In both books, one main theme is the importance
of family. The extended family in both stories is warm and close-knit. Family members will do anything to help each other
in times of need. In Roll of Thunder,
Hammer, Papa’s brother, sells his fancy car to help the family pay the land mortgage that has been called early. The
four siblings are protective of each other, and Cassie insists on accompanying Stacey when he takes the injured T.J. home.
In The Well, a prequel to Roll of Thunder,
Hammer physically defends his younger brother, David, after Charlie has hurt David. When Hammer faces trouble for beating
up Charlie, a White boy, Mama crafts a plan to keep Hammer out of harm's way.
A second main theme in both books is the
importance of land. Referring to Roll of Thunder,
Crowe writes, “For him (David Logan), the Logans and the land are symbiotic, each depending and prospering because of
the other. And although the Logans must scrimp and sacrifice to keep their land,
(land ownership)…allows them the luxury denied their neighbors: to remain independent and together” (Crowe, 104).
In Roll of Thunder, David goes to Louisiana
to lay track, earning money that insures he can pay his mortgage and taxes. When Cassie asks her father why the land is so
important, David answers, “Look out there, Cassie girl. All that belongs to you. You ain’t never had to live on
nobody’s place but your own, and long as I live and the family survives, you’ll never have to. That’s important”
(7). Land is equally important in The
Well. David and Hammer’s father and older brothers are “lumbering” away from home “to get money
for taxes and for some of the things Papa and Mama wanted our family to have, including more land” (21). When David
and Hammer are about to be whipped in front of Charlie and his father, Hammer
says he is not going but changes his mind because he does not want to “jeopardize the family and the land” (Crowe,
Both books depict many incidences of racism.
Many of these are described in the book reviews on previous pages. In Roll of Thunder, one always feels the tension of racism in the background. The book begins and ends with two big
racist events. Early on, a Black family’s house is burned by night riders, and at least one person dies. Near the end,
a mob decides T.J. is guilty without a trial and nearly lynches him. In The Well,
Hammer and David are severely punished because Hammer hits a White boy who hurts David first. Again, readers feel racial tension
throughout the story.
In addition, both books are rich with cultural
markers. Many of these have been discussed in the Author Study book reviews. The markers include a close-knit extended family,
a willingness to help neighbors in need, a variety of foods such as sweet-potato pie, and a Black southern dialect.
There also are some differences between
the two works. The Well is short and more of a novella, and it is not divided into
chapters. Roll of Thunder is a 276-page novel that is divided into twelve chapters;
the characters and themes are better developed in the longer work. The Well centers
around one incident that is resolved at the end. Roll of Thunder centers around
several incidents, and readers leave the book with out being sure of the outcome. Finally,
The Well has a plot that moves quickly, and it is a fast-paced read. Roll of Thunder can be slow at times, particularly
early on, although this reviewer did not get bored. Later on, Roll of Thunder picks
up steam, and the reader leaves wanting more. Luckily, the reader can look forward to Taylor’s
other sequels and prequels about the Logan family.
Crowe, Chris. 1999. Presenting Mildred
D. Taylor. New York: Twayne Publishers. ISBN: 0-8057-1687-4.
Mildred Taylor Quote:
"When my father and other storytellers shared
the pain of their lives and the lives of others with me, I was outraged that one person would treat another person with such
inhhumanity and disrespect, and I grew from that outrage, determined to pass the stories on" (Foreward from Roll of Thunder,
25th anniversay edition, 2001).