The Road to Memphis Study Guide

The Road to Memphis by Mildred Taylor

The novel, like its predecessors, is narrated by Cassie Logan, who is now seventeen years old in the year 1941. When her older brother Stacey comes home with his friends Little Willie and Moe in a used car, things seem good. But they soon come across Stacey's friend Clarence fighting with his girlfriend Sissy about him joining the army, and encounter Charlie Simms, a hateful old white man who forces Stacey and his friends to help him and his son get their truck out of a ditch using Stacey's brand new car.

Later on, Cassie goes coon hunting, with Stacey, Christopher-John and Little Man, along with Little Willie, Harris, also Sissy's twin brother, Clarence, and Harris's dog. While going through the woods to find his dog, Cassie and Harris encounter Statler, Leon and Troy Aames along with Jeremy who are also out hunting. The Aames brothers cause trouble with Harris, talking about his weight and how he would make a good "coon". Jeremy, who has a reputation of being nice to Stacey as well as with most of the people of color in the community, doesn't join in at first, but does later, having been pressured by his cousins. The Aames's dogs chase Harris up a tree, and the tree, not being able to hold up his weight, collapses, bringing Harris down with it. Harris suffers a broken leg and is out unconscious. The brothers try to apologize, saying that it wasn't really their fault and leave while Jeremy remains. Cassie goes and gets her brothers, Little Willie, and Clarence and they rush over to help Harris. Later, Harris is struggling to hold on to life. Jeremy comes over to the Logan house and tries to apologize, but Stacey does not forgive him, thinking that Jeremy has changed just like his father and uncle have warned.

Cassie leaves soon after to Jackson with Stacey and his friends, to the high school she attends there and things get back to normal. Then, in November, when they come back home for their preacher's funeral, along with their cousin Oliver, Little Man and Christopher-John inform them with the news that Sissy, Clarence's girlfriend is pregnant. Neither Sissy, nor Clarence want to own up that its Clarence's baby, Clarence because he is not ready to be a father and Sissy so that Clarence will feel bad and marry her. This is what Sissy tells Cassie not to tell anyone else because she doesn't want Clarence to be forced into marrying her. Cassie, who has just learned Moe has lost his job, feels that Sissy is just causing trouble. After she tries to explain this to her as she walks her home, Cassie is forced to walk back to the church alone. The Aames brothers pass by her on the road and start messing with her. Just in the nick of time, Cassie's father, David, rescues her from the white boys and walks with her a little while then turns back to go home. Cassie tells Clarence about Sissy's plan even though Sissy told her not to. Cassie tells Clarence before he goes over to Sissy's house not to tell Sissy. After they've said their goodbyes, Cassie, Oliver, Stacey, and his friends go to pick Clarence up and find him and Sissy arguing again. Despite what Cassie told him to do, Clarence tells Sissy about what Cassie told him and Sissy starts screaming at both her and Clarence.

As they drive away, Clarence says how he has a headache, foreshadowing other events to come as the story progresses. Because of his headache, Clarence tells Stacey that he has to stop in the neighbouring town of Strawberry to get some BC Powder for his head. Stacey has to go make his car payments to Wade Jamison anyway, and they drive into town. As they do, Stacy notices that the left tire of his car seems low so Willie volunteers to go and get it fixed up for him. Clarence tells Willie to wait for him so he can get the medicine for his head and Moe goes with him. As they go into the store, the Aames brothers and Jeremy come out of the store. After Stacey goes into Mr. Jamison's office to pay for his car, Little Willie, Cassie and Oliver see Clarence coming out of the store without Moe. Statler Aames asks Clarence if he's forgotten his manners because of the soldier suit he's wearing and he says no and that he's sorry he hasn't greeted them. Statler, tells him that he should take off his cap when he's talking to him and as Clarence does Statler tells him to step over to where he is to see if he has a "big head". However, while the old men on the steps and Statler's brothers are laughing, Jeremy is not and he leaves. Statler orders Clarence to bend his head so he can feel it and tells everyone else to do it too because it "brings good luck".

Despite the humiliation, Clarence knows he can't do anything about it and takes it—that is until Moe comes out of the store and tells Clarence to go, oblivious to what is happening. Statler and the other men aren't very happy about being interrupted, and almost start something with Moe, when Mr. Jamison calls the two young men over. Saved, they go over to "talk" with the lawyerand Clarence ends up going into the office with Stacey. Moe tells Cassie, Oliver, and Little Willie they'll be out in a while, and they head over to the garage.

At the garage, they see Harris's old truck coming down the road with Christopher-John, Little Man, Sissy and Harris inside. Sissy demands to know where Clarence is but before she is able to find out where, another truck comes toward the garage with Statler and his brothers in it. Harris, recognizing them as the men who had hurt him gets nervous and urges Sissy they need to leave. Statler and his brothers come over to them from Jeremy's truck and starts things with Moe saying he was the boy who messed with (their) getting themselves some good luck with (Clarence)". Statler orders Moe to also take his hat off and rubs his head as well. Statler keeps on saying Moe is mighty lucky to be courting someone like Cassie, which is what he infers from his constant looking back at her. All of Moe's anger is unleashed when Statler says by rubbing Moe's head he can get lucky with Cassie himself. Moe hauls off, hitting Statler and his brothers with the tire iron he had in his hands, knocking them all to the ground. Moe, shocked by what he has just done, looks for somewhere to hide as they hear someone coming. Moe turns to Harris's truck, but Harris refuses and drives away, saying they'll get him just like that night they went hunting, leaving Sissy, Christopher-John, and Little Man. Moe gets the signal from Jeremy, who is just across the way to get into his truck just before the owner of the garage and Mr. Simms come over to see what has happened. Statler tells his uncle and the garage owner that it was Moe who had done this to him and that Harris had driven him away in his truck. While all this is going on, the sheriff comes, as well as Stacey and Clarence. Cassie tells them about what has happened, and they tell Jeremy to drop Moe off in Jackson. Jeremy is hesitant at first, but then decides to do it to make up for the going along with his cousins after Harris.

