Roll of Thunder Essay Example
Roll of Thunder Essay Example

Roll of Thunder Essay Example

Available Only on StudyHippo
  • Pages: 13 (3531 words)
  • Published: May 13, 2017
  • Type: Essay
View Entire Sample
Text preview

The importance of education is at the center of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor.  One of the central focuses of the novel is the distinct differences between the white and black schools of the 1930s during the Great Depression in the South.

  The character of Mama Logan is cast into the role of an unconventional teacher that sets out to inspire her students despite their hardships.  The difficulties that the black students face makes it impossible for them to have a normal childhood.  Furthermore, the novel displays how important schooling is to students and families that need to work for the opportunity to receive an education.  For many of the characters in the novel, education serves to give them a strong sense of history and heritage and a connectedness to the black community


and their family.

In the beginning of the tale, the stark differences between white and black school conditions are introduced.  The black children of the Logan family are walking to school while their white counterparts are being bussed to their separate school.  The children must walk in all types of weather and the school is miles away from their home.  While they walk, they must deal with incidents of racism and harassment.

  The children on the bus delight laughing at them and cry out racist comments with no fear of scolding.  Jeremy Simms, a white boy that walks to school with the black children is harassed by his friends and family for attempting to befriend the Logan and the Avery children.  The adult bus driver treats them with hatred and sets a horrible example for the white childre

View entire sample
Join StudyHippo to see entire essay

that he is driving to school.  He delights in attempting to run them off the road and tormenting them with racist curses.

  He revels in the small amount of power that he has over these children.  He finds satisfaction when the children must dive into the bushes or he covers them with dirt.  Despite the horrifying walk to school that they must take on a daily basis, the children still seek out and value an education.The black children’s school is horribly ill equipped.

  The Jefferson Davis County School is the school that Jeremy attends.  Taylor illustrates the type of facility that the white children have access to.  The white school is large with an immaculate lawn and beautiful flowers planted.  Behind the school, there is a massive sports field that the children can play in.

  Even more telling, a Confederate flag is waved in front of the school.  The black school is dramatically different.  The Great Faith Elementary and Secondary School has none of the nice facilities and proper supplies that the white school attains.  It is a pathetic collection of four buildings that are clearly falling apart.  There are over three hundred students that attend, but a mere seven teachers are employed.

  A cow owned by the caretaker roams the grounds munching on the lawn.  Many of the black students do not have shoes and are dressed in rags.  The Logan children have shoes for the first day, but unless it is bitterly cold, they will go barefoot for the rest of the year.  The school calendar for the two schools is altered as well.  The white children begin their school year at the

end of August, but the black children must wait until October following the cotton harvest.  School finishes at the end of March for the black children, but continues into the middle of May for the privileged white kids.

Many of the school children at the black school have to complete their lessons without access to books.  The children are excited to learn that for the present year they will have books to accompany their lessons.  Their excitement is quickly replaced with disappointment when they learn that the books are old, worn and filled with scribbles.  “When Little Man, always fastidious, opens his book to discover it's a discard from the white school, with the word ‘nigra’ inscribed by the board of education inside, he's furious” (Hunt 43).  He throws the book on the floor and stomps on it, demanding a clean one.

  His teacher is outraged at his violent reaction. She whips him with a switch, and when Cassie defends her brother, she whips Cassie as well.  Little Man reacts the way that he does because he is frustrated with the fact that he even has to be confronted with racism in his own school.  The children desire a proper education, but they are well aware of how they are not permitted to the same privileges as white students.  It is simple to perceive that the black students are more appreciative about getting an education and even the scarcest of school supplies are desired.  The white children have the best of everything, but they do not seem content and are not enthusiastic about their education.

The teachers of the Great Faith Elementary and Secondary School, particularly Mrs.

Logan are forced to make the best out of the situation in order to ensure that the students get some sort of education.  When Mrs. Crocker warns that the School Board may inspect the school, Mrs. Logan responds that she would be delighted if they came to inspect the shoddy conditions.

