Summary (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Roots is, in Alex Haley’s words, a “novelized amalgam” of documented historical and fictionalized events. Haley’s artistic intent, that his family’s narrative should serve as a symbolic saga for all Americans of African descent, pervades the novel on all levels. With the exception of the last three chapters, the novel is told from an omniscient, third-person perspective.
In the spring of 1750 in Juffure, The Gambia, a son is born to Omoro Kinte and his second wife, Binta. The child is named Kunta. As a member of the old and highly esteemed Kinte family, Kunta is schooled in the customs and traditions befitting a future Mandinka warrior. Throughout his childhood, Kunta is taught to avoid and fear the “toubob,” white men who capture African people for evil purposes.
Despite these tribal caveats, Kunta is captured by white slave traders in 1767 while searching for a tree section to make a drum. Along with 140 Africans of various tribes, Kunta is shipped as cargo on the Lord Ligonier. Pestilence, filth, depravity, and cruelty fill this episode, serving as a controlling metaphor for the inhumanity of the institution of slavery. The captives unsuccessfully stage a revolt, resulting in the deaths of many. Kunta admires the courage of these dead, for they died as warriors. He, as a survivor, dreads what is to come, for he instinctively knows that his eventual fate will be worse than the ocean voyage.
(The entire section is 821 words.)
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Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family became a best-seller almost as soon as it came out in 1976, and its popularity continued through its presentation as a television miniseries. As Haley intended, Roots became a saga of all African Americans. Additionally, the story of the search for and finding of ancestral roots struck a universal chord. Despite persistent questions of genealogical and historical accuracy, Roots accomplishes an insightful rendition of African American experience: the rhythms of African village life, the terror of captivity and drawn-out horror of crossing the Atlantic, the rage of a free man thrust into slavery, and the cruel ironies involved in surviving slave life in America. Only briefly does the book describe life after the Civil War, but the twentieth century account of Haley’s recovery of his African ancestor satisfactorily completes Kunta Kinte’s odyssey and gives the saga symbolic wholeness.
Kunta, who is of the Mandinka tribe, grows up in the Muslim village of Juffure in Gambia, West Africa, under the tutelage of his mother Binta, father Omoro, and village elders. He matures through prescribed stages of increasing responsibility to young manhood. He thus has a secure sense of who he is when he is surprised outside the village and captured by slavers. Haley vividly conveys Kunta’s fury and fear at being chained and taken he knows not where for an end he cannot imagine. He...
(The entire section is 477 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In the spring of 1750, Kunta Kinte is born in Juffure in The Gambia, Africa. His father is Omoro; his mother is Binta. Kunta learns the Mandinka village’s customs and its religion—Islam. At five years of age, he graduates to the second kafo, donning clothes, attending school, and herding goats. He learns that some people in Juffure are slaves and that toubob—white people—sometimes capture Africans and sell them into slavery.
At ten years of age, he enters the third kafo, when boys receive manhood training, learning how to hunt, to use their wits, and to make war. They study sacred writings—the Qur՚n, the Pentateuch, and the Psalms. The boys then are circumcised and sent back to the village as men. Kunta moves from his mother’s hut into his own. He, his younger brother, Lamin, and some friends go to hunt for gold. He listens to the Council of Elders discussing village business.
One day after sentry duty, Kunta looks for wood for a drum. Some toubob and their black assistants ambush and capture him. He and people from other tribes are shackled in a ship’s hold, where many die. The stench of vomit, urine, feces, and death is overwhelming. Kunta becomes very ill but survives the four-month journey.
Sold to a white man, Kunta cannot understand why other black men do not free him. He runs away but is recaptured by men and dogs. Kunta works in the fields and watches the ways of both...
(The entire section is 1093 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Roots opens with the birth of Kunta Kinte in 1750 in the small Gambian village of Juffure in West Africa. The firstborn child of Omoro and Binta Kunte, young Kunta is raised in the same way as all male Muslim children in his Mandinka tribe. In his lessons, he is taught to read and write in Arabic, to say his prayers, and to do arithmetic. From his father and older boys, he learns to hunt. He helps look after his younger brother, who idolizes him. When he reaches adolescence, he and the other boys his age are taken away for four months of “manhood training,” including grueling physical training and the ritual of circumcision. When they return to the village, there is much rejoicing, for now they are all men.
From listening to snatches of frightening stories told by his elders, Kunta learns to stay away from the toubob—the white men—who hunt for young people like himself and take them away in a big canoe. One day, however, when he is out searching for wood to make a drum for his younger brother, Kunta is captured. He endures the horrors of the “middle passage”—the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean on a crowded, stinking, disease-ridden slave ship, an experience shared by perhaps twenty million Africans over the almost four hundred years of the slave trade.
Arriving at a plantation in Virginia, Kunta is shocked to find that the other black people there are not Africans—they speak English, practice Christianity, and seem to...
(The entire section is 878 words.)
Roots begins in a small African village named Juffure with the birth of a son to Omoro and Binta Kinte. The boy is named Kunta Kinte in honor of his famous grandfather, Kairaba Kunta Kinte, who saved the people of Juffure from a terrible drought.
At the age of five, Kunta graduates to the second kafo. He begins to herd goats and go to school. When he is eight, Kunta goes with his father on a journey to visit the new village his uncles, Janneh and Saloum, have founded. By this time, he has formed a close relationship with his younger brother, Lamin.
At the age of ten, Kunta completes his schooling and goes through his manhood training with his mates. He moves into his own hut and gets his own land to farm. By fifteen, he has built a thriving farm. One day, while hunting for wood with which to make a drum, Kunta is captured by white slavers, known as the toubob.
On the long journey to the United States, the slavers place Kunta in the hold of a ship with dozens of other men. After a harrowing journey across the ocean, Kunta and the surviving men and women arrive in Virginia. Kunta begins plotting his escape.
Almost as soon as he has the strength, he tries to escape; he is quickly recaptured. He tries again three more times. On the fourth attempt, the two white patrollers who catch him cut off half of his foot. He quickly loses consciousness, and wakes to find himself...
(The entire section is 1418 words.)
Chapter 1 Summary
In the African village of Juffure, in the Gambia on the coast of West Africa, a little boy is born to Omoro and Binta Kinte of the Mandinka tribe. The parents give praise to Allah for their great blessings in this child, one who will assure the continuation of the Kinte name in the village and for all time. For Omoro, it is a time of good fortune.
Even during the birth, life goes on as usual amid the mud huts of the village. The women make the porridge and build the fires. The men are called to the first prayer of the day led by the alimamo. The wives feed the men and then the children and then themselves. The men then prepare to farm the land for couscous, cotton, and groundnuts, while the women tend to the rice.
Omoro spends the next seven days deciding on a suitable name for his firstborn son. This is an important job for the Mandinka warrior, considering that the child is believed to possess seven traits of the person for whom he is named. Omoro also visits each mud hut in the village and invites each family to the ceremony where his son will be named.
The all-important eighth day dawns, and the villagers gather joyously, bringing ceremonial offerings. Triumphantly, a small piece of the baby's hair is shaved while everyone praises the baby's health. The drums begin to beat and the alimamo says a prayer to Allah asking for a long life, family pride, and honor.
The moment arrives, and Omoro takes his son, whispers to the baby his very own name, turns to Binta to whisper it to her as well, and then lifts this firstborn high in the air while the arafang (the future teacher of the child) proclaims the child's name: Kunta Kinte. The entire Mandinka tribe from the village of Juffure rejoices at the sound of the drums and voices.
Kunta Kinte is named after his grandfather, Kairaba Kunta Kinte. The grandfather was a holy man who saved the village from famine many years ago. The arafang then enthralls the assembly with his plethora of stories of all of the Mauretanian forefathers going back more than two hundred years. However, the ceremony is not complete until Omoro retreats alone, under the stars, with Kunta and, holding him up to Allah, says, "Behold—the only thing greater than yourself."
It is only now that the ceremony is complete.
(The entire section is 410 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
Being primarily a farming community, Juffure prepares for the planting season, the men burning weeds to nourish the soil with the ashes, the women planting new seedlings behind them. Grandma Yaisa enters the scene. She is the matronly woman who is both Kunta Kinte's grandmother and the woman who tends Binta's life-giving rice plot while Binta is recovering from delivery.
Now Binta comes back to tend her own rice with baby Kunta strapped snugly in a sling and a bundle balanced on her head. She is walking with friends along the banks of the river the Mandinka call the Kamby Bolongo, one of the many tributaries of the great Gambia River. The mangroves and the other perfumed plants fill the air with beautiful scents as Binta walks. Baboons bellow, wild pigs snort, minnows splash, mosquitoes buzz, and the plethora of birds of the Gambia squawk their greeting. The setting leaves nothing to the imagination, with all of the senses stimulated.
Binta reaches her plot of rice, chosen each year by the Council of Elders from the village of Juffure. The size of the plot has everything to do with the number of mouths to feed in the family. Seeing that Binta has had only one son, she still has a small plot of rice. However, there is a surprise waiting for her at this site: a new shelter that Omoro built while Binta was in labor. It is a shelter for Kunta Kinte as he accompanies Binta at her rice plot. Binta shouts with glee.
Binta's work on her rice plot consists of bending double in knee-deep water and pulling out the treacherous weeds that choke and kill the rice if not tended to by her loving hands. During the day, Binta waits to hear Kunta's cries from the shelter and then nurses him, again and again, even when dripping wet from her task. Evenings involve Binta's trip home with Kunta, cooking and serving Omoro his dinner, rubbing warm shea butter on little Kunta, visiting Grandma Yaisa, and sleeping in her safe mud hut.
This is the way that Kunta Kinte grew: in his mother's love and the warmth of the rice crop.
Omoro has special moments with his son, too. Sometimes Omoro takes Kunta from the womenfolk to his own hut (the men and women sleep separately) and lets him explore charms and bowls and hunting bags and prayer rugs and bows and arrows and spears: all important parts of a warrior's life.
Little Kunta is intrigued with color and is always happy. Binta, although happy with her son...
(The entire section is 473 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
Kunta Kinte is now three years old, and the years pass as they always do, with the "lean season" preceding the rains. It is in this lean season that the villagers of Juffure always fear they will starve. Countless prayers are said to Allah. The women start mixing their rice and couscous with baobab leaves. A few goats, the lifeblood of the tribe, are even killed as a sacrifice to Allah to ask for mercy. However, as they always do, the winds begin to blow and the rains come. The men hoe their rows in straight lines, preparing for seeds.
It is at this very time that the women arrive dressed in the traditional leaf-adorned fertility garments and attend to their men in the fields. They walk behind their men and drop a seed into the hole that their husbands punch with their big toe. Seeds of squash, onions, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and cassava are sown carefully. In this way, they work as hard as the men, harder even (considering the huts and the babies and the dinners have to be tended as well).
