Monday, February 21, 2011

Roll of thunder, Hear My Cry

When I read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, I was truly stunned. The main characters consist of a black family living in the South during/after the Reconstruction period. They did things that children still do today--go to school, have conflicts with friends, fix meals, have family gatherings during holidays, and just live life. But there is always an element of uncertainty, of danger, of hatred. The very existence of the black community in their area depended on their men working acres belonging to the white landowners and frequenting the store owned by white men that mercilessly burned some of the black men alive.

The children get a chance to see the results of this situation, one of the men still living but unable to talk or to see well through his scarred face. The children see, and they must decide whether they will stand up for the "freedom" they were granted through the Emancipation Proclamation, or whether they will "play it safe" and give into all the unreasonable requests and accusation their white "betters" might make of them.

There seems to be no winning. Even if they decide to stand for freedom and justice, most of their own community can't afford to risk standing with them. The Logan family, they own their own land. And land was the beginning of true freedom.

Though there is one climactic moment, there are several smaller episodic encounters that introduce the reader to the pervasive racism of this era. Cassie, the little Logan girl, is met with horrible disrespect when she gets to go to the town of Strawberry for the first time. The Ku Klux Klan were a terrifying presence that parents tried to hide completely from their children. And when they failed, the children found them a presence even in their nightmares. Even walking to and from school, the children had to dodge the "white" schoolbus that always sped up by them in order to spray them with mud and make them scramble up the bank into a field of brush.

Mildred Taylor's book comes to a head when one of their old friends, T.J., becomes known as a rogue and theif companion to two equally awful white boys. They commit a robbery, kill the owner of the store, and T.J. who is with them, is blamed for it, being the only one not wearing a mask. The KKK are on the hunt, and even his white "friends" are part of the group. What will happen to him?

Well, ultimately, it is the land that brings the two warring races together--at least momentarily--in the end of the book. A fire breaks out in a corner of a cotton field, and all men rush to save their livelihood. The fire happens at an opportune time, saving T.J. from being hung immediately.

In the end, we see the hope of white and black working side by side in peace. But the book is also eminently realistic, not painting a happy ending, but rather satisfied with being hopeful. T.J. is presumed to be headed for an early death. The bigotry and oppression is presumed to continue for the time being. The power is still in the hands of the white men and the KKK. But the Logans own their land, they're honest and speak the truth, and they care for their neighbors. And these are building blocks of freedom.

Truly, this is an excellent book. Even as an adult, I found some of the situations appalling and a little scarring, but there is also much truth in the book, and it is well tempered with humor, responsibility, and honor. I would say it's an excellent read for older children (maybe 5th grade and up) and for adults.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed a lot of the "kiddie lit" books more as an adult than I had as a child; probably because I understood them better. Homeschooling allowed me to enjoy a lot of books again :)