  If the School Board visited, she hopes that they would notice that the school needs desks, paper, maps, blackboards, erasers, and chalk.  To solve the problem of the racist slurs, Mrs. Logan promises to paste blank papers over all the offending words found on the seventh graders’ books.  Mama Logan is well aware of how important education is to both her children and students and makes every effort to provide them with the best educational opportunities that she can.

The character of Mrs. Logan is an unconventional teacher and hero in the novel.  She had wanted to be a teacher her entire life and she is obviously a smart and strong role model for her students.  She lets the children know about their heritage and encourages them to value the lessons that can be learned from their black history. “Mama Logan is a character who works in the milieu of harsh reality rather than fantasy” (Joseph 153).

  She openly teaches her students about slavery, despite the fact that there is little mention of it in the used books that were handed down from the all-white school down the road.  She hates the racist world that she lives in and through educating her students she is attempting to fight it.  She practices equality as an example to the black children that she teaches.  Although her son

is a member of her class, she does not play favorites.

  When Stacey is caught with a crib sheet, she whips him although she knows that he would not cheat.  If she did not whip him, she would be a hypocrite and her students with not value the lessons that she is attempting to teach them.   “She makes a heroic stand in front of the County School Board superintendent and her students, and she is summarily dismissed. She is both a mother and a teacher; she is a role model and a symbol for her young daughter, Cassie” (Joseph 154).

Teaching has been Mrs. Logan’s life and the white community takes it away from her as punishment for the blacks attempting to rise out of economic oppression by shopping for their supplies in Vicksburg.  She has been unjustly removed from her position because she was teaching the children lessons about the history of slavery.  She explains how the blacks were used for free labor and this cycle of economic oppression continues on presently.

  The white members of the board also use the fact that she covered the offending slurs as ammunition to justify her removal as a teacher.  Granger tells her, "I expect you'd best just forget about teaching altogether...then thataway you'll have plenty of time to write your own book" (Taylor 184).  Controlling the black’s welfare is the main weapon that the whites use to control the blacks.

  “The books take on symbolic significance. Mama is fired for covering the hated word ‘nigra’ with blank paper. Symbolically, she is fired for trying to free the black children from racism and the limited opportunities that surround

them” (Benton 90).The Logan children must constantly fight for their education and their hardships become increasingly worse as the story continues.

  As the October rains worsen, the Logan children must walk to school in awful conditions.  The black school can not afford to bus the children because they are financed primarily through donations made through the churches.  They must wear dried calfskins that weigh them down and the heavy rains prevent them from hearing the approach of the bus.  The driver purposely splashes them with mud and they are covered from head to toe.  Going to school begins to be equated with torture for the children.  However, there sense of entitlement to an education fuels them to become proactive and fight back against the abuse that they suffer.

  The Logan children dig holes across the road in order to stop the bus.  The rain continues to pour down and the hole become wider and deeper filled with water.  The bus accelerates through the water and falls into the gully.  It breaks down and it forces the white children to walk to school for two weeks while it is being repaired.  "All y'all gonna be walkin' for at least two weeks by the time we get this thing hauled outa here and up to Strawberry to get fixed" (Taylor 55).  This act brings the children closer together as they work together to fight against racism and their right to an education without having to be subjected to harassment.

  Her mother is happy that no one was hurt in the accident, but can not hide her glee over the befallen bus.Racism and violence are two outside influences

that drive the family and black community to stick by one another.  The happy mood of the Logan family is broken when there is a warning that night riders are to be out that same evening.  These white men were vigilantes that utilized violence in order to keep members of the black community oppressed.  "It's.'s them again. They's ridin' tonight" (Taylor 60).  The theme of racism is highlighted as we see the contrast between the Logan children's innocent prank against the school bus, and the potentially deadly violence of the white community.