During this time, Kunta Kinte no longer resides in his shelter by the rice plot. Kunta is now under the watchful eye of the grandmothers until he turns five. Kunta Kinte and his playmates skitter around, stark naked in the sun, scattering animals and playing hide-and-seek behind trees, having all the fun in the world. However, a hush comes over the entire crowd of young children when one of the old grandmothers tells a story. Even Kunta's own Grandma Yaisa tells stories, but the favorite storyteller of all is old Nyo Boto, who looks quite gruff but is full of love and the tallest of tales.
One day, Nyo Boto tells a particularly animated story to Kunta and friends about a little boy who comes across a crocodile in a net. The crocodile asks to be freed, but the little boy is afraid of being eaten. When the crocodile promises not to eat the little boy, the boy frees the crocodile, who promptly grabs the little boy to eat him. The little boy asks the crocodile, "Is this how you repay my goodness—with badness?" Even though the crocodile insists that it is the way of the world, the boy convinces him to ask passers by. An old donkey and old horse agree that their masters, after using them, turned them to the cougars, but a plump rabbit says he cannot make a decision unless he hears everything from the start. However, when the crocodile opens his mouth to tell the story, he sets the boy free. The boy promptly calls the men of the...
(The entire section is 511 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
Kunta and the other little ones of the Mandinka tribe are still happily playing about in the early rains, often claiming the elusive rainbows to be “mine,” that is, until the big rains come. Then the entire tribe huddles inside the huts as the people watch their village turn into a mud pit. It is hard for the young ones to understand the parents’ happiness, but they still ask Allah for even more rain. It is this very rain that will sustain their entire tribe the rest of the year.
Still, the rains persist and the mood gets a bit glum, so Nyo Boto comes to the rescue, this time with a story about a worse situation, one that connects to Kunta Kinte’s lineage. Nyo Boto tells the story of one horrible season when there were only two days of rain. It was then that the savage sun dried up the land and ruined all of the crops. Things got so bad that the animals of the forest began to drink from the village well. Even though the entire tribe sacrificed many animals to Allah, the tribe began to die out. It was then that Kunta Kinte’s ancestor, the marabout Kairaba Kunta Kinte, came to the tribe and prayed to Allah and fasted in sacrifice to save the Mandinka. After praying and fasting for five days, a huge rain came and saved the tribe. This ends Nyo Boto’s story.
The children look a bit differently at Kunta Kinte after this because he is named after such a distinguished ancestor. Kunta Kinte recalls how people look respectfully at his own grandmother, Grandma Yaisa, for the same reason.
The rains continue to fall, and the adults busy themselves with tending to sagging roofs and their families, hoping and praying that their rations last until harvest. The natural world seems to bloom with this great rain. Beautiful flowers grow and luscious fruits, not yet ripe, hang from the trees. Still, the people of the village of Juffure become thin, choosing to feed their precious goats and cattle before themselves (something important for the survival of the tribe). Unfortunately, because of their Muslim beliefs, the Mandinka disregard the plethora of hens' eggs and wild boars that surround them as well as the monkeys of the forest. Still, a random fish or an injured crane becomes a rare meal.
The Mandinka survive by making soups and stews from such items as grubworms and moles or other rodents. The people of the tribe in Juffure are beginning to starve to death.
(The entire section is 428 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
Illness and starvation are running rampant in the village of Juffure. There are strange moans coming from different huts that confuse Kunta, but the adults know they are the moans of people who have lost loved ones. Men are carried back dead from their fields. There are fevers and rashes and strange pustules that plague the village. Kunta Kinte bears one of these blemishes that turns pink, swells, breaks open, and flows with pus. This wound causes him to fall down one day, and the fall wounds his head as well.
The other children of the village take Kunta, bleeding, to Grandma Yaisa’s hut. She is starving and weak, but she still leaps up to attend to her wounded grandson. She uses the pincers of kelelalu ants to mend the wound. She deftly breaks off each ant’s body so as to keep the head and pincers in place along the wound until it is completely closed. It is here that Grandma Yaisa asks young Kunta to lie with her as she greatly expands on the story about Kunta’s grandfather.
The story, this time, begins in Mauretania, where Kairaba Kunta Kinte was originally from. Kairaba desired to be a holy man above all else (as was family tradition). At fifteen, he begged the current marabout to travel with him as he blessed different tribes with his holy service as he wandered the land. It was not long before Kairabe received his ordination and traveled on his own to many villages, where the inhabitants found his prayers to Allah were answered with swiftness. Suddenly, tribes called to him from all around for his holy services. All were offering cattle, wives, and other wealth of sorts. Still, Kairaba heard of the sad village of Juffure that had only two days of rain to sustain it. As told in Grandma Yaisa’s previous story, Kairaba Kunta Kinte went to Juffure and prayed and fasted for five days. This saved the village.
After the story, Grandma Yaisa proudly proclaims that she is one of the wives of this late Kairaba Kunta Kinte. From that union comes Omoro. From the union of Omoro and Binta comes Kunta Kinte. This is the first time that Kunta Kinte understands how he is truly connected to the family. Kunta Kinte imagines that someday he will have a wonderful wife who will beget sons. So the family goes on. With the grandiose thoughts of this ultimate connection running through his mind, Kunta falls asleep.
(The entire section is 417 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
As the crops get closer and closer to harvest (meaning there are more things to find and eat), little Kunta suddenly notices that his mother, Binta, seems to be moving a lot slower than she used to move. Her belly is quite large, and Kunta Kinte wonders why. Kunta’s confusion is furthered one night when his father shakes him awake in Binta’s hut (something that never happens) and carries Kunta to Omoro’s own hut amid the low and strange moans of his mother and the bustling movements of other women. In the morning, Omoro proudly tells Kunta Kinte that he has a baby brother.
Kunta ponders how important something must be to make his stern father that proud. Soon Kunta is called in to see his mother and the new baby, which he calls the “little wrinkly black thing,” whom all of the women are cuddling and cooing over. Kunta notices that Binta’s large belly is suddenly gone. Instead of playing with his friends, Kunta goes off by himself to ponder what all of this means. As he sleeps in Omoro’s hut for the seven days before the baby is named, Kunta wonders whether anyone notices him or cares about him anymore. Suddenly, just as was done with Kunta years before, the little brother is taken by Omoro in front of the village and is named Lamin.
Back in his own bed, Kunta finally gets comfortable again when another life event rocks the family and the Mandinka tribe: Grandma Yaisa becomes very sick and passes away. The death occurs when Kunta is out with his friends enjoying the fruits of the mango trees. Kunta hears the death wails. Now knowing what they mean, Kunta realizes with panic that they are coming from his grandmother’s hut.
Again, Kunta Kinte finds himself in confused chaos as even Omoro and Nyo Boto are bitterly weeping together as others beat the tobalo drum. More tribesmen call out the events of Grandma Yaisa’s long and fruitful life in Juffure while the young women of the tribe beat up the dust in tribute. Kunta cries his first real tears, out of both fear and grief, as he sees his grandmother wrapped in a white cloth, put on the flat face of a split log, and removed from her hut. Mourners walk circles around her body as they pray to Allah for Grandma Yaisa’s safe journey and as the young men of the tribe sprinkle ashes around her. The oldest women of the village sit all night in a vigil talking about Grandma Yaisa’s life.
The next morning, Omoro holds Lamin in one arm and...
(The entire section is 525 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
The Mandinka village, ripe with a harvest that is about to appear, enjoys the fruits of the early season. Everyone has more to eat. The women grind millet and harvest fruit. The men hunt antelopes. Both tend to their almost fully grown crops and rice as the Kamby Bolongo river tributary retreats quickly.
The children play again as their wounds from the lean time heal. Kunta Kinte has a good friend now, named Sitafa Silla, who accompanies him on most of his fun exploits. They invent all sorts of games to have fun. One day, they race dung beetles. Another day, they throw rocks at bands of monkeys in the trees to see if they will return the throw. The next day, they dig into a large, soft, termite mound to wake the creatures and watch them scurry off into the woods. The following day, they might scare a few ground squirrels and chase them into the forest. Finally, they might play a grand game where they pretend to be different animals of Africa. There is also a lot of wrestling, practice for when they are older and become warriors in the Mandinka tribe.
Still, no matter how much fun they are having, all children stop to give proper respect to their elders—what is called “home training lessons” in the Mandinka tribe. Kunta looks any adult in the eye as he asks, “Kerabe?" ("Do you have peace?"). Kunta exchanges hands and crosses his hands over his chest as any elder walks past.
Kunta always “tried his best to be a good boy.” Still, Kunta feels as if Binta is being too strict with him. He hears “irritated finger-snapping” or, worse, gets whipped or spanked for everything, such as not coming home clean, scaring his brother, or staring at a grownup or interrupting adult conversation. Young men often squabble, and Kunta and his friends are no exception; however, when an argument erupts, Kunta always shows great strength of character by walking away, one of the proudest traits of the Mandinka tribe. One infraction Kunta never commits is lying, as there is never any reason to in his tribe.
Still, Kunta always seems to get a spanking for something, and when Binta is at her wits' end, she yells, “I will bring the toubob!” to scare Kunta. This exclamation is in reference to an old story about strange, hairy white men who steal young Africans away in big canoes.
(The entire section is 408 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
This chapter begins with the beauty of the African sunset. The children, Kunta Kinte among them, whoop and holler at the beautiful, red, round ball that was the sun and shout about how Allah would send an even more beautiful sunset the next day. It is on happy nights like this that the adults gather and beat the drum in excitement when they see the crescent moon rise. The crescent moon is the symbol of Allah.
The rising of the “shrouded new moon,” however, creates a different feeling entirely for the Mandinka tribe. This particular moon means that there are evil spirits infiltrating the village. Now the tribe needs the help of the “nearest medicine man.” The men of the tribe beat the drum to summon him, but the medicine man is late in coming.
At night, the adults scamper fearfully into their huts, and Kunta hears the arafang beat the drum in different beats. All of these beats mean something different, and they are written in Arabic on the side of the baobab tree. Kunta Kinte lies awake in the night listening to the drums of his own village as well as the drums from distant villages. They are all beating out tunes of fear and coming evil. Kunta muses that the beats are so clear, they sound like words. As a result, Kunta can decipher exactly what is happening in other villages. He hears plagues in the music as well as famine and sickness. Kunta realizes that other villages must see the new moon in the clouds as well.
At this time before the harvest, the crops, cattle, and goats are particularly susceptible to wild animal attacks. Therefore, the adults and the older children of the village are supposed to be especially vigilant in keeping watch. Kunta and his friend Sitafa do so, but no wild animal comes.
Finally, the medicine man arrives at the village carrying a huge bundle on his head containing gifts from other tribes he has helped. The Mandinka are spellbound as the medicine man takes out some strange items: “a small snake, a hyena’s jawbone, a monkey’s teeth, a pelican’s wingbone, various fowls’ feet, and strange roots.” The medicine man then performs a mysterious ritual full of chants and writhing. His eyes roll back in his head and he falls back as in a faint. When he regains consciousness, the medicine man declares that the evil has left the village.
The Mandinka rejoice at being free from the evil spirits and shower the medicine man with gifts...
