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Cassie also learns something about friendship versus merely using someone. She doesn’t really like T.J. much, but she tolerates him and helps him when he comes to them in need. However, she is able to see that T.J. defines friendship in terms of what someone will give him rather than liking him for who he is. In other words, he friendship can be bought, and those who buy it only use it for their own means. However, the result is loneliness and a not so secret longing to be with the people who really care about him.
By the end of the story, Cassie understands the element that truly differentiates them from the other Black families. Her family owns land, thanks to the insight of her grandfather. So long as they manage to hang onto it in spite of all obstacles, they have roots and a source of self-confidence that the tenant farmers will never have. Their land gives them not only a permanent home, but also a firm sense of accomplishment and identity along with an ability to influence changes at some point in the future.
Stacey is Cassie’s older brother-13 at the opening of the story. Due to his age, he is more mature than Cassie, but as he is also a boy, he has had access to information that she has not. He serves as an example to her, although his decisions are not always correct. When he runs off to the Wallace store to beat up T.J. for putting the blame for cheating onto him, he is acting impulsively. However, since it is simply one black boy fighting with another, the whites don’t care.
Stacey does know how to be careful when the conflict involves whites; he shows deliberate planning and strategy when he digs the ditch across the road and does his best to quiet Cassie when she speaks up in the store in Strawberry.
Stacey does have his own lessons to learn, however. He is sensitive about being teased by older friends and allows T.J. to talk him out of the coat given to him by Uncle Hammer. The coat does not look bad on him, but T.J. wants it for himself. The scolding given to him by Mr. Morrison was worse than any punishment his mother could have inflicted as it accuses him of weakness and of being more foolish than the fool who took advantage of him. Stacey learns quickly, however, and does not make the same mistake when T.J. tries to rib him about the handmade flute Jeremy gives him for Christmas.
Stacey matures in his understanding of friendship. He and T.J. have always been friends, but when T.J. cheats a second time, gets Mary Logan fired, and then turns to white boys for his friends, Stacey refuses to have anything more to do with him. However, he remains concerned about him and asks about him from other boys who have seen him. He also keeps to himself his opinion about the white boy Jeremy Simms’ friendship. Jeremy shows himself to be a friend even when Stacey seems ill at ease about accepting it. Stacey continues his friendship with Jeremy even though he keeps it low-key. Also, in keeping the flute, but putting it away, it seems as though he may be waiting to find out if his father is correct in saying that sooner or later Jeremy will turn on him.
In the end, Stacey has seen examples of “doing what you have to.” He saw Mr. Morrison beat the Wallaces under circumstances when the Wallaces could not retaliate, and he saw his father find a way to subvert white intentions without letting them know who had done it. He runs into the woods to vent his grief over his friend. As with Cassie, the incident will leave him a changed boy.
T.J. is the son of the sharecropper who farms part of the Granger land which adjoins the Logan land. He is a weak character who wants to be treated as a man. He wants to “count” in a society where his color makes him second class. He likes to feel important, a characteristic portrayed early in the story when he visits the Logans with news he thinks they have not yet received and makes a major project out of the telling. He tries to act big by teasing the younger children and by trying to talk them into things their parents have forbidden.
T.J. does not have a high sense of integrity. He sees nothing wrong with cheating on a test or lying to Stacey to get his new coat away from him. He uses his friends the same way the Simms use him later on. He is also gullible, measuring friendship in terms of how much he can get. He does not understand that his horrible loneliness is a direct result of his abuse of his real friends.
In T.J.’s defense, regardless of his weakness, he is not simply an “evil” character. He is the victim of circumstances. The very fact that the Logans do have their own land and his father does not may motivate him to try to show that he is just as good as they are even though they have not flaunted their own position. He really has nothing, and his father is at the mercy of landowners who can take what little he does have any time he displeases them.
Getting things through deception and treachery is not dishonorable to him as long as he doesn’t get caught. Furthermore, getting caught does not teach him that what he did was wrong. It just proves to him that he has to be cleverer the next time as in the school cheating incidents. Furthermore, when faced with the consequences of his behavior, his immediate reaction is to find someone else to blame. He does not realize that that is exactly what the whites around him are doing to the black community. It is ironic that he who is guilty of multiple little grievances and deceptions is actually innocent when the real crime occurs-that is, innocent of everything except allowing himself to be led.
Mr. Morrison is a static character, but his superhuman strength, his deliberate, measured self-control, and his example of courage and determination make him a pivotal character. Early on, he breaks up the fight between T.J. and Stacey, but does not scold Stacey for his actions-beyond noting that they had been told NOT to go to Wallaces store. Stacey initially does not like him, but the ice is broken when Mr. Morrison leaves it up to him to tell Mama why they had disobeyed. Stacey could have chosen not to tell at all, but in refusing to “tattle,” Mr. Morrison was treating him like a man and an equal. Stacey’s task in response was to act like a man which meant taking responsibility for his action.
Morrison’s personal story of survival when the night-men attacked his family would justify a bitter and vengeful attitude, but if he feels that way he keeps it well contained. He is able to prevent others such as Hammer from acting rashly and succeeds in preventing David from making a fruitless trip to the bank. Still, for all his apparent mild manner, he does not back down, but stands up to the white men in ways that catch them by surprise. The night men do not attack the Logans in any sort of fair contest partly because they are afraid of Morrison.
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Ruff, Dr. Karen. "TheBestNotes on Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry".
. 12 May 2008