Mildred Taylor’s remarkable novel, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, annotates, portrays, and demonstrates the vivid image of the ugly race prejudice, effectively, that the African Americans experienced in the 1930s, during the American Depression. In Taylor’s enthralling novel, racism comes across as a major and influential theme as the novel progresses and revolves around a young girl, Cassie Logan, who matures with racial conflict around her. Racism is apparent from the beginning of the novel. It is depicted from the beginning that African Americans are treated terribly, and they must work extremely hard, to earn the money they need to provide their family, with shelter, and food. Papa must work away from home to earn himself a good salary to keep Logan’s own land, rather than working as sharecroppers on someone else’s land.
The second example of callous segregation is evident, as it is seen that the “elite white community” have transport to school, while the harshly treated African Americans are deprived of this service, and are forced to walk to school. Also, the whites are inconsiderate, intentionally splashing mud on the blacks’ clothes. The Berry’s burnings is a significant incident revealing the cruel manner the white community behave towards the African Americans, burning them taking “a match to them,” without any justifiable reason, portraying the discrimination between the people. At school, an important instance of racism takes place, when the students of the black school, The Great Faith Elementary School, received “new” books. These books were in the poorest condition, as they were the left-overs of the whites. The inside cover of the books was highly provocative, both insulting and offensive to the African Americans, using repulsive comments to describe their race such as ‘nigra.’
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The law also seems to be in favour of the white community, showing the extensive segregation between the whites and blacks. It is evident when Mr. Morrison explains why he lost his job – Mr. Morrison was blamed in a fight with the whites, although it wasn’t his fault. There are rarely any whites who are friendly with the whites, and those who are, are despised. This is the case with Jeremy, who walks to school every day with the blacks. He is often bullied, mocked, and teased at school, and is beaten at home. The abhorrence of the underprivileged blacks by the whites is remarkably large, throughout the novel. As the novel progresses it is seen that Papa tries to explain to Stacey to hang out less with Jeremy, “We Logans don’t have much to do with the white folks. You know why?” Papa says, believing that whites and blacks will never really be friends, “Cause white folks to mean trouble,” this also demonstrates hatred between the two races.
The intensity of racial discrimination is massive when TJ talks about the night men. The whites “tarred and feathered him,” making the African Americans feel inferior – treating them of no value and worthless. Cassie, herself, is a victim of one of the racism incidents. On her visit to Strawberry, she is forced to apologize repeatedly to Lillian Jean, a white, humiliating herself greatly. Even her family, who are strong-willed, cannot prevent such things from happening – trying to stay away from consequences. Cassie is mentally hurt after this situation. Racist comments are at their summit as the story progresses. Kaleb Wallace, to Mr. Morrison, sputtered, “You big black nigger, I oughta cut your heart out for what you did! My brothers laid up like they are and you still running around free as a white man. Downright sinful, that’s what it is! Why? I oughta gun you down right where you sit.” This quote shows the filthy comments the whites use towards the blacks.
As the story nears its conclusion, TJ gets influenced by the white community and gets into stealing. TJ goes to Barnett’s store with his white “friends,” to get himself the pearl-handed pistol. At the shop, the whites – wearing a mask – kill Mr. Barnett, a white man. TJ Avery is immediately entirely blamed for the sequence of events. This shows, again, the law in much favour of the whites – as the police don’t even look into the issue – they don’t care who is guilty, but immediately find a black man to blame. If the roles had been reversed, circumstances and the events that took place would have been completely different. The whites simply want to punish some blacks, and they can do so easily, as no one dares to stop them. Throughout the story, there are several racist remarks passed to the African Americans emphasizing the conditions they faced. Life for the African Americans in the 1930s was completely unjust. Judgment based solely on physical appearance exists, to date, and is still a controversial issue.