(The entire section is 433 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
Kunta Kinte is now twelve years old. With the bigger rains gone and the harvest about to begin, the Mandinka tribe eagerly anticipates the season for travelers. The children, all Kunta’s age, have the job to keep watch at the “travelers’ tree” and to run and tell the adults in the fields and at home about any travelers who are seen. When a traveler does arrive, the children scamper about him and look for signs of a mission or an occupation. Any time a child finds anything out about the traveler, he immediately runs back to the adults to tell the news. Each family of the tribe has a day when it is an honor to feed and house the traveler for as long as he wishes.
Kunta, Sitafa, and other boys his age are growing up fast and feeling a bit frustrated at having to be naked all of the time. They watch with envy as the boys a bit older get to wear special tunics, called dundikos, to cover themselves. These older boys study verses from the Koran as the arafang teaches them to write. Also, Kunta and friends avoid all small children like the plague, wanting nothing to do with them. Kunta, wanting to feel important, often waits around the adults. He is hoping to be sent on one job or another. Luckily, it isn’t long before Omoro asks Kunta to help guard the crops and gather some of the preharvest goodies.
Finally, the harvest begins. The tobalo drum is beaten so enthusiastically that the men of the Mandinka tribe ceremoniously throw their hoes up together with every beat in their jubilation. Sweat and pride abound in the Mandinka menfolk as they gather up all of the spoils from the harvest. The women happily bring the lunch to serve the men, and everyone tiredly washes off the grime of the day in the river at the end of a hard day of harvesting. At night, the Mandinka arrive home to a great feast of smoked meats.
Although this is all exciting to Kunta, he is more interested in the fact that his mother seems to be sewing something important. The very next day, as Kunta runs out the door, Binta scolds Kunta for not putting on his clothes. Kunta’s mother has made him a brand-new dundiko. He rushes outside to join the other boys his own age, happy to have their nakedness covered for the first time in their lives.
(The entire section is 416 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
The night after Kunta first receives his coveted dundiko, Binta tells him that his father wants to see him in the morning. Kunta stays up much of the night thinking and worrying about this, but he is pleased in the morning to approach his father’s hut and have his father hand to him a brand-new slingshot. Kunta must learn to herd the goats of the village now.
Kunta follows his “trainer,” a boy a bit older than him named Toumani, as well as the other boys his age out to the grazing grounds with the goats. The older boys taunt the younger ones a bit, allowing the goats to be herded right into Kunta and his friends with their new dundikos flowing behind them.
It isn’t long before Toumani and the others begin lecturing Kunta and his friends about just how important goats are to the village and the severe beating they may receive from their fathers if a goat is lost or killed. Kunta is instructed on the wild animals, such as panthers and lions, that may stalk the goats from the forest. These animals also wouldn't think anything of eating a little boy for breakfast, either.
By midday, however, there is something worse even than wild animals in this forest: the toubob (white men) who come to steal African boys away “to eat them.” Kunta listens in fear to all that Toumani is telling him, but he concentrates on the more menial tasks of herding as well, such as how to keep the tribe’s crops free of menaces, such as monkeys, antelopes, and wild pigs.
After lunch, Toumani and friends allow Kunta and the other boys his age to try herding the goats until they are yelled at to gather wood for the village fires at night. Kunta struggles to keep the large load of wood from falling off his head while he heads back to the village, dead tired.
The next morning, Kunta receives his first instructions from the arafang and prepares to learn large portions of the Koran by heart. Kunta will be required to do this before he is allowed to move up to the next age group. After being fussed at by the arafang and bullied by the older boys and nagged by the adults of the tribe, Kunta marvels at the amount of responsibility thrust upon him, so much that he no longer has time to think.
(The entire section is 407 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
There is one crop left to harvest in the village of Juffure: the rice. This particular harvest is done by the women of the Mandinka, as is the custom of the tribe. The women bend all day, chopping off the gold stalks to let them dry on the sidelines for a few days before transporting them to the village. Even when the women are done with their special chore, they still have to help the men pick the cotton, which has been left a little longer in the hot afternoon sun of Africa in order to make the fibers even better for spinning.
Now begins the great preparation for the harvest festival. The women spin the very cotton they picked that day to make new thread. Next, they take the thread to the village weaver, who uses an old loom to make cloth, which Binta dyes a deep blue with indigo leaves. Soon colored clothes are drying on all of the bushes surrounding the village.
While the women spin, weave, and sew, the men fix the village fence and repair huts, because soon the summer heat will become so unbearable that no one will be able to do any work at all. The well’s water becomes muddy, so the men decide to dig a new well for the village, digging up big globs of green clay to give to the expectant mothers to eat so their babies will be strong.
Kunta, Sitafa, and their friends are mostly left to themselves these days (with the exception of their usual goat-herding duties). In fact, almost all of the children of Juffure are left unattended as the grandmothers weave many wigs and hairpieces for the unmarried girls to wear at the harvest festival approaching.
Kunta notices with humor that every woman except Nyo Boto is made to show the utmost respect to the men of the village. Nyo Boto sits outside her hut, half-naked, weaving her wigs and shouting insults at every man who passes by: “Look at that! They call themselves men! Now in my day, men were men!” And the usually rugged men of Juffure skitter away as fast as they can.
The girls Kunta’s age gather spices to dry for the festival as well as help with the family washing while the men slowly run out of things to do and the musicians begin to practice. Suddenly, Juffure is filled with music made by all sorts of gourds and strings as Kunta and his friends practice with their slingshots and as other adults whittle small wooden figures or masks.
Kunta looks with disgust at the young girls his age. They...
(The entire section is 534 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
Drums beat wildly on the first day of the harvest festival in Juffure. Kunta has seen this day of ceremony many times now that he is older, but he is still amazed at the writhing, squirming, and lurching dances of his kinfolk all wearing strange masks and acting out scary stories. A thrill rises in Kunta when he sees his own father join in the dance by kicking his knees up, beating up the dust, lurching forward, jolting backward, and then lunging forward while he hammers his chest. Although Kunta had seen such a dance many times and now watches others join in Omoro’s rhythm, this is the first time that Kunta himself is compelled to join in. The entire village spends the whole day dancing, not even stopping to eat.
The second day of the harvest festival always begins with a parade of important tribe members. The start of the parade is always “the arafang, the alimamo, the senior elders, the hunters, the wrestlers” and others whom the Council of Elders names for their important deeds. Everyone cheers and applauds as each important person gets a chance to strut with pride. When the parade circles the travelers’ tree, Kunta and the boys his age begin their own “important” parade. Both Omoro and Binta feel proud of their son when Kunta takes his turn in the spotlight.
Then comes the food! The kitchen in every mud hut is open to anyone who wants to partake in the delicious stews and rice dishes and meats, even bowls of fruit kept full by the Mandika maidens.
In between feasts, Kunta and his friends return to the travelers’ tree to meet the strangers who travel between villages to share in the fun. These travelers come to feast and trade, bringing new wares that the people of Juffure desire, such as salt bars, exotic nuts, and colored cloths. Some travelers are musicians who play for a small fee or storytelling griots who send a hush over the crowds with their amazing stories. Particularly special are the religious griots, who prophesy and warn of messages from Allah. The only strangers not welcome in Juffure are the pagans. These “infidels” sell only tobacco and snuff and alcohol: all considered evil to the Mandinka tribe.
During the sixth day of the harvest festival, an “insulting” drumbeat is heard, announcing wrestlers from another tribe vowing to take down the Juffure wrestlers. Suddenly the Juffure villagers beat back the same warning as the wrestlers meet, grease up, and...
(The entire section is 554 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
The final day of the harvest festival always dawns with a feeling of terror and sadness. Men dressed in horrific masks and costumes of tree bark scream and terrorize the village. These disguised men yell and scream into each hut, filled with the cries of fearful women and children. The brutes grab every boys only one year older than Kunta. These boys have white hoods forced onto their heads and are tied like slaves to be taken away for an entire year in order to enter their “manhood training.” The village is saddened by their departure.
For days afterwards, the boys discuss the stories they have heard about this mysterious training during “twelve moons.” They talk of beatings and hunting and abandonment. Worst of all is something that the group refuses to talk about at all: the fear that part of their foto will be cut off. This will truly make them men. Kunta and his friends shake in fear. They know that they will be in the next group of boys taken away to become men in the forest. Their fear soon stops this talk cold.
Kunta, Sitafa, and his friends are now expert goatherds. They know that the hardest part of the day is the morning when the bugs are still biting and the goats try to escape the bites by flitting this way and that. However, as the sun climbs higher and the bugs fade away, the goats settle down and graze on the closest grass they can find. This is the time when the boys can have some fun. They kill small animals with their slingshots and roast them in a private feast, play at “war,” soothe their hot feet with the grass and mucus from a rabbit’s belly, and romp with the guardians of the Mandinka cattle: the wuolo dogs.
Tending to his own herd, Kunta sometimes gets away from the others. This is when Kunta allows his imagination to run wild. One day, he imagines that he is a simbon, a particular warrior hunting the most hideous beast to haunt the savanna: “a maddened buffalo.” Kunta imagines that this buffalo already has killed numerous people and is impossible to catch, let alone kill. But with just his bow and arrow, Kunta takes the animal down. The village rings with shouts of “Simbon Kinte!”—until Kunta realizes that his real goats have gone astray into a neighboring farm! Kunta is so ashamed that he doesn’t allow any more daydreams for at least a month.
(The entire section is 421 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
The five long months of the dry season are hard for the village of Juffare in the Gambia of Africa. The sun and heat bake Kunta Kinte’s lips and feet as he tends to his goats all day. Even though Kunta spends the morning rubbing his feet with palm oil, that treatment is no match for the heat of the day on this hot, dry continent. Kunta, Sitafa, and their friends, however, never complain. They are a growing testament to the respect and honor of their fathers in that silence. Still, the friends play less, eat less, and talk less as they try to bear the heat together, herding their goats.
Ironically, the nights are bitterly cold, and groups of Mandinka gather around their separate fires to shiver through the nights together: the grandmothers with the young children, the men, the women and maidens, and the elders. The boys of Kunta’s age flit back and forth trying to decide whether to eavesdrop on the elders (who mostly just talk about the heat) or to listen in to the grandmothers’ stories.
It isn’t long before the horrid harmattan wind makes living in the day unbearable. The harmattan blows dry dust everywhere so that one can hardly breathe. The people of Juffare begin to squabble with each other unnecessarily, and the cattle and goats become thin and sad. During these days, Kunta often herds his goats alone and ponders the sufferings of his people. They always seem to be bearing one hardship or another: too much rain, too little rain, too little food, so much heat and sickness and death. Prayers to Allah to heal it all. Further, Kunta admits that the harvest season doesn’t last nearly long enough for his liking.
Kunta is encouraged when he begins to feel the softer winds starting to blow as he herds his goats in the heat. The rains will soon come, as they do every year. The adults begin to burn the weeds in the fields and scatter the ash to nourish the soil. This year Kunta notices that the little ones flit about gathering the falling flakes of ash: always a symbol of good luck. The rains approach quicker and quicker with the men busily moving their hoes back and forth in the soil. The men and women are preparing long, long rows to receive seeds. It seems to Kunta that this is an “endless cycle of seasons.”