When Cassie, her brother, Stacey, Clarence, Little Willie and Oliver get back to Jackson, they are surprised to find that neither Jeremy nor Moe is there. They get worried that Jeremy has turned him into the authorities. Stacey tells Cassie to stay behind and to study at the local restaurant while he, Clarence, Willie and Oliver go look for Moe. As Cassie studies in the office of the restaurant, a man comes in looking for Jasper, the owner. Cassie recognizes him as the man who has come in with a woman in green. They get into a discussion about books, school, and Cassie's love life. Cassie finds herself attracted to the man who introduces himself as Solomon Bradley. He leaves soon after and Cassie goes out of the office to find her brother and his friends are back with no word about Moe. She decides to go with them to try to find Moe, leaving Clarence and Oliver behind. They find Moe with Jeremy and after they do, go to Mr. Jamison's house to find out what to do about Moe and his dire situation. He tells them he would probably be charged with criminal offenses and that's when they decide Moe has to leave Mississippi if he wants to survive. They decide to drive him to Memphis, Tennessee and make him catch a train to Chicago once they get him there. They pick up some food from Oliver and money and they are off to Memphis.

On the way they encounter many obstacles. They get in trouble with white men at a rest stop and Cassie's pride is damaged when she tries to use the white only indoor restroom and is caught. She is pushed down by the rest stop owner and kicked at, as well as losing her purse (which she has to leave behind) in the process. They all speed away after the men talk about how "uppity" they see Stacey as because of his car. They roll into the forest and their car breaks down. Stacey decides after they wait there in the darkness for a while to go see if the men are out there. He pulls out a gun and goes and finds out. When he comes back and reports he has seen nothing, they decide they should get some rest. While Cassie is trying to sleep, she dreams of her past, which changes into a nightmare where she is kicked at by "angry, foul-talking men". Cassie awakens and screams, the dream still fresh in her mind. Clarence, who had been asleep, but then awakened by Cassie's screams, looks back at her with concern. Suddenly feeling queasy, Cassie jumps out of the car and throws up.

Stacey tells Moe to watch out for Cassie in the back, and then she falls asleep again. When she wakes up, Stacey is mad about the damage done to his car that was caused by the men back at the rest stop. The car also is not starting up, so Stacey goes with Willie to try to find somewhere to get a part for the car. Cassie and Moe are left alone with sleeping Clarence. They decide to eat and as they do Moe kisses Cassie. Just as Moe is about to say something that he says he has been wanting to tell Cassie for a while, men come and ask them what happened to their car. The men tell them they have parts after Cassie explains the situation and Moe goes with them to get them. Stacey and Willie come back and Cassie tells them where Moe went. Moe comes back with the piece and they are able to fix the car.

Not long after, Clarence starts screaming about how much his head hurts and that it's killing him. He knocks himself unconscious and after they fix the car they try to get Clarence admitted into the white hospital. They are refused but get some medicine from a black janitor. She directs them to a woman named Ma Dessie's place who gives them food and gives Clarence something for his head. She insists they leave. Before they do, Clarence tells Cassie he started writing the letter Cassie had told him to write to Sissy. They finish off their trip to Memphis and it is there that they learn what has happened at Pearl Harbor : the Japanese have bombed it. Unable to get a train for Moe to Chicago, and with the car acting up again, they go find the place of the man that Oliver told them about before they left which just happened to be the man who Cassie had met back in Mississippi. The man, who works for a newspaper, helps Stacey out by telling him about a place where he can get his car fixed. Cassie, who's embarrassed by her appearance, takes a bath and notices all the pictures of women Solomon has in his apartment. She helps Solomon out by proofreading an article for the newspaper and then she falls asleep. The next day after she takes another bath, Solomon comes in and dances with Cassie and kisses her. Moe sees and Cassie feels bad about it. She finds out the car got fixed and they have a ticket for Moe and they leave. At the station, Moe tells Cassie what he never got to tell her back in the woods: that he has loved her for a long time and he wanted to marry her after he got a better education. He kisses her again and then he's off to Chicago. They make their way back to pick up Clarence and when they get there, they find out he is dead. The woman gives them the letter that Clarence had written to Sissy saying that he wanted to marry her.

They go back to Mississippi broken-hearted, only to find more trouble. Harris is going to jail from the belief that he knows where Moe is. Although Jeremy knows he took Moe but doesn't say anything at first, he changes his mind and tells everything. As a result, Harris is let go. His father gets mad and hits him. He says he is dead to him and that he doesn't know why he is a "nigger lover".

Later, they all try to tell Sissy that Clarence is dead but she doesn't believe them. When she finally does, she screams and cries. Still later, Stacey and Cassie go home. Jeremy comes over and tells Stacey he's sorry bout the time he chased Harris in the woods, and that he's leaving Mississippi and joining the army. Stacey listens and forgives Jeremy. The next day, Stacey goes back to Jackson.

The story closes with the fact that they never see Jeremy again.

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