Racism and Perspective in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Mildred Taylor’s novel, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, depicts the life of a young African American girl, Cassie, and her family living within a racist system. Readers experience the hardships that the Logan family face through the eyes of the only daughter, Cassie. Cassie and her brother Little Man are the two youngest in the novel. They both experience almost the same racist encounters, to which they both react to differently, showing that the injustices of racism can most be understood in terms of the personalities of those harmed by discrimination.

From the early beginning of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, discover the headstrong attitude and personality of Cassie. Cassie is a determined girl, delighting in “well-maneuvered revenge (56)”, stating that if anyone were to mess with her, she would “knock [his] block off. (16)” She is strong-willed, not letting people step over her easily. On the first day of school, Cassie is annoyed by the nice Sunday attire her mother forces her to wear, knowing that it’ll only be dirty by the time she comes home. It was pointless, “Sunday clothing was asking too much” (4). She was imprisoned in “the high collar of the Sunday dress” (4). She was trapped; it did not allow her to move as she wished. This was not Cassie’s first year back at school; she had already experienced that hardships of simply walking to school. It wasn’t that it was a long walk, not that they didn’t have a bus to ride, but that the other young white kids her age found delight in watching her and her brother’s clothes become stained and destroyed by the mud that their bus caused. This upset Cassie. She may understand that life was not fair as she was a different colour than the whites, but she did not like it at all.

When Cassie finally got to school, she had to watch her youngest brother become enraged with the treatment he was already receiving. After what was supposed to be an exciting announcement, receiving new books for the school year, Little Man explodes in fury. Cassie realises that the inside cover of the book marks the current nigra condition as very poor. Unlike Little Man, who was about to be whipped for his bold disobedience, Cassie tries to show Miss Crocker why he was upset, hoping to alleviate the situation. She tells her “they give us these ole books when they didn’t want them no more” (26). She seems to be more emotional and upset by this, “s-see what they called us” showing Miss Crocker the hurtful words in the book (26). She receives no consolation whatsoever from her teacher, rather a reaffirmation of the text, “that’s what you are” and is instructed to sit down. Cassie, though still bold and strong-willed, lets the initial situation go, but she always finds a way to get back at the other person. Although she does not let out a loud outrage, she too is hurt by the discrimination.

Cassie’s youngest brother, the youngest of the Logan family, Little Man, experiences racism for the first time in the opening of the novel. For his first day of school, Ma dressed him in his Sunday’s best clothes, which he “never allowed dirt or tears to stain or mar” (4). He walks slow, wanting to ensure the cleanliness of his outfit, which only annoys Cassie. Unlike his older siblings, he has yet to experience a typical walk to school. When the children see the bus full of white children coming, all but Little-Man run for the “steep right bank into the forest” (12). The youngest boy refuses, not wanting to get his clothes dirty. His siblings demand that he joins them in the bank, as it will somewhat shield him from getting even more dirty. When sees that the bus will splash him, he “ran frantically along the road looking for a foothold, and finding one, hopped onto the bank, but not before the bus had sped past enveloping him in a scarlet haze while laughing white face pressed against the bus windows” (13). This was one of the first racial encounters that Little Man experienced. He was confused, asking Stacey where their bus was. He could immediately sense that life was unfair for them, and did not like it at all. His first day was tough; he felt that he was degraded to nothing.

On that first day, Miss Crocker announced that the class would all be getting new books, exciting all of the students. Yet when Little Man received his book, he saw how torn apart and “dirty” it was (23). After politely asking for a new book, Miss Crocker reprimands him, “Dirty! And who do you think you are, Clayton Chester?” (23). She demands that he takes that book or he will not get anything at all. Settling with it, he opens the book, enraging him even more, “his eyes grew wide, and suddenly he sucked in his breath and sprang from his chair like a wounded animal, flinging the book onto the floor and stomping madly upon it” (24). Inside the book cover detailed each year’s student book report, and Little Man saw that for him, it said “nigra, very poor” (25). Little Man’s very first experiences with racism first-hand has only angered him, and has shown him how unfairly he and other African Americans have been treated.

This book does not seem to favour Cassie’s reaction to racism over Little-Man’s. Both of these children are the youngest of the Logan family. The novel begins with the kids going to school, from which the few scenes above have analysed. Cassie and Little Man both have similar upset reactions when faced with harsh situations; Cassie seems to wait for later revenge, and Little Man explodes on the spot. Taylor does not explicitly state whose reaction is a better, more mature response. These are children facing harsh discrimination. They are being forced to grow and mature much faster than most children. They have to deal with unfairness every day. Taylor wants to show people how children dealt with unfair treatment; she wanted to show how hard life was for them, especially at their age during that time period.

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