strawberry, especially when Mr. Barnett waits on other customers before finishing filling T.J.’s order.
Cassie cries in chapter 4 for breaking a bowl, a childish outburst of frustration, and in chapter 5 for the injustice of having to apologize to “Miss” Lillian Jean, an act she considers responsible for the worst day of her life. The changing reason for her tears show she is growing up fast, but as is evident in chapter 6 when Hammer arrives, there are many models of adulthood in the novel, and her uncle is no less hot-headed than Cassie. The Logan parents prevail in maintaining order and calm within the home, but the irascibility of white parents like Charlie Simms can be seen out on the streets of Strawberry.