The opening verses of Helen Lowe’s poem “Roll of Thunder” as the title for this book instantly evoke a feeling of spiritual resilience – a beautifully poignant symbol to witness the never-ending struggle of the black Americans in the face of material helplessness and blatant racism.
This modern classic by Mildred D. Taylor, a black American writer, is a heart wrenching story based on her own experiences of the pervasive racism she witnessed as a child. Racial prejudice marginalized the lives of black Americans in every possible way, from mundane shopping to education and job opportunities, even owning a brand new car. Through the daily interactions and aspirations of the Logan family, she makes the reader feel their heartache and humiliation, their desire for self-respect and the right to improve their circumstances through sheer perseverance and honest hard work.
It is the values and ethos of the black community in general and the Logan family in particular that makes this book endearing and uplifting. Cassie (the ten-year-old protagonist whose perspective we share) is full of spunk, curiosity and confidence, and yet she is an obedient, hardworking and sensitive young girl. Her plan for revenge and its perfect execution not only provide comic relief but also show her deep understanding of human weaknesses.
Although this book is written in the dialect of the South that can be difficult to decipher, I highly recommend it as a means to understand just how black Americans in particular and other marginalized groups in general suffer. This book is not confined to just the black Americans and their struggle to be recognized as dignified humans – it holds true for every person, community or group that faces any kind of discrimination or prejudice. It invites us to introspect on our attitudes and actions (or the lack thereof), even if we are able to empathize with the victims.
Prejudice is rampant in all societies – Arabs are guilty of discriminating against non-Arabs, brides are chosen on the basis of their complexion. It takes many forms, few as violent as those faced by black Americans but hurtful nonetheless. Note what derogatory terms we use for certain groups of people or religious minorities. As Miz Logan tells Cassie: “Baby, we have no choice of what color we’re born or who our parents are or whether we’re rich or poor. What we do have is some choice over what we make of our lives once we’re here.” This book will definitely help align our moral compass to higher ideals.