Mildred Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is a powerful novel that introduces young minds to the difficult and sometimes horrific nature of racism. The book takes place in Mississippi in the midst of the Great Depression, when racial tensions were arguably at their highest in the South. Mildred Taylor offers readers the unique, first-person perspective of nine-year-old Cassie Logan as she and her family attempt to reconcile with their harsh and discriminating community.

While this novel is typically recommended for younger audiences, it still presents some intense and controversial issues, many of which some students may be encountering and discussing for the first time. Teachers should encourage open conversations in the classroom about racism and tolerance, but be aware that these may be new topics for young readers.

The story unfolds both through Cassie's narration and through eavesdropped conversations as well as reprimands she receives from family members. Classroom discussion may also revolve around the benefits and limitations of learning about racial conflict from the perspective of a nine-year-old child: Does Cassie's point of view provide enough context for the reader? Is it more powerful to read about such atrocities and know that a young girl is the one grappling with them?

Summary

The Logan family struggles to navigate a racist society in 1930s Mississippi. Once the Logan children dig a ditch to trap a bus full of white schoolchildren that were harassing them, tensions quickly begin to rise in the community. First, nine-year-old Cassie Logan encounters discrimination at a local store, and her family responds by boycotting the establishment. Soon after, the hate crimes escalate to include black men actually being burned alive and lynch mobs attempting to murder innocent people. The award-winning Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry follows a school year of intense prejudice as the Logan family tries to maintain their land, independence, and dignity in the face of such adversity.

Objectives for Teaching
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

  • Identify and explain the function and importance of literary techniques used in the novel.
  • Distinguish between the two main types of narration and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each.
  • Identify and trace themes of family, independence, and justice in the novel.
  • Infer information that is not explicitly stated about major characters and events.
  • Comment on the significance of the book's title and the title's connection to the ending.
  • Identify, understand, and describe the social and economic injustices against black people in the South during this time period.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allusion
  • Extended Metaphor
  • Foreshadowing
  • Irony
  • Mulitple Narrative Styles
  • Round and Flat Characters
  • Stereotype
  • Symbolism

Themes and Motifs

  • Family — Through all of the tremendous adversity that characters face in this novel, the importance of family seems to trump just about everything else. A person's devotion and loyalty to her family can often motivate everything else she does in her life.
  • Independence — Independence plays a key role in this book, and it is symbolically represented by land ownership. As these characters navigate an extremely racist environment, they find a way to maintain dignity through the land that they can call their own.
  • Justice —  This novel demonstrates the many injustices that African Americans living in the South faced in the 1930s and the ways in which both adults and children had to cope with them in their everyday lives. At times, characters had to choose between sacrificing and maintaining their self-respect.

Related Works

Theme of Family

 

Theme of Independence

 

Theme of Justice

Key Facts

  • Length: 276 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 920
  • Publication Date: 1976
  • Recommended Grade Band: 6 – 8

Awards

  • Newbery Medal Award
  • American Book Award Honor Book
  • Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor Book

Movies

A three-part TV miniseries was released in 1978. Many people have lamented that this adaptation excludes important scenes of the plot.

Your students will love:

  • Insightful discussions about how a novel written half a century ago contributes to the current conversation about race in America
  • Unique narration from a nine-year-old girl

Students may have problems with:

  • First-person narration, which is a bit limiting for the reader
  • Racist language and hate crimes

More Teacher's Guides to Literature:

See all our Teacher's Guides to Literature here.