  The children are terrified that they will get the entire family killed over an attempt at fighting against the injustices made against them.  Under the threat of this violence, the black community grows closer than ever.  This is exemplified by Mr. Avery going from door to door to warn the black families about the threat of the night riders.  It is up to the black community to come together to protect one another from the ever increasing violence from the whites.

The black people of the community survive because they work together and share things amongst each other.  Without the efforts of the black churches, the children would not have a school to attend at all.  Even in the face of violence and economic pressure from white society, the black families still stand by one another.  Towards the end of the novel, they hold a revival that is meant to celebrate life and family.

  They have a feast and the celebration comes to a head when the children’s Uncle Hammer comes and the family realizes that he has sold his fancy car to aid

the family in their financial straits.  Sacrifices are made by the blacks in order to ensure that they will continue to endure despite the hardships that they must constantly struggle against.It is apparent that the children of the Logan family are not permitted to have a proper childhood.  They are surrounded by violence and are controlled by the whites in their community.

  They know that they are not allowed to have beautiful and fun things like the white children in their town.  The threat of violence against them and their family is a real and ever present danger.  From the beginning of the book, the threat of violence is genuine. The Berry brothers and their uncle, Samuel, are burned by a white mob for supposedly making a pass at a white woman.

  Any retaliation by the blacks will result in lynching or imprisonment, so often they are forced to suffer through these crimes.  There is no justice in this community.  This type of violent environment makes it impossible for the children to have a childhood.The children are deeply affected by the violence and this is highlighted by their visit to Samuel Berry.  The man is burned so badly his face has no nose, his hair is gone, and his lips are wizened and black as charcoal.  "The Wallaces did that, children.

They poured kerosene over Mr. Berry and his nephews and lit them afire” (Taylor 48).   He can't speak and can barely stand to have the lightest sheet touch him.  “Mrs. Logan surprises everyone by not punishing the children for going to the Wallace store, except to scold them. She has decided nothing she can

say will equal the effect of meeting Mr.

Samuel Berry and seeing his condition.  The children quickly learn that they live in a world where there can be severe consequences for small transgressions” (Hunt 45).  Their childhood is further stripped away as they begin to learn how evil the Wallaces are and the power that they yield over both the blacks and whites living in the community.  The Wallaces treat the blacks unfairly and take advantage of their dismal situation.  The sharecroppers would not normally do business with the racist family, but they are forced to because they are unable to get credit in Vicksburg.

  This cycle of economic oppression makes it easy for men like Mr. Wallace to get away with the violence inflicted on members of the black community.Cassie Logan has lacked any type of childhood and therefore has many adult characteristics.  She is fiercely independent and the education that she has received from her mother has made her outspoken against incidences of racism.  This outspoken nature is a dangerous trait for a young black girl to have during the 1930s in the south.  In Mr.

Barnett’s store, she forcefully makes him acknowledge that he has forced them to wait there for over an hour before he helped them.  Shocked, he insults her and asks, "Whose little nigger is this?" (Taylor 111).  Cassie makes a further scene while older black folks try to silence her out of fear of repercussions.  Cassie becomes frustrated with the impossible situation she finds herself in and rushed outside.  Going outside, she accidentally bumps into the Simms’ sister and quickly apologizes.

  Her inferior status is highlighted by the

fact that she must refer to another child as “Miss Lillian Jean.”  Her apology is not good enough and the young girl wants her off the street since she feels it should only be allowed for white people from respectable families.  Her father shoves the young girl in the street and Cassie is in the middle of an angry white mob.  This terrifying experience should not be a part of a young girl’s childhood.

  These scenes not only highlight the racism that takes place, but also displays the fact that Cassie has had to grow up faster than most children.  As she remarks, "No day in all my life had ever been as cruel as this one" (Taylor 116).  It is the worst day of her life and she is forced to come to terms with her racial inequality.The adults attempt to give the children a proper childhood, but they are facing the same sort of difficulties in their lives.  They have constantly suffered oppression and racism and they are aware that the cycle will continue on for their children.  They attempt to give the children a wonderful Christmas and through their gifts it is apparent that the Logan adults know the value of educating their children.