(The entire section is 409 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
Kunta Kinte’s mother, Binta, is now carrying Omoro’s third child; therefore, Kunta naturally takes on greater responsibility with his little brother, Lamin. As a result, the relationship between Kunta and his brother grows and strengthens.
One day, Kunta responds to his mother’s weary demeanor with his brother and asks Lamin out on an errand. Lamin is so overjoyed, he cannot contain himself. Every day following, Lamin waits for his brother to take him on some little journey as a goatherd’s sidekick. Kunta is a bit surprised to see that this seems to be happening with all of his friends. The little brothers are always tagging along. First, the boys have a good time making fun of the little ones. They watch as Lamin and the others fall or stumble. However, when Kunta is alone with his little brother, Kunta begins to use these moments as teaching time. In fact, even Binta has ceased chiding Kunta and begins telling Lamin to “have your brother’s manners!”
Kunta proves himself to be a protective big brother one day when a rough acquaintance knocks Lamin down. Kunta almost fights his friend over his emotionally wounded, “sniveling” baby brother. After this, Lamin copies everything Kunta does. Kunta feels proud.
The teaching moments that Kunta has with Lamin allow for lots of learning. Lamin learns to climb trees properly. He learns what leaves his mother uses for tea. He learns to wrestle. He learns to whistle. He learns never to harm a dung beetle or to touch a rooster’s spur to avoid bad luck. He learns about birds and the Koran and the world in the Gambia. Lamin doesn’t always absorb things so quickly, however, and Kunta gets discouraged when Lamin can’t seem to learn to tell time by the sun. This teaches Kunta patience.
Something else is weighing heavily on Kunta’s mind: he is still only a child. The adults seem to merely tolerate Kunta, while the boys after manhood training only sneer at him. The girls, however, are the worst. They constantly remind the boys that they are already ready to marry. Being a boy is an embarrassment to Kunta, but at least he has his new, close relationship with his brother.
Kunta prides himself daily with answering the streams of questions flowing from Lamin’s lips. Kunta is surprised at his own wisdom. However, Kunta is quick to ask Binta or Omoro if he does not have the right answer to give to Lamin. It isn’t long before Kunta...
(The entire section is 443 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
One day, as Kunta’s relationship with his brother Lamin grows stronger, Lamin asks Kunta what slaves are. Kunta doesn’t have enough information to give little Lamin on the subject. He knows only that there are respected slaves in their own village and that the toubob steal some slaves away. It is time to ask Omoro. Luckily, Omoro goes on an errand to procure some palm wood to build a storehouse for Binta. He asks Kunta to tag along, allowing for the perfect time for a son to ask his father questions.
Omoro begins the conversation by explaining about the slaves in their village. Omoro imparts to Kunta how important it is to treat slaves with the same respect as anyone else. In regard to why these people became slaves, Omoro reveals that to Kunta as well. Some are born slaves. Some were starving and had to beg for sustenance in return for service. Others had been captured as prisoners. The only slaves who are despised are the ones who have committed horrible crimes. Omoro also tells Kunta of slaves who can buy their freedom. Omoro is then impressed when Kunta expresses knowledge about such a slave, Sundiata.
Kunta Kinte is the most surprised to learn that Nyo Boto is a slave and thinks, “That one is nobody’s slave.” Kunta and Lamin pay a visit to Nyo Boto to find out the whole story. Long ago, the toubob burnt her village and stole her along with all of the other members of her tribe. She describes the horrible conditions and beatings as the slaves were led to the boats. However, one slave was sold for a bag of corn. That slave was Nyo Boto. Her name means “bag of corn.” Her new master died soon after, and she has lived in Juffure ever since.
Kunta and Lamin are scared beyond belief, but they have a newfound respect for Nyo Boto.
Finally, Kunta asks his father about a time when Omoro saw toubob on the river. Similar to the story of Nyo Boto, but only watching from the shadows, he too observed the horrors of the white man’s cruelty. Omoro tells of a time when person after person was stolen from Juffure. Omoro wants to keep his children safe, so he tells them:
Never be alone when you can help it. . . .Never be out at night when you can help it. And day or night, when you’re alone, keep away from any high weeds or bush if you can avoid it.
Omoro describes the toubob in more detail. The white men have heavier footfalls, build bigger...
(The entire section is 479 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
Kunta Kinte’s brother, Lamin, is so horrified by the stories about the toubob stealing slaves that Kunta decides to change the subject after his next afternoon herding goats. Luckily, Kunta decides to share instead a story about the exciting adventures of his two uncles (Omoro’s brothers): Janneh and Saloum.
Janneh and Saloum are travelers. They travel so much that neither one has ever taken a wife. Fighting off bandits is a common event for Janneh and Saloum, and they have been to places that Kunta and Lamin can only dream about. One place is a huge ocean of sand that never ends and where the sun burns hotter than even in the Gambia. One place is so enveloped in trees that it looks just like night in the middle of the daytime. This place is inhabited by tiny, big-bellied men who shoot elephants with darts. One place contains warriors who throw their spears twice as far as any Mandinka warrior. One place contains dancers that are so limber that they jump higher than their own heads.
One day, news of Janneh and Saloum travels to Juffare through a drumbeat from the neighboring village. The beating of the drum says it all: Omoro’s two brothers have decided to create a new village and desire Omoro to give the new village his blessing. Lamin tries to ask Kunta questions about this, but Kunta dashes off to eavesdrop on the “jaliba” before he sends a return message. Omoro soon appears, gives the jaliba a gift, whispers his answer, and leaves. The jaliba then beats out the return message: expect Omoro in two months time. The entire village congratulates Omoro at the blessing of this new village that will honor the Kinte name once again.
Kunta is beside himself. Will his father allow him to go? If so, Kunta would be the youngest Mandinka ever to travel with his father outside the confines of the village. Out of respect or perhaps out of fear that Binta will put a stop to it, Kunta never mentions his dream to anyone. Kunta knows that his best hope is to catch his father alone. Upon doing so one day, Omoro simply says, “I have just told your mother.” Then he walks on.
Kunta gives a whoop in celebration. He is going on a journey with his father and is the youngest boy ever in the Mandinka tribe to do so! Regardless, Binta beats him severely when he gets home from herding goats that afternoon. More and more young men are stolen away from Africa every day. Binta does not want her firstborn to be...
(The entire section is 661 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
The first day of traveling is hard on Kunta Kinte. Omoro walks so fast that it takes two large steps to equal even one of his father’s. What is harder still for Kunta is that Omoro does not acknowledge Kunta’s presence at all. Kunta’s muscles start to hurt, but he vows that he will drop dead before complaining. Soon, they reach the travelers' tree of a nearby village. The naked, young boys run out to greet the travelers just as Kunta did when he was a boy. Kunta feels very important as he follows his father’s ways and ignores the children with their plethora of questions. Omoro and Kunta intend to speed past the village and move on.
Omoro and Kunta travel on with no rest for quite a while. Just as Kunta begins to panic internally, wondering if he can go on, Omoro stops to drink at a clear pool beside the trail. When Kunta begins drinking wildly, Omoro gives Kunta a little wise advice: “Just a little....Swallow a little, wait, then a little more.” This is the first time Omoro has said anything to Kunta. After drinking and resting awhile, Kunta drifts off to sleep.
Upon waking, Kunta looks around for his absent father and finally finds him returning with roasted pigeons to eat. It isn’t long before they set off again and Omoro tells Kunta that the toubob bring their boats within one day’s walk of where they are right now. Sleeping in a village tonight is a necessity.
The landscape changes and Omoro shows Kunta the signs of an elephant stampede before they notice a disturbing sight: a forlorn travelers' tree, half-burned and with only a few prayer strips. No children come to meet the travelers. Only the elderly hang outside their huts. Trash litters the village. Something is dreadfully wrong.
The old men and women in the village try to show as much hospitality as possible. They explain how slave traders stole all of the tribe except the very old and very young. Omoro tries to encourage the lost tribesmen to come to the new village of Omoro’s brothers, but these men and women only extol their own village and refuse to leave it out of love for their way of life.
Lying on a makeshift pallet that night, Kunta thinks about all the things he has learned, especially about the evils of the toubob. Kunta falls asleep listening to the hyena’s howl, a familiar cry that Kunta now considers to be quite comforting.
(The entire section is 428 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
This night along their travels, Kunta and Omoro are awakened by a haggard old grandmother who insists on knowing what happened to the food she gave them. Omoro softly dismisses her by saying that he wishes he could tell her what happened to that food. This begins Kunta’s musings on the oldest of the Mandinka. There are many elderly in the tribe who say things that do not make sense (such as one woman who insisted her stolen daughter would return the next day). Even though their faculties are mostly gone, these people are treated with kindness and respect.
The next traveler they meet on the trail warns them that they might see a toubob. This traveler reveals that a toubob had met him along the trail and “meant no harm” as he asked where the river began. Omoro and the traveler discuss how a cat often plays with its food before eating it. Kunta wants to know more about all of these things, but his father simply speeds off as usual.
The next group they meet along the trail isn’t a group of travelers: it’s a group of lions that scares Kunta. Omoro simply comments upon how fat these lions are and that lions don’t eat at this time of day. Still, Omoro keeps his hands tightly clutching his bow and arrows, just in case. That night, Kunta is extremely tired as the two sleep along the trail.
The next morning, after being shaken awake by Omoro, Kunta delights in the food Omoro has snared, skinned, and cooked. Kunta marvels at his father’s strength and wisdom. Again, Kunta struggles along the path with aching muscles and hurting feet. Kunta almost halts the progress on this day when he steps on a thorn. Omoro simply treats the hurt area of Kunta's foot and presses on.
The landscape changes again and begins to look even more lush than the area around Juffare. Every travelers' tree announces a group of children who skitter about and give the local news. Kunta and Omoro find one group of children shouting the phrase “Mumbo jumbo!” After a glance at the adults, the Kintes realize that a woman is being beaten by a mumbo jumbo whose sole job is to travel from village to village reprimanding disobedient wives.
Another village is completely empty and the children of the next village tell the story: the chief hadn’t treated his people with respect, so they abandoned him to live as an “empty chief.” The children invite Omoro and Kunta to stay and, this time, they welcome the comforts of...
(The entire section is 530 words.)
Chapter 20 Summary
Omoro and Kunta have to walk faster than ever in order to reach the new village by sunset. Kunta listens to the overlapping drumbeats that announce all the important travelers coming to the founding of the new village. Finally, Omoro and Kunta arrive and are welcomed as honored guests.
Kunta is beside himself with joy both with the welcoming party and with the reunion of his uncles. Kunta immediately notices the differences between Omoro and his two brothers (both from another wife). Janneh and Saloum are shorter, stockier, and more muscular; they are also quicker in speech.
Omoro and Kunta are given a grand tour of the village. Kunta notices all of the interesting improvements that Janneh and Saloum have made. Each hut has a private yard, and each food storage container is suspended above the fire to keep the contents free from critters. Kunta also marvels at the number of different tribes represented in the new village. All the new people who were unsatisfied with their past living situations are happy to come and live here. Kunta starts to note the subtle differences between tribes. The Fulas have faces stretched lengthwise and have thinner lips. The Wolof are as black as night. The Serahuli are short and lighter-skinned. The Jolas have tattooed themselves all over and look ferocious.
