The Hyphen Book-Club discussion

Roll Of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D Taylor

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message 1: by Grace (new)

Grace Mc | 62 comments Mod
Hi everybody!

Can you believe it's almost APRIL?!?!? This is a space for reflecting on and discussing Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry which is our April book- I haven't read it yet as I am currently still working on my podcast for Derek Walcott's
The Prodigal but as soon as I finish that today I will be starting!!

If anyone has already read it or maybe studied it at school, what did you think? And for those, like me, reading for the first time, feel free to leave your initial thoughts here!

message 2: by Neil (new)

Neil R. Coulter (ethnosax) | 34 comments Thanks, Grace! I have the book from the library, but I have one more in line before it. Looking forward to discussing it with everyone here!

message 3: by Grace (new)

Grace Mc | 62 comments Mod
Managed to read this in a day- not sure why I've never got round to it before. I really enjoyed it ! It's a children's book of core-shaking proportions not unlike To Kill A Mockingbird- and similar in terms of the world being focalised through a child (and a headstrong child at that!). I was actually surprised to find out that this is part of a series and I'd be interested to read the other books if I ever get time.

I also thought this had a lot in common with fellow Newbery Medal Winner Brown Girl Dreaming- a children's poetry book in free verse by Jacqueline Woodson.

The ending is particularly poignant and ambiguous. I thought it was great- working on my podcast script at the minute and thinking I will chat about banned books and the irony of banning a book like this given the content and the actions of Mary Logan! It's like people don't understand irony!

What did you all think?

message 4: by Neil (last edited Apr 13, 2018 12:01PM) (new)

Neil R. Coulter (ethnosax) | 34 comments I wonder how many times someone talks about this book and doesn't mention To Kill a Mockingbird. :) I'll do it, too, because I dearly love TKAM, and, having nearly finished this one, I'm very much loving it, too.

One aspect I'm really enjoying is the idea of things that remain the same, things that change, what's lost, what's gained. There's so much ebb and flow, on macro and micro levels, in this story. It's quite beautiful.

One thing I don't like is when characters give long, expositional speeches. Mama's speech to Cassie about racism, for example, seemed too much like just saying everything in plain language, rather than letting the reader (and Cassie) figure it out. There are other moments in the book where I wished a character would stop talking and let the story do the explaining instead. It's a small criticism, though, and generally I feel that Taylor is a fantastic storyteller.

Imagery that particular sticks out to me: that the wind and the trees seem to have a voice, and that the trees are guardians over everything that happens.

I was also happy to learn this is a series, Grace. Before starting this one, I read Song of the Trees, a short book about the story Big Ma tells near the middle of Roll of Thunder, when a man tries to take the trees on the Logans' property. Nice, rather haunting short story.

message 5: by David (new)

David (generic101) Hello all!

Neil, I agree with the expositional speeches criticism, in places it felt rather jarring to have long speeches from an adult explaining something and I wondered if the children shouldn’t already have gathered the key info from their lives so far, from interactions with other children etc.
I also felt like the storytelling was rather simplistic, I feel that it is definitely a children’s book as opposed to a YA book and that literature for children and young adults has definitely developed significantly since this was written and particularly over the past few decades I would say.

It also got me thinking about the repeated reaction with violence. Cassie attacks a girl (having provoked her to hit her first in an attempt to lessen her responsibility), Stacey attacks TJ, their Uncle wants to respond with violence almost constantly and their father says he often does but restrains himself. Even Little Man winds up throwing mud at the bus when it splashes him. It got me thinking about the role of violence in achieving equality, arguably a necessary evil but also how it is portrayed to children. I feel like it certainly condones violence in places but can’t quite figure out where it’s lines are or what it’s message is saying. It reminds me of a section of a YA book I read recently that said violence is always needed to secure change, MLK wouldn’t be successful without Malcolm X, Ghandi without Bhagat Singh etc.

Really, I think I would’ve liked more depth to the characters and rationale of their choices. The revenge on the school bus and the plan with cotton at the end are both clever alternatives but the first had the potential to seriously hurt those on the bus, or to leave their own mother or other innocents injured, while the second was self-sacrificial and leaves them in an ambiguous state that in reality would probably have crippled them. I can see how the story telling would satisfy a child’s innate and strong desire for fairness but for me it lacked the nuance of some modern YA writing.

message 6: by Neil (new)

Neil R. Coulter (ethnosax) | 34 comments Great comments, David--thanks for sharing with us! I understand your point about the retaliation the kids show against white people, and how it sometimes either doesn't seem to be the right response, or seems to go unaddressed. I read this as implying significantly more ambiguity than, say, the old Harry Potter "Aaand...a buhzillion points for Gryffindor!" endings. Partly, this is because we're getting the story from Cassie's point of view. From her vantage point, each of these events is a victory. Putting one over on the white people, whether with the bus or the confrontation against Lillian Jean, is, to Cassie, the right thing to do. We know she'll grow up and perhaps learn to see more subtlety in such situations, but for now we're being invited to see the world as she sees it.

Maybe we're also supposed to see that each attack is against a slightly different aspect of the entrenched racism? When Cassie attacks Lillian Jean, it's meant to teach one person a lesson; the bus and the cotton field are attacks on various mechanisms of the system itself. I haven't thought that through very much, but there may be something there.

