Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry: Chapters 7-9
Mama’s ready to shorten the sleeves of Stacey’s new coat, and he must admit he gave it to T.J. She is outraged and orders him go to get it, but Hammer disagrees and talks to him instead, rebuking Stacey for his stupidity in being talked out of his own best interest. The tongue-lashing makes quite an impression on Cassie and her other brothers, who exhibit good behavior these days before Christmas. But Cassie is fed up with T.J.’s praise of the fineness of the coat now in his possession, and in contrast to Stacey who “learned from his mistake and became stronger for it” she “was not so restrained” and would enjoy nothing more than if T.J. “hit the dirt at the same time as “Miss” Lillian Jean” (110).
Papa finally arrives home on Christmas Eve and tells his adoring audience of his own childhood, including an episode with Night Men who burned down the family home, killing his sisters. His parents fought like bulls, and Papa comments that they were from “breeded stock.” Mr. Morrison explains to Cassie about his own origins, as he, too, was bred, like an animal, for strength, as that quality brought a better price at the slave market. Cassie awakes in the night to adult voices discussing the land, but Papa returns her to the warm bed, assuring her “we ain’t never gonna lose this land” (115).
Christmas brings books for each of the children, as well as fruit and even clothing from Uncle Hammer. After church, the Averys join the Logans for Christmas dinner, a memorable meal which concludes with a “timid knock on the front door” from Jeremy Simms, who brings nuts for the family and a hand-whittled flute for Stacey, which he hesitantly accepts before Jeremy is sent home.
The next morning, Papa whips them all for their visit to the Wallace store, which they had hoped he would not be told about, and he and Hammer and Mr. Morrison drive to Vicksburg to attend to some business. Soon after their return home, Mr. Jamison, the white lawyer, arrives with lemon drops and fruit cake, and papers relating to the sale of the land. Big Ma wants to transfer it into her sons’ names to ensure no trouble about the rights to the land after her death. He leaves only after commenting about the trend towards shopping in Vicksburg, and reminds them how strongly Harlan Granger resents that they won’t sell this land back to him. He warns against the Logans’ backing others’ credit with their deed to the land, as Harlan Granger leases the store land to the Wallaces and makes a profit from the store’s sales.
A few days later, after a shopping trip to Vicksburg, Harlan Granger arrives, and after making a nasty face upon seeing the matching silver Packard in the barn, talks with the adults about the land. Hammer responds to the allegation that he makes his money up north bootlegging whiskey by saying he’s paid a man’s wages for a man’s work in Chicago. Before he leaves, he threatens he’ll recover the land, “Granger land before it was Logan,” whatever it takes. Papa reminds him it was slave land, to which Harlan Granger replies it was “stolen by your Yankee carpetbaggers after the war. But y’all keep on playing Santa Claus and I’m gonna get it back-real easy” (128).
Cassie is now cooperating with “Miss” Lillian Jean, following her and carrying her books. Uncle Hammer has left after New Year’s, and Cassie and her father share a moment in the woods, where he tells her there are some things better left alone, and other things you can’t back down on: “You have to demand respect in this world, ain’t nobody just gonna hand it to you” (134). All month, Cassie continues to cultivate her friendship with Lillian Jean, earning her confidence until she’s even confiding secrets such as the boy she likes. Then she decides the moment has come, and tells the white girl she has a surprise for her down in the woods, enticing her to enter a clearing where Cassie smashes her books to the ground and the two wind up fighting. Cassie knows Lillian Jean won’t tell for fear of having her secrets aired, besides the humiliation of being thirteen and beaten up by a nine-year-old.
Cassie is daydreaming in Miss Crocker’s class when she notices Kaleb Wallace and Harlan Granger enter her mother’s classroom. She gets excused and follows them, overhearing their criticism of the papered-over covers and then Harlan Granger’s snide comment “in fact . . . you so smart I expect you’d best just forget about teaching altogether.” Mama is dignified in accepting the fact that she’s been fired, and the family rallies round her in support.
At recess the next day it comes out that T.J. had told Kaleb Wallace about Mama’s teaching, about failing him and suggesting the boycott of his store. The children follow Stacey, excitedly anticipating his revenge, but he decides not to beat him up. A week later, when T.J. returns to school, he is met with silence as the others ignore him and walk away when he speaks to them.
Spring has arrived, and the children are walking with Jeremy Simms, who is dismayed that he’ll soon lose his only friends to the fields, while he and the other white children must keep going to school. He shares that his older brothers, R.W. and Melvin, have outwardly befriended T.J., but mock him behind his back. Mr. Jamison pays another visit to the house, and Papa has surprisingly not yet returned to the railroad. Mr. Avery comes by and says he’s changed his mind about shopping in Vicksburg; he and the other sharecroppers have been threatened that if they can’t pay their debts they’ll have to work it off on the chain gang. Only seven families remain committed to the boycott, but Papa, Stacey and Mr. Morrison go to Vicksburg as planned, though are late in returning. The family’s fears are confirmed when Mr. Morrison carries Papa in. His leg is broken and he’s been shot, though the bullet didn’t lodge in his head. Cassie corners Stacey who is persuaded to explain the delay and Papa’s injuries. On the way home in the rain, there was something wrong with the wagon wheels, which came unhitched together. Papa suspected foul play but had no choice but to try to put them back on, and while he was underneath the back wheels a truck pulled up and blocked their path. Someone shot at Papa, spooking Jack, and Stacey couldn’t hold the horse to prevent him pulling the full wagon right over Papa’s leg. Eager for details, the other children beg him for the identity of the mysterious culprit, none other than Kaleb and Thurston Wallace.
Analysis Chapters 7-9
Christmas is a symbolic high-point in the story, with Papa’s homecoming representing family unity and a season of joy. Several religious parallels are evident in this season of giving, with Jeremy Simms giving Stacey what little he can, a homemade flute, evocative of the Little Drummer boy in the Christian song of that name. The theme of friendship emerges, but in the novel is limited to those of the same race. Jeremy’s friendship is a gift Stacey cannot accept due to the unequal power dynamics of blacks and whites in greater society, and similarly Cassie simulates friendship with Lillian Jean, fooling the older girl into trusting her and suggesting they cannot really reconcile due to the larger backdrop of racism around them. Only T.J. seems deluded enough to believe he can really be friends with R.W. and Melvin Simms. At one point, he calls Cassie an “Uncle Tom” for her subservience to Lillian Jean, a reference to the title character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The irony is that it is T.J., not Cassie, who is in danger of losing himself in his eagerness to please the whites around him, and who might more appropriately be referred to in this derogatory manner.
In contrast to false friendships, the Logan family’s togetherness remains unbroken, even with both Mama being fired and Papa’s leg being broken. Stacey, approaching adolescence, clearly blames himself for the latter, and also feels somewhat responsible for T.J.’s role in Mama losing her job. Like Cassie, he is outgrowing childhood, and assuming a more adult role in the novel. Unlike the older but less mature T.J., Stacey may not fill out his coat physically, but is clear about morality in his own quiet way. His trip with Papa the year before was partially responsible for his learning about the ways of the world, but his moral compass is primarily attributed to good parenting.
The adults worry about finances, but insist the children stay at least somewhat shielded from such harsh realities. Meanwhile there is little they can do to protect them from the unpleasant treatment of the black population of Mississippi.