Suddenly the village is full of excitement for a very holy “marabout” that is arriving soon. Kairaba Kunta Kinte, Kunta’s grandfather, was also a marabout and the savior of many villages.
In anticipation, Saloum tells a great story of the “mountain of gold” that the toubob came to Africa to find. The gold, of course, is in the tributaries...but no one ever tells the toubob that important piece of information. Janneh then adds his own story about a city made of salt. He also adds the description of “strange humpbacked animals” called "camels" that Saloum and Janneh have been blessed to ride.
Janneh and Saloum then show the entire group a map of Africa drawn on a hide. They point to the ocean (or “big water”) as well as the place with the unending desert and lush forests. They explain the trade between the African and the toubob for things that both need or want.
Finally, the marabout arrives with his entourage. The marabout, hearing that Kunta Kinte is not only Omoro’s first son but also named after Kairaba Kunta Kinte, gives Kunta a special blessing. Kunta uses his only two...
(The entire section is 446 words.)
Chapter 21 Summary
When Kunta returns to the village of Juffare from the village of Omoro’s brothers, he returns to the news that he has a new baby brother named Suwadu. Kunta can’t wait to tell his friends of his adventures, but they are very jealous of all of the adventures Kunta had. In fact, they vow not to ask any questions of Kunta and to act like he hadn’t been away at all. Kunta is incredibly hurt by this. Finally, Kunta can’t stand it anymore and begins talking about his trip while they are all herding goats one afternoon. The boys are so excited to hear the stories that they forget their jealousy and everyone listens at full attention.
Unfortunately, as Kunta tells his story, a panther creeps into the paddock where the goats are grazing and, before the boys know what is happening, the panther kills Kunta’s mature nanny goat who is about to give birth. Three of the wuolo dogs are wounded as well. Kunta follows his instinct and rushes to the mortally wounded goat, directly toward the panther. Luckily the running boys and all of the commotion scare the panther away. However, nothing can stop the regret and pain and embarrassment of Kunta’s neglect. On the way back to the village, Kunta thinks hard about everyone affected. He thinks of the nanny goat. He thinks of the baby goat, dead in the nanny goat’s belly. He thinks of the panther. He thinks of the wuolo dogs. He thinks of his mother and brothers who would probably never see him again if Kunta is sent away. Most of all, Kunta thinks of his father.
Kunta cannot bear to tell his father, but he must. Kunta approaches the dead goat and skins it in order to bring Omoro the hide. As Kunta approaches the village, his father comes running out to him. Kunta is shocked at how Omoro knows the predicament already. Omoro first inquires whether Kunta is okay. Upon finding that Kunta is not hurt, Omoro surprises Kunta by telling him that all men make mistakes. This is a big mistake, but Omoro admits that he lost a goat to a lion when he was as young as Kunta. In fact, Omoro shows his left hip to Kunta. That hip bears a great scar where the lion mauled Omoro. There is one thing that Omoro insists that Kunta learn today: for his son to never run toward any wild animal in the brush. Omoro then takes the hide and throws it aside, saying that there is nothing else that can be said about the matter.
Kunta is filled with all sorts of emotions at this point: confusion, guilt,...
(The entire section is 469 words.)
Chapter 22 Summary
Kunta’s graduation day has arrived. He has studied with the arafang now for quite a few years, and it is time to test his knowledge in front of the entire village of Juffare. Kunta answers proudly when asked about the occupation of his ancestors: blacksmiths. There are questions about math and questions about writing and questions about religion. Kunta Kinte answers well in whatever he is asked. Every correct answer to a question causes excitement and jubilation to erupt from the crowd. Kunta even demonstrates that he can both read and write Arabic (which he admits is quite a difficult task). Most importantly, Kunta shows that he has memorized large sections of the Koran. It isn’t long before the graduation feast begins: the boys are ready for their manhood training (which will begin at the end of the next harvest festival).
The next morning Omoro gives Kunta a present: one male goat and one female goat. Kunta will be able to begin his own herd. Another goat is given away as well: this one to the arafang as a thank you gift for their firstborn son’s education.
Kunta and his friends approach the harvest season with anxiety instead of the usual joy. They know their manhood training is approaching. Fear grips them. They cannot even enjoy the festival. The Mandinka men go and come secretly from the village, speaking in whispers. There is a rumor that the jujuo, the village where manhood training takes place, is in disrepair. There is even more fear when the boys see their mothers taking their head measurements. Kunta Kinte knows that manhood training begins with a white sack put over the head of each young man.
It was the night before the last day of the festival (and not a time when Kunta would expect) that Omoro forces the hood upon Kunta and has him sit still on a stool in his own hut for a day or more. He sits there with only his thoughts and fears. When the scary kankurang dancers with their fearful, masked faces grab him from the hut he is actually glad to be hooded. The villagers scream and kick at Kunta. Then other boys of his age have the same thing done to them until they are all tied together and made to march, still hooded, to the beat of a drum. Kunta has never been happier to have a hood over his head. If it were removed, everyone could see the terror on his face. Suddenly, he feels the fear of the boys in front of him and behind him. This makes him feel better.
Kunta knows he is...
(The entire section is 468 words.)
Chapter 23 Summary
Kunta is led with the other boys to a small village (called the “jujuo”) with a new bamboo fence. Their hoods are yanked off and the boys stand squinting in the sunshine. Before them stands their “kintango,” the leader of manhood training with his assistants around to help him. The kintango looks upon the boys with disgust and informs them that they must erase their fears if they are to become men. Then the kintango and assistants beat Kunta and the other boys until they are thrown into huts, four boys each.
That evening, the first real work begins. The boys are made to march through the forest until daybreak. Although Kunta’s legs hurt, he feels a sense of pride that he already knows how to handle this kind of walking due to the journey with his father. The boys are made to take a longer journey each night for seven nights, collapsing back at the village each dawn. On the seventh night, the boys get their first lesson from the kintango: how to use the stars to guide them back to the jujuo. Each boy then takes a turn leading the group. Kunta is proud when he almost treads on a small animal: that is how quiet their feet are carrying them.
Then the kintango takes up the task of teaching the young men to be “simbons,” or great hunters. The kintango shows the boys many amazing things such as where a lion has crouched, what kind of animal he has killed, and how to track that animal’s steps back through its last day of life. They learn to never move abruptly and always to move quietly. They learn to build fires and snare small animals. They learn to kill bees with smoke from a fire made from particular leaves, and then they learn to taste the honey. They learn to call birds and other animals just with their voices. Finally, when one boy manages to call a bird close to him, the boy shouts and scares the bird away. The kintango simply tells the boy to bring the bird back alive. He does...three days later. The kintango says that this taught the entire group two things: “to do as you are told, and to keep your mouth shut.” When that boy is given an approving look by the kintango, the other boys (including Kunta) look upon him with jealousy.
The kintango never seems to be satisfied. When one boy does something that displeases the kintango, the entire group is punished. Finally, they learn that “the welfare of the group depended on each of them.” Mistakes finally become nonexistent and the boys learn...
(The entire section is 606 words.)
Chapter 24 Summary
The kintango informs Kunta Kinte and the others in the jujuo for manhood training that they are finally “experiencing rebirth as men.” Now they are ready to learn all about war and about how to be warriors. First, an important fact is reviewed: Mandinkas only fight when provoked, but when they are encouraged to make war, they do so with only the finest of warriors.
Kunta Kinte and his friends learn all about Mandinka battle strategy (such as to leave your enemy an escape route so he doesn’t become savage in his attack and to begin a battle after noon so that the enemy can retreat into darkness). Kunta is also taught that there are three kinds of men who should never be harmed in battle: marabouts, griots, and blacksmiths. Marabouts are so holy that they can bring down the wrath of Allah. Griots, known to memorize hundreds of years of stories, can create a story designed to make you the enemy. Blacksmiths can help the enemy fix their weapons. Next Kunta learns the art of making barbed spears and poisoned arrows (using the boiled juice from the koona shrub). Each boy is praised when he can hit a bamboo stick from at least twenty-five steps away.
Finally, it is time for the stories of past wars. These are many. The kintango tells of Sundiata who defeated the forces of Boure (whose king was so fierce that he decorated his palace with skulls of enemies and wore robes of human skin). This win secured peace for over one hundred years. Kunta Kinte and his young men listen in awe.
The news of visitors to the jujuo brings excitement, until the visiting wrestlers begin to throw young men brutally to the floor. Kunta and the others are bruised and beaten, but they learn every wrestling hold and the importance of know-how over strength. The other news of visitors is important indeed: a very important griot, one known all over the Gambia, is to spend a full day in the jujuo. When the griot arrives, he explains how griots are made: a griot must have a son. That son, then, must learn all of the stories from the past. That griot, in turn, will teach his own son. Only griots beget griots. After the explanation, the stories begin. One rich kingdom after another is revealed: Benin, Ghana, and Mali. Again, the young men listen in awe.
However, the grandest visitor comes next: a moro famous in all of Africa. A moro is a teacher of the highest class. He is a teacher who teaches other teachers (such as Kunta’s own...
(The entire section is 593 words.)
Chapter 25 Summary
The most worrisome event for Kunta and the others, “the kasas boyo operation” (where the foreskin of each young man’s “foto” is removed) approaches fast. With no warning, the young men are ordered to stand at attention in their usual line. They are ordered to “hold out your fotos” as they are numbed with a green paste. Then they are sent back to their huts as the paste begins working.
To add to the young men’s terror, the fathers and uncles and other men of the village arrive for the event chanting that this “also has been done to us...all of us men together.” Then, after an entourage of fierce kankurang dancers, the boys are lined up a second time. The fathers and other men chant a further motto for the boys to become men “and life everlasting will spring from your loins.” Each young man (Kunta among them) is ordered one at a time behind a screen of woven bamboo, made to lay down and grab his thighs upward, cut on his “foto” to remove his foreskin, and forced back to the line with a cloth (stained with blood) between his legs. Still, Kunta and the others are happy: the dreaded deed has been done!
As the men begin to heal, they are joyful. They look upon their kintango with the utmost respect. They are finally referred to as “men.” A few of the men each night are asked to return to Juffare and steal all the food they can carry from their mothers’ storehouses. That food is cooked for the jujuo the next day “to prove yourselves smarter than all women, even your mother.” Ironically, the mothers would hear their sons enter their huts and beam with pride.
The kintango is now treating the young men almost as equals, explaining to them the most important qualities that a Mandinka man must possess: fearlessness and respect (for every member of the village, for the ancestors, and for Allah). Then the kintango begins to list their manly duties: to guard the village, to serve as lookouts, to protect the crops, to inspect the women’s cooking pots, and to beat the women who do not comply. They long to get even older, to become messengers and then emissaries and then elders.
Finally, the moment arrives and the long months of manhood training at the jujuo come to an end with the kintango’s latest shout: for the men of Juffare to return to their own village. They do, amid whoops of joy.
