64 pages 2 hours read

Mildred D. Taylor

Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 1976

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Symbols & Motifs


The novel begins and ends with the use of fire. In the first chapter of the novel, T.J. tells the Logan children that “Some white men took a match to” three men in the Berry family because one of the Berrys allegedly disrespected a shopkeeper (10). Fire functions as a powerful tool for White men—in this case, the Wallace brothers—to oppress their Black neighbors. As T.J.’s father tells it, “Anytime they thinks we steppin’ outa our place, they feels like they gotta stop us” (62). The fire maims its victims but also frightens those who learn about the burning. When the Logan children see Mr. Berry’s “still form” with burned skin and “wizened black” lips, they feel stunned.

At the end of the novel, David Logan sets fire to his own cotton crop to prevent vigilante violence against T.J. He claims the Wallace brothers’ favored tool for his own use, denying them the exclusive use of its power. David’s use of fire is clever and empowering, but not without negative consequences. To use the White men’s weapon against them, David sacrifices part of the cotton crop upon which his family relies for income.