The Characters (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Kunta Kinte dominates the novel, within the narrative of his life story and within the context of the influence his story exerts over his descendants. Kunta is the only fully developed character in the novel. All others are on the periphery of the family narrative or are secondary characters, such as Chicken George, Kizzy, and Tom Murray. Characters such as Bell (Kunta’s wife) and the fiddler (his friend) are one-dimensional. Their sole purpose is to provide points of view that differ from Kunta’s.
For example, Bell represents the docility of the born slave. A strong, mature woman who loves her husband, she nevertheless is constantly disturbed by Kunta’s Africanisms. She takes umbrage when Kunta remarks that she looks like a Mandinka woman. “What fool stuff you talkin’ ’bout? . . . Don’ know how come white folks keep on emptyin’ out boatloads a you Africa niggers!” Like most slaves, Bell has severed any ties or reminders of her African heritage. Furthermore, she regards Kunta’s adherence to Mandinka practices as dangerous, always fearing what the massa’s reaction might be, and with good reason. Bell’s two daughters from a previous marriage were sold. Ever obedient, ever wary, Bell fears the breakup of her new family.
The fiddler represents the talented, enterprising, yet naïve slave who offers a decided contrast to Kunta, who hates and distrusts all toubob. The fiddler’s story reinforces Kunta’s negativity....
(The entire section is 499 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Kunta Kinte (KEWN-tah KIHN-tay), “the African,” progenitor of the American line of Haley’s family. Kunta, a member of the highly respected Kinte clan of the Mandinka people of Gambia, is captured at the age of seventeen, transported to Annapolis, Maryland, and subsequently sold into slavery. A man of immense courage and spiritual fortitude (he remains a devout Muslim in Christianized America), he never relinquishes his dream of returning to his homeland. He instills in his daughter Kizzy a strong sense of self-worth and dignity, as well as the desire to be free. Kunta teaches his young daughter the Mandinka words of ko (a kora is a stringed instrument resembling a guitar) and Kamby Bolongo (the Gambia River), which eventually is transmitted orally down through seven generations.
Kizzy, the daughter of Kunta and Bell. She keeps her father’s dream alive, even after she is sold to the wretched Tom Lea. After being raped by Lea, she gives birth to their son, whom Lea names George after “the hardest-working nigger I ever saw.” Despite her baby’s sordid conception, light skin, and undignified naming, Kizzy resolves to see him only as the grandson of Kunta Kinte. She perpetuates the dreams and teachings of her father in the rearing of her son.
Chicken George, Kizzy’s...
(The entire section is 498 words.)