(The entire section is 425 words.)
Chapter 26 Summary
Kunta and his friends return, as men, to Juffare amid the joyous shouts of all the women of the Mandinka tribe. Now in the familiar place where he was born and grew up, Kunta struggles to act with the proper amount of dignity expected of a man, especially when he first sees his mother, Binta. Still, Binta throws herself upon Kunta Kinte which he allows for only a moment before he pulls away in order to “inspect” his new baby brother, Madi. Kunta is equally surprised to see how much his brother Suwadu has grown. Kunta wants so much to tell Binta how much he has missed her, but alas, that kind of behavior is no longer befitting of a man. Kunta remains silent except to ask for his own father.
Omoro is cutting thatch to build the roof of Kunta’s very own hut. Omoro greets Kunta by shaking hands and looking deep into his eyes. Finally, Omoro regards his son as a man. Then Kunta walks the village of Juffare with a newfound respect for each village member. Kunta realizes that he has been homesick. Now he wants to see one woman above any other: Nyo Boto. Kunto enters Nyo Boto’s hut, but the old grandmother simply regards Kunta with terse grunts. Kunta is hurt and saddened, but he understands that he can no longer seek any comfort from a woman.
Finally, Kunta hears his brother, Lamin, coming back from herding the goats. They are excited to see each other but stop short of embracing. A Mandinka man must be regarded with respect, even from his younger brother. Lamin does inform Kunta that both of Kunta’s female goats are pregnant. Kunta is thrilled to have his own herd growing larger.
Kunta then returns to his mother’s hut to gather his things. Binta promises to make Kunta some new clothes and hands him a new prayer mat that she has woven during his manhood training. She also gives him his other necessities like a bowl and spoon and gourd and pallet. Kunta simply grunts with “no objection” to the gifts.
The next morning, Kunta gathers up his new prayer mat and exits his new hut in order to attend morning prayers in Juffare’s mosque for the first time in his life. Kunta copies all of the actions of the older men in their bowing and recitation. After prayer, Kunta and his friends attend to their duties. They are actually disappointed to see that the women’s cooking pots are free from bugs and the well is clean; they wanted to reprimand a woman or two. Kunta’s mind returns to his own mother...
(The entire section is 472 words.)
Chapter 27 Summary
Now being a man and assigned to examining with diligence the women’s cooking pots (among other things), Kunta Kinte gets a bit disappointed because there doesn’t seem to be a single pot left to check. The number of young men who successfully return from their recent manhood training are so numerous that even after pots and wells are checked, rechecked, and checked again, there is simply nothing left to be done. Kunta doesn’t get too upset about this, however, because it affords Kunta the time to work on his small farming plot.
The Council of Elders has generously given each young man a plot of land on which to farm his own couscous, groundnuts, or whatever he might like. The young single men need to live off this food and also use it to trade for other items that they need (for in the beginning, they have nothing more than a hut). It is the young man’s deftness in trading that will decide whether he is, in fact, a prosperous young man. Eventually, a prosperous young man can trade a dozen choice goats for a calf. Further, this eventual herd can secure him a good, hard-working wife.
Kunta is on his way to becoming a prosperous young man. With so much time to farm his plot of land, so much couscous and groundnuts to trade as a result, and such a keen ability to trade shrewdly, Kunta Kinte has acquired more things than he will ever need. In fact, Binta begins to grumble about Kunta’s prosperity. Kunta has an exorbitant amount of “stools, wicker mats, food bowls, gourds” and other things. Kunta even has a high-quality bamboo mattress!
More important than these usual, household items are spiritual things for which Kunta also trades. He has a few saphies (small pouches to be worn on the upper arm) and small vials of plant extracts. Kunta uses these plant extracts to rub on his head, arms, and legs each night. Keeping evil spirits away is of great importance to Kunta.
Kunta is also beginning to notice the girls of his age more and more. Unfortunately, they are more interested in the men years older than Kunta: men of marrying age. Still, Kunta can’t help both thinking and dreaming about them. Kunta notices some changes in the various parts that make him a man. In fact, he notices his “foto” getting hard and hears the murmurings among his friends that this part is to be put inside of a woman.
Kunta has one vivid dream of a beautiful maiden at the harvest festival who dances...
(The entire section is 516 words.)
Chapter 28 Summary
Kunta, one of the newest men of Juffure back from his manhood training, marvels at his own loneliness. He is bewildered by it because he knows every man, woman, child, even every animal in his Mandinka village. Kunta is also confused because his farm plot and its spoils fail to provide complete happiness, too. How could a man with all of these blessings be lonely?
Thinking on it further, Kunta realizes his loneliness has roots in his own immediate family. Omoro doesn't have time for Kunta. Binta doesn't either (in that she has Kunta's three younger brothers to look after). Lamin is no longer close with Kunta because when Kunta went away to manhood training, Suwadu became Lamin's little charge, just as Lamin became Kunta's only a few rains ago.
Even worse, Kunta feels like the older men of Juffure are giving the newly made men only "the appearance of respect, as they had been given only the appearance of responsibility." Kunta knows that he and the other young men are being laughed at because of their thorough inspections of the cooking pots and the well. Kunta Kinte vows that when he gets into the Council of Elders when he is older, he will look with compassion upon the young men in the village.
Lost in his reverie, Kunta walks around his village in the evening. He doesn't feel at home at any of the warm fires. First, Kunta hides close to the first fire and listens to a grandmother telling the little ones stories of Mandinka warriors from the past. The same stories that used to thrill Kunta now only serve to make him sad. Then Kunta walks past the fire where Lamin is reciting verses from the Koran and the fire where Binta gossips with the other wives and women of the village. Finally, Kunta approaches the fire where the men of Juffure sit. Not feeling welcome, Kunta takes up the outer edge in order to listen.
The Mandinka men of Juffure are deep in conversation about the toubob (white man). The talk scares Kunta. The men are asking, How many have been stolen away? Where have they been stolen away? How many others (whom they may not have heard of) have also been stolen away? What other horrors have the toubob committed in the villages of the Gambia? No one is sure of any of the answers because they can hear only as far as the closest drumbeat and the most recent traveler.
Suddenly the talk turns to something more sinister: the traitors among themselves. The men are worried most...
(The entire section is 541 words.)
Chapter 29 Summary
As Kunta's mother, it is Binta's honor to serve food to her son (now a young man) in his own hut every day. Unfortunately, Binta grates on Kunta's nerves. She takes notice of every new thing that he has acquired, and turns her nose up at everything that she hasn't made for Kunta himself. Binta is especially hurt to see a basket made by a young widow and a new tunic made by someone else that is a good trade. Upon seeing something new in Kunta's hut, Binta races back to the well to gossip with the other wives. Without saying a word about the situation, Kunta decides to deal with the matter himself because he couldn't ask "Omoro's advice on how to make Binta respect her son the same as she did her husband." Unfortunately, the way Kunta deals with the situation is by avoiding his mother's hut entirely.
It is about this time that three young men pass by the village of Juffure. They are travelers, although not much older than Kunta, going a few days farther in order to find an ancient, dying baobab tree near which it is good to pan for gold. Kunta is intrigued by the trip, but declines their offer to go with them at first. They draw good directions in the dust for Kunta, should he change his mind.
As Kunta Kinte walks sadly back to his hut, he realizes that he could get some of his friends to take over his duties for a few days. Most importantly, Kunta could ask his younger brother Lamin to go along, just as Omoro took Kunta when he was young! What an important trip for Lamin this would be! Having never done this before, Kunta thinks long and hard on how to ask Omoro. Kunta adopts his father's simple and direct method of speech as he first praises Lamin's manner and then simply says, "I've been thinking that Lamin might enjoy the trip." Omoro simply replies, "For a boy to travel is good."
The decision is made. Omoro tells Binta. Binta then wails loudly and clings to Suwadu and Madi. She claims that these two boys will be her only two left because Lamin and Kunta will be stolen away by the white man. Omoro, taking no further notice of Binta, tells Kunta a bit about what he will encounter as he goes along the trail. By this time, other children from Juffure run to Lamin (who is herding Kunta's goats) and tell him the news.
Lamin, breathless and speechless, comes bounding into Kunta's hut. The rush of brotherly love flowing between Lamin and Kunta cannot be denied.
(The entire section is 444 words.)
Chapter 30 Summary
Kunta knows that this trip with Lamin calls for more than just a strip of cloth and a prayer at their own travelers' tree. Therefore, Kunta Kinte ties to the tree a live chicken, flapping and squawking, to ensure their safe journey. Soon, they set off in silence just as Omoro had set off with Kunta only a few rains earlier.
Kunta is constantly aware of Lamin behind him. Kunta wants Lamin to struggle but never to fall. Falling would hurt the pride of his little brother. They pass a tree strung with beads that means there are pagans living near. They pass a group of men hollowing out a log to float on the river. Kunta lets his mind wander, but he doesn't forget Lamin. Finally, they stop to drink at a stream and, echoing his father's wisdom, Kunta tells Lamin to drink only a tiny bit at a time.
After a short catnap, they are back on the trail. They pass other villages before nightfall. Kunta then shows his skill as he crouches behind a bush, lets forth a birdcall, waits until the birds approach, and fells one with a single arrow. They feast on that very bird before sleeping in a shelter that Kunta builds himself.
The next morning, Kunta and Lamin meet an old man traveling to Timbuktu who wishes them well and gives them each a cowrie shell. Kunta then uses this moment to tell Lamin the story of how the Mandinka named Timbuktu. There they found a new insect and, thus, called the place "Tumbo Kutu," which means "new insect."
Unfortunately, during the story, Kunta's mind was wandering again and Lamin is almost left behind when he drops his headload. Suddenly, Lamin sees a panther and screams. Kunta is more upset that he didn't see the panther. Panthers would never hunt a human during the day, but that doesn't stop Kunta's shame for allowing his mind to wander.
Finally, they come to the old baobab the travelers told Kunta Kinte to look for. Sure enough, the three young men are just beyond the tree. They stop their panning for gold long enough to welcome Kunta. (Lamin, of course, is treated like any kid brother: He is ignored.) Kunta and Lamin collect many gold bits and keep them within the hollows of bird feathers. They have six long quills of gold before long.
Dismissing the travelers' offer to go hunt elephant teeth, Kunta and Lamin set out for home with the gold in their headloads. The road back to the village of Juffure seems shorter somehow, and it isn't long before the...
(The entire section is 509 words.)
Chapter 31 Summary
Kunta attends the Council of Elders (held once every moon) as often as he can. Omoro once told Kunta that this is the only way to become wise to village business. In the inner circle sit the oldest elders. Behind them sit the junior elders, such as Kunta’s father. Behind them sit those of Kunta’s age and a bit older. Finally, behind them, the women are allowed to sit. The women attend only when some “juicy gossip” is assured.
Most of the matters decided by the Council of Elders are quite routine: large farm plots for a growing family; new (small) farm plots for newly made men, such as Kunta; small land disputes; payment for broken and borrowed items; accusations of evil magic; slaves accusing masters of cruelty; masters accusing slaves of laziness; and so on.