  Their best presents are new and spotless books that are not scribbled with racist jargon.  The youngest receive Aesop’s Fables while Stacey receives The Count of Monte Cristo and they give Cassie a copy of The Three Musketeers.  Although many of the blacks were denied of a proper education, the Logans are smart enough to know that their children should be exposed to classical literature.  “Cassie is especially

excited by her new book, which was written by a black man. Alexander Dumas' father was a French mulatto, descended from a slave from the island of Martinique” (Benton 92).

  It makes her feel overjoyed and hopeful to know black people can write classical books that are valued by both blacks and whites. After the insult of receiving dirty, worn, cast-off schoolbooks, Mary and David Logan give their children the luxury of perfect, beautiful new books. The books represent the hope of a better life, a life of unlimited opportunity, untainted by racism and economic slavery.  Through these books, the Logan adults hope that they impart some of life’s important lessons upon the children.Despite the Logans’ wish to give their children a proper childhood and education, they are also sensitive to exposing their children to the reality of their predicament.

 This is the reason that Mr. Logan feels it is necessary for the children to hear stories about the horrors that have been committed against their people.  "These are things they need to hear, baby. It's their history" (Taylor 148).  Mr.

Morrison relays a story about night riders that killed his entire family for housing two black men that were accused of molesting a white woman.  The night riders hacked away anyone they came in contact with, including women and children.  Mr. Morrison was only spared because in a fit of desperation, his mother threw him into the bushes.  The Logans feel that the horrible story is not only appropriate for small children, but a necessity for their continued survival.Through these stories, the children have received an education about violence.

  Cassie uses violence by pretending

to befriend Lillian Jean and then beating her up in the woods.  She has seen so much violence in her young life; she does not know how to solve problems without the use of it.  The violence never ends and she will constantly be exposed to it.  Her father is almost killed when his wagon is sabotaged and white men begin to shoot at him and Mr. Morrison.

  They survive the attack, but he comes home broken in both body and spirit.  Cassie feels that the Wallace men should be punished for what they have done, but it is up to her parents to explain that their world does not work that way.  If they complained to the sheriff, he would place the blame on Mr. Logan and Mr. Morrison and they would end up imprisoned for crimes that they did not commit.  Cassie is depressed about the ways of the world and she cries about the unfairness of it all.

  She wished the world was not full of black children growing up without books or an education and being surrounded by racism.Although they have a great amount of knowledge about violence, the Logans pass on lessons about how to solve problems in a non-violent manner.  In the final chapters, the central theme of the novel emerges: to find a non-violent solution to racism.  Mr. Logan through his actions teaches the children the life lessons that they need to know to complete their education.  He sacrifices a portion of his cotton crops in order to protect his family from the possible lynching that may occur.

  The white men come to their land angry, "We want

that thieving, murdering nigger of y'all's" (Taylor 251).  The white men and black men are forced to work side by side in order to put the fire that Mr. Logan started out.  Cassie’s father has succeeded in showing her a non-violent way to fight racism and hatred.

  Cassie realizes the wisdom behind her father’s actions and knows that she will keep this knowledge to herself.The children of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry are forced to deal with oppression and racism on a daily basis.  Their educational opportunities are limited and the future holds little promise for them.  Their school is only in existence because of the strength and support of the black community.  The difficult school setting has only made the children value their education more.  When other children may wish for toys on Christmas, the Logan children are thrilled at their spotless and brand new books.

  Their mother instills in them a strong sense of heritage and lets them know that the racism that they will encounter in their lives is wrong.  They have been denied a childhood free from violence and hatred, but the lessons that their teachers and families give them will ensure their survival in a volatile world.

Get an explanation on any task
Get unstuck with the help of our AI assistant in seconds