I also wonder what I miss in this story because I'm a white guy. Here's what I mean: I remember years ago seeing a Q&A with Spike Lee. A white audience member asked him, "Why does Mookie throw a trash can through the window of Sal's Pizzeria in Do the Right Thing?" Lee replied, "I get asked that question a lot. But I have never had a black person ask me that question." Our different experiences make us see stories differently, and I wonder if this is a case where someone might read these acts of retaliation and not even have the same questions about them.

So here I'll just call out to any non-white readers who are following this discussion. I'd love it if you'd help me understand what I miss when I read this story, or what I think I understand but actually I've got all wrong. How does this story connect to your own family's history, and to your experiences growing up?

message 7: by Grace (new)

Grace Mc | 62 comments Mod
I think as a child we have, in a way, an much more intense sense of injustice as children as often berated and cajoled into growing up according to a certain set of rules.

I know that when I read Cassie pushing LJ down all I felt was a fierce sense of retribution- and it was fairly harmless really- no lasting damage done- maybe even a good thing as Cassie realises it might give LJ some scope later to reflect on her behaviour which up until now she had considered perfectly right and normal.

Also I grew up in a deeply divided post-conflict society and when I was in primary school we visited a neighbouring school in the name of peace and reconciliation. They had half the pupil numbers and twice the resources as far as I could see (textbooks for every student! library books with no pages missing! desks and chairs that didn't wobble or weren't missing their backs!) but most annoying of all was this really lovely fountain thing in their playground which was more like a garden (not unmarked gravel and tarmac like ours) and I'm ashamed to say I loitered behind as we filed out and I pulled the tap-head off and dropped it in the flower bed. I felt scared I would get found out but I didn't feel guilty.

Also in adult life I realise they probably just screwed it back on and no harm done but it was immensely satisfying to indulge my rage momentarily. Although it was on a thing and not a person. But if any of those children had been uppity with me I guess I can see myself taking out my confused rage on them.

I guess it's a bit like in The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison where the little girl dismembers the doll she gets for christmas because it's white and everyone seems to love it and think it is beautiful and that's an experience she feels annexed from. So she takes out her rage on the doll.

I dano if any of this makes any sense but I guess it just didn't stand out for me as unreasonable that the characters, who are children, would do these things- although obviously they act with their child-like thoughtlessness of ultimate repercussions initially (the bus) and then with a more clever plan (LJ's lesson).

message 8: by David (new)

David (generic101) I get both your points completely and I’ve equally done those visits during primary school and been worried about wearing my school uniform in certain areas of my town, even 5 minutes walk from home, as it identifies you as “other”. As I said I understand children’s strong sense of fairness and that they would revel in a sense of justice done.

The points I was trying to drive at is authorial intent and exploration of these grey areas. I feel like the ramifications aren’t fully fleshed out to act as a lesson for children reading it, it would be quite easy to miss the danger they put themselves in while enjoying the satisfaction of revenge if reading independently. Or teaching that violence may be a means to an end, which I equally agree may be the case as above, but without much context in the story.

I wasn’t clear on what message the author wanted to leave us with in regards to violence. Is it essential to making a change? Should it used as a method to teach, in terms of corporal punishment that is administered to the children and for the children teaching each other lessons? Is it used to reflect the violence of life at the time as an inescapable reality, if so I don’t think it was very clear or well portrayed. I just felt that in places it was used but not very well explored.

message 9: by Grace (new)

Grace Mc | 62 comments Mod
I have never felt that authorial intent mattered very much (if at all)- a side-effect of being a literature student I guess, but I suppose that in this instance it is to portray some element of realism. The children are taught to get their education and therein their revenge- but that is not as satisfying as teaching someone a lesson. Plus it ties very well with Cassie's character and temperament- she's not an angel, meek and submissive (and God knows only a saint at that age would put up with such humiliation and injustice when they had a chance at retribution) but she is a child, growing up in a violent and difficult and unjust world. I don't know if there are books after this but I expect the sacrificial act of her father in setting the fire and possibly the fate of TJ would instigate a maturity and awareness as well as an anger in her character. It would be interesting to see how she develops into adulthood.

message 10: by Grace (new)

Grace Mc | 62 comments Mod
Really annoyed- had my audio recorded and half edited for my podcast episode on this book but the file is corrupted and unsaveable!!! will have to skip the podcast on this one :( but I will try to make the next one extra good to make up for it!!

message 11: by Neil (new)

Neil R. Coulter (ethnosax) | 34 comments So sorry, Grace! :( Are you recording directly into your computer, in Audacity?

message 12: by Grace (new)

Grace Mc | 62 comments Mod
Neil wrote: "So sorry, Grace! :( Are you recording directly into your computer, in Audacity?"

It's okay! These things happen! Nah, I have a little crappy voice recorder thing I use first and then I edit the file in audacity. The recorder seems to be on its last legs but I'm not sure if that was the problem or audacity as audacity always is pretty reliable for me! I've uninstalled it and installed a new updated version but unfortunately I can't afford to replace the VR just yet! So I will hang onto it and hope for the best!

Just annoying!

message 13: by Neil (new)

Neil R. Coulter (ethnosax) | 34 comments How many virtual coffees would I have to buy you for you to be able to get a decent mic to plug in? :) You deserve to sound awesome.

message 14: by Grace (new)

Grace Mc | 62 comments Mod
Not a lot I wouldn't have thought- but one virtual coffee donation per person is more than enough for anyone- I will make a note of it at the end of my next episode!

Also I'll set up the discussion room at the end of the week for the underground railroad- it was fantastic!

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