Some of the more interesting council sessions are about people intending to marry. If the two people are too close in kinship, the council refuses them. Most people asking the council have already been vetted by the parents, so acceptance is usually assured. However, the village is given a full moon to speak privately with the elders in order to share information secretly (either good or bad) on the couple’s behalf. If the woman is unruly or if the man beats his goats, the marriage is refused. These negative traits are not allowed to be passed on.
Adultery is another serious offense attended to by the Council of Elders. Any man who takes advantage of another man’s wife is made to either pay back her worth or work for that worth as long as the council deems necessary. Repeat offenders are often flogged publicly. The worst offense that a woman can bring against her husband is “to claim that her husband was not a man, meaning that he was inadequate with her in bed.” When this accusation is made, three elders are chosen: one from the woman’s family, one from the man’s family, and one of the senior elders. They all watch the two in bed and decide who is correct. If the woman is correct, she is granted her divorce and dowry. If the man is correct, the man receives the dowry, is allowed divorce, and may beat the wife as well.
Two more decisions by the Council of Elders piques Kunta’s interest as well. First, a married couple who divorced requests to be married again. This is denied by the council because they were originally adamant about separating. Second, two young widows, knowing they are probably destined to become old maids,...
(The entire section is 555 words.)
Chapter 32 Summary
Kunta, now seventeen years old, is out on sentry duty. He sits high on a perch atop a pole where he can see any animal or human who may approach Juffure. He is a seasoned sentry now, using half of his mind to keep alert to his duties and the other half to ruminate on his own thoughts.
Tonight Kunta thinks about “teriya friendships” between widows and younger men such as himself. Kunta remembers the young widow who once gave him a basket and thinks about what it would be like to have that kind of relationship with her. Kunta wonders, considering all of the bickering he has heard between husbands and wives, why anyone would want to have a wife at all. Kunta decides it is because it is only a wife who can beget sons. Kunta thinks about the behavior of the young ladies of Juffure and the other young women he has met along his travels from other villages. Kunta thinks about the possibility that Omoro will take a second wife and wonders how his parents would deal with that kink in their relationship. Kunta decides that women confuse him too much, so his thoughts turn to travel.
Instead of being restless for marriage, Kunta is now restless to travel again. He decides to take another trip, a longer trip, this time to Mali. This is the place, far away, where the Kinte clan had begun. It would take a full moon to walk there and back. Kunta decides to take his brother, Lamin, along for company. Lamin, now having had his own manhood training, would be eager to travel as well. Kunta would show Lamin the blacksmiths that the Kinte clan menfolk always became. They have great skill with iron to fashion weapons and win many wars. Kunta is so intent on traveling to Mali that he asks the arafang for good directions. Kunta has studied the route so hard by drawing a map in the dust that he knows the way by heart.
In the early hours of the morning, Kunta ruminates further on yet another trip he would like to take. This one is to Mecca itself. Finally, dawn arrives and Kunta almost gives in out of weariness, but finally decides (because of the manliness of negating his tiredness) to go into the woods to find the log he has chosen to make a drum, a project he has been thinking of for a long time.
(The entire section is 412 words.)
Chapter 33 Summary
Kunta runs happily into the forest after his night of sentry duty. He trots along the path to the bolong, or small tributary, so important to the village of Juffure. He meets all of the friendly wildlife of the Gambia here. He sees birds stirring from their nests and baboons chasing their prey and other, smaller animals scampering along. Kunta is happy to observe these beauties of nature as he trots along, and happy to be alone and in the forest. However, Omoro always told him never to be alone if he could help it.
Kunta then spies his favorite spot: an ancient mangrove tree that affords the best view of the bolong. Climbing up the tree, Kunta muses at the beauty of Allah and all of his creatures at work together. Kunta sees the animals of the bolong in their resting places on the river before the stronger sun awakens them, and he enjoys the feeling of peace this natural scene affords. After a while of such rumination, Kunta begins searching for the perfect hollow log to make his drum as his wuolo dog runs off to chase a rabbit. He inspects this one and then another, looking for the perfect one.
Kunta, still looking for his special drum-log, approaches some tall grass when he hears a twig snap. For a split second (and a split second too long), Kunta wonders if it is his dog returning so soon after having caught the rabbit of his chase. Immediately before being set upon, Kunta remembers that a wuolo dog would never, ever snap a twig.
Suddenly, Kunta sees a white man, a toubob, for the first time. Two white men and two blacks jump on Kunta. Kunta, battling as fiercely as he can with no weapons, tears flesh with his teeth, bludgeons bellies with his fists, gouges eyes with his fingers, and kicks with his feet. In the middle of the fight, Kunta hears his wuolo dog return (coming as fast as he could to save his master). Unfortunately, Kunta hears the dog give a sudden yelp of death as the toubob take the dog down in one blow. Kunta Kinte fights bravely as any Mandinka warrior would, but he is no match against four men. For a fleeting moment, Kunta is ashamed of himself for not hearing these men or smelling these men or sensing these men in some way. Suddenly, Kunta’s temple is smashed with a blunt club, and he blacks out.
(The entire section is 415 words.)
Chapter 34 Summary
Kunta Kinte wonders at first if he has gone insane. He lies there in pitch blackness amid the most foul stench imaginable, vomiting up the rest of the contents of his stomach, chained to a moaning man beside him, rats brushing against his cheek. Kunta is unable to sit up, with wood above him, wood below him, and wood all around him. Is he in some kind of cage? In his pain, Kunta cannot remember how he got here.
Kunta Kinte futilely fights against his bonds. Then he lies silent, deciding to save his strength. He is disgusted with himself for having to relieve his bowels; however, having been four days, Kunta must. Kunta hates himself for adding to the awful stink of the hold. As he lies in this horrible state, Kunta listens to the shouts and moans of others in his same condition. He hears them pray to Allah. He hears them shout out the names of family members in many different languages. He hears the men shout evil magic at the toubob.
Kunta Kinte decides that Allah is punishing him for a terrible sin. Therefore, Kunta spends some time praying for deep forgiveness. He pleads with Allah for an answer; however, he can think of no sin except the lack of prayer since he blacked out in the fight along the river.
Suddenly, Kunta remembers how he came to be chained here. The memory is painful to relive. As Kunta awakens from the blow to the temple that allowed him to be shackled with rope, the two white men and their black helpers tie Kunta with others they have stolen and bring them along the river to the beach, where a bamboo cage-like structure stands. All the stolen tribesmen and women are thrown, naked, into this structure. Any resistance yields a heavy blow to the head. They are smeared with palm oil and inspected. Even their private parts are fondled in order to assess their quality. Kunta can be subdued only with great force as he takes every opportunity to resist. Kunta spends time in and out of consciousness, noticing things in between. It isn’t long before everyone’s head is shaved and everyone is branded with “LL” upon their back. This marking shows that they are to cross the ocean on a boat called the Lord Ligonier. They are logged into the ship’s books, forced into canoes, rowed to the boat itself, lifted with ropes onto the boat’s deck, and forced into the ship's hold. Kunta Kinta vomits and blacks out again. Such ends his reverie.
(The entire section is 433 words.)
Chapter 35 Summary
Kunta knows whether it is day or night only when the hatch is opened at “feeding time.” Tin pans of some kind of white mush are forced in between the people chained in the hold. Kunta Kinte clamps his teeth shut in protest for a long while and is often beaten for doing so. Periodically, more and more people are added to the miserable group, chained alongside the rest.
One day, after all of the other people have been loaded, everyone begins to hear different sounds. They hear sounds of creaking and loading and lifting and straining. Suddenly, they hear many feet bounding up above them and then the entire place groaning and moving. This black stinking place is taking them all away from their homeland. Crying out in pain and hopelessness to Allah, “Kunta knew that he would never see Africa again.”
Soon the cries of despair turn to cries of anger and murder. The entire hold seems to want to “kill toubob—and their traitor black helpers!” Kunta Kinte considers this possibility. Until now, Kunta has been refusing the white man’s food, but now he remembers something important that his kintango once told him: that only a nourished person can defeat his enemy. So Kunta begins to eat, vomiting up most of it at first, but Kunta begins to eat nonetheless.
The cries of anger and murder continue until the people in the hold hear a black man chained who speaks both Mandinka and the white man’s language. All of the other Mandinka men as well as others of other tribes fly into a rage with the knowledge of the traitor among them. Knowing that this is surely one of the black slatee helpers, the men chained beside this slatee beat him until he is dead. The hushed group of people chained together wait for the white men to notice. When they do notice, they drag the dead man to the deck and then beat the perpetrator senseless. Kunta is absolutely paralyzed by the pain this man is feeling. This man had vowed revenge on the white man and his helpers and has succeeded in at least a bit of that revenge. This is how this justified revenge is dealt with. The man’s cries of hate are no longer understandable at the end of the beating. Kunta then hears a Mandinka voice crying out in firm resolution: “Share his pain! We must be in this place as one village!”
Kunta Kinte agrees and vows retribution toward this villainous white man, the toubob.
(The entire section is 427 words.)
Chapter 36 Summary
After days and days in the hold of the ship, Kunta Kinte struggles against the burning itch that the swarms of fleas and lice bring with their numerous bites. Kunta decides that he must not just lie here, that he must think about something in order to keep from going crazy. Kunta decides to study the breathing patterns of men in the hold and, after a short time, begins to realize that he can discover their exact proximity by the sounds they make. Kunta can also discern the sounds of a sleeping man as different from those of a man who is awake. Kunta’s ears become his eyes as he discovers someone rubbing metal together in an attempt to break his bonds and men fighting in silence.
Periodically, there is another intrusion by the toubob other than at the regular feeding time: when the white men come down into the hold and scrape the filth into tubs in order to bring it all back up to dispose of it.
Then something different begins to happen: Many white men appear in the hold and release Kunta and the others. Unfortunately, they release them only to drive them onto the deck to clean and dance. This is the first time that Kunta and the others get to observe each other. The dirt and filth disgust them to no end, but the most amazing sight is the endless ocean. Kunta smells the sea air for the first time and sees the weapons of the white man: guns and cannons. It isn’t long before the men are doused with seawater (which stings their wounds) and scraped with brushes, to get them “clean.”
While up on deck, women and children prisoners are also brought up with the men. They are shrieking loudly, but the white men look at them with longing. This makes Kunta feel even more anger than before. Therefore, when the white men begin playing the drum and the accordion while forcing the prisoners to jump, Kunta and the others do so, but not without shouting, “Jump to kill toubob!” or “Toubob fa!” The white men seem glad to hear their prisoners singing; little do they know that these are songs of their demise.
The men are chained up on deck, but the women are not, and one of the women manages to leap overboard. However, the men look on in horror as a pair of sharks circles around the woman and drags her to a bloody death. Finally, the bodies of the prisoners are inspected again. Yellow powder is sprinkled along the shackles, and tar is put on the festering pustules.
After being forced back into...
(The entire section is 492 words.)
Chapter 37 Summary
Kunta and the men he is chained with are again taken out of the filthy hold and up to the deck. Kunta makes it a point to look at these men this time. Most of the men, having deep, festering gashes and pustules, are a lot worse off than Kunta. Kunta and the man he calls “his shacklemate” from the Wolof tribe are beaten again. Soon they are cleaned with buckets of seawater and brushes, as is the white man’s ritual to clean the prisoners. Kunta and the Wolof are full of murderous hatred for their captors as the prisoners are again made to dance so that they will keep fit.
Other toubob come in and scrape the feces from the hold every few days and now try to lessen the stink in the hold by turning vinegar to steam with red-hot pokers. When Kunta is called up to dance, he notices more and more disturbing things begin to happen. One day, a man’s leg simply looks infected. However, the next time they are up on deck, it looks grayish and rotten. Then the man disappears altogether.
The women tell the men the rest through their singing during the dance sessions: The man’s leg was cut off, but he died anyway. It is the women prisoners, all stolen from their native land just as Kunta was, who give the men the most news of the ship. The women are not forced down into the hold and are, instead, forced into the beds of the toubob to be raped each night. The women, however, keep their ears and eyes open and sing their songs while the men dance to tell them what is going on.
Kunta and the other men begin to communicate better with each other. They are all learning words that none of them knew before this horror began. Through this rough communication, Kunta learns that they have been sailing for almost a month. There is even one moment when someone asks about the village of Juffure. Kunta excitedly calls his name only to hear that the man had heard the drumbeats of Juffure mourning the loss of one of their strongest young men.
Before he can stop himself, Kunta imagines his family wailing at the white rooster dying on his back: a sign that there is no hope. Kunta is hurt so much by these memories that he vows not to think of his village or his family. They bring him too much pain.
The women sing again and tell about how there are only thirty or so white men, while there are more than sixty black men. The men in the hold start talking about possible weaknesses and purposes of the long metal sticks...
(The entire section is 616 words.)
Chapter 38 Summary
The women sing of their ability to hide knives and other weapons in the hold for the men. This further excites the whisperings of the men below as they shout their suggestions on how to cause an uprising. At this point, Kunta doesn't care whether the attack is immediate or saved for the right time; "Kunta was ready to fight to the death."
Again, the elder in the hold speaks of the importance of being "one village." The majority of the men are on the side of waiting for the right moment to attack. The method is chosen. In the meantime, the men are asked to observe the white men scrupulously and to dance as happily as possible. The latter allows the men to be treated less severely. They discuss the importance of the two white men driving the ship: the only two to be spared.
As Kunta lies in the hold in wait for the moment of attack, he marvels at the ferocity of the rats and the evilness of the toubob. Kunta wonders whether the toubob have no women at all, so that they have to steal from a different race. Further, he wonders whether the white men even believe in anything spiritual.
Things get worse physically for the men in the hold. Bones start showing through where bodies are rubbing against the wood. Men start looking like zombies up on deck. Even the medicine the white men force down their throats doesn't seem to work. Still, one man who believed the attack should be imminent kills two toubob before his head is severed completely. The guns and cannon are fired. The entire hold is emptied to force the prisoners to watch the toubob bludgeon the body of this man in punishment.
Kunta finally hears the attack order for the next time they are up on deck to dance. Wanting to die a warrior, Kunta begins to admire the man with the severed head.
The attack, however, never comes because a huge storm rises. It sends gushes of water into the hold and throws the battered bodies around to grind their bones even harder into the wooden shelves. While attempting to block the water from entering the hold, the toubob also block the air. Many of the men black out, including Kunta, who eventually finds himself on deck again. Kunta is surprised both that he is alive and that so many of his people are dead.
Kunta wonders how Allah could possibly live in a place like this. Kunta longs for death so he can join his ancestors.
(The entire section is 430 words.)
Chapter 39 Summary
The prisoners who survive the storm no longer have the strength to attack. Kunta sees the look of death on many who are around him. Still, Kunta and the others are now left up on deck for a long period of time, for even the white men have fallen ill under the strain and in the storms. The sun makes Kunta feel a little bit better.
After the men are forced back into the hold, the first of two horrible sicknesses grips the ship: fever, coughing, swollen glands, and night sweats. More people die and are thrown overboard. More medicine is given. Those who give strength to other men, fostering communication, die. There is no more hope. Even Kunta's shacklemate passes away and lies rigid beside Kunta.
Upon his next trip to the deck, Kunta is disturbed to find that the sickness has taken half of the women and children as well. The white men hobble about weakly, giving meager medicine to those affected. The men discover the slatee helper above deck. He jumps overboard, and the toubob allow even their traitorous helper to plunge to his death.
Because of the original attack when one man killed two toubob, the white men are absolutely terrified of Kunta and the remaining men. The white men clutch their guns and jump at every movement. However, just like all of the other men with him, Kunta Kinte is no longer concerned with killing the toubob. He is too weak himself to worry about such things. He is now mainly concerned with eating the disgusting food forced on him and staying alive. Even while up on deck, Kunta simply lies down and closes his eyes.
The second, and worst, sickness now overtakes the ship: the sickness called "the bloody flux," where the body eliminates only blood and pus while falling into fits of hallucinations. A new, even more foul stench alarms the toubob who try to stop the spread of the disease. Alas, it grips the entire ship.
Kunta, as well as almost everyone else on the ship, is no longer able to walk. The men have to be dragged to the deck. More and more dead bodies are thrown overboard while Kunta has visions of old Nyo Boto and her stories.
It is at this point that the wind dies down and the ship can go no farther for a long time. Kunta, finally being forced back within the hold, hallucinates about his family and Juffure and the river and the Gambia in general. When on deck, the men are so sick that they are washed with sponges instead of the usual rough brushes....
(The entire section is 525 words.)
Chapter 40 Summary
After reaching land for the first time after months at sea, Kunta and those still alive in the hold are absolutely terrified. They are herded to the deck, and extra care is taken in making the prisoners look presentable. Tar is put into festering sores and heads are shaved clean. The men are given strange toubob clothes to wear.
Suddenly, Kunta is accosted by smells, disgusting smells that waft from the land of the white man. Soon, toubob by the hundreds gather on the shore as some important-looking white men hold cloths over their noses and inspect the prisoners. Kunta and the other men are finally forced from the ship and down the plank.
Kunta has a quiet urge to escape but is bewildered by so many things. First, he sees the faces of men from other tribes who simply follow behind white men. These black people all look downcast as they walk obediently, but none of them tries to escape. Kunta Kinte is shocked by this. Now Kunta sees many things for the first time: horses, carriages, white women, white children, slaves in toubob clothes, a market, a cockfight, and even a greased-pig contest.
Kunta and all of the other men are forced into a brick building that serves as a jail or holding pen as many other slaves are gathered together. They are all kept cleaner here than in the hold. Their excrement is taken away often, and their wounds are tended to. More prisoners are added to the room where Kunta and the others are still shackled.
Kunta allows himself to ruminate upon the wisdom of the kintango in Juffure. The kintango once told him to observe the behavior of animals to learn the art of escape. How would an animal escape from here? An animal would not rage against his bonds, but would wait for the right moment to slip away. Kunta makes up his mind to escape in the manner that the kintango suggests.
Kunta falls into despair, though, when he discovers a new dilemma. Kunta doesn’t know this land. Where would he hide? Do the toubob even have forests to hide within? Kunta tries to thrust these fears behind him as he begins to plan. Kunta forces himself to eat all the food he can so that he can gain strength.
Kunta stays in this holding area for six days. At first he hears the screams of the same women with whom he was on the boat. However, by the sixth day, even those familiar screams are gone. Kunta forces himself to think about his plan of escape because whenever he thinks of...
(The entire section is 447 words.)
Chapter 41 Summary
After seven days of being kept in the brick holding cell, Kunta watches as toubob come in bringing even newer clothes. The white men make all of the prisoners put on what Kunta considers to be strange-looking attire: pants and shirts. While this is happening, Kunta hears the sounds of the toubob getting louder and louder outside. Many white men are gathering for some kind of meeting.
The prisoners sit there, terrified, as three of them at a time are led to the middle of the white men. When it is Kunta Kinte’s turn, he has to be whipped with a leather strap in order to be submissive enough to endure the auction. White men circle him and probe all of his bodily parts to inspect them. Then one white man begins to shout strangely while others bid on Kunta. All the while, the toubob is shouting strange words to the crowd. “Just picked out of the trees! . . . Bright as monkeys!” Kunta Kinte, being a strong young man, fetches a good price: $850.
After Kunta is sold, a man Kunta considers to be a slatee traitor comes to lead him to a “rolling box” (known to the white men as a “cart”). Through looks and gestures, Kunta begs this black man, who has defined Wolof features, to have mercy on Kunta and set him free. As Kunta is pulled through the crowd, the people all laugh and jeer at Kunta. Kunta is chained and loaded into the cart with a sack of grain. The slatee and an important-looking toubob get into the front seat together. The black man, who is also the driver, makes a strange click sound to the horse, and they are off.
Kunta first spends his time in the cart considering whether the chain attaching him to the cart could be broken. Could this be his time to escape? Kunta decides that both the chain and the cart are too strong to be shattered; therefore, he decides to rest limply in the back, refusing any food or covering for the cold.
Kunta sees many strange things as they roll along. He sees a large group of chained black men and women, fully clothed and singing mournfully as they are pulled behind a horse. He sees another group of blacks, hanging their heads in despair, being dragged behind a wagon. He sees vast fields of crops in many colors and many people bent over and working hard. He sees large white houses with columns in the front, small cabins beside them, and fields all around them. At dusk, the group approaches one of these large white houses to stop for the night.
(The entire section is 444 words.)
Chapter 42 Summary
As the group stops for the night, Kunta Kinte is chained securely to a pole. After the black driver (the one Kunta has been referring to as the “slatee”) leaves Kunta alone, Kunta wonders whether the blacks on this plantation might free him. His hopes are dashed, however, when the blacks who live near the big white house simply gather around him and laugh. Kunta marvels at how these black people could laugh and jeer at their own kind. What is wrong with them? “They looked as Africans looked, but clearly they were not of Africa.”
In the early evening, Kunta imagines himself desperately raging against his chains. Kunta knows, however, that this is not the time to try for escape. Although Kunta is given two small pans of food and water, it is a dog from the farm that comes and eats the food. Thinking that it was Kunta who ate the food, the black driver returns and expresses his approval. Far into the night, Kunta wonders why Allah has abandoned him. Kunta recounts his life in regard to anything he may have ever done wrong. The only thing he can think of doing wrong more than once is allowing his mind to wander. Still, Kunta rests there until morning and then begins to pray.
In the morning, Kunta is hoisted back into the cart, and the three set out again. On this second day of travel, Kunta sees and hears other strange things. First, he hears the definite clanking sound of a blacksmith. Later, he sees an “actual family of toubob,” all bearing red hair. The little toubob actually run, laughing and pointing, behind the cart for a bit. Next, Kunta sees a “strange pair of people,” two Native Americans, who walk on the road going in the opposite direction. Their “skin was reddish-brown” and their hair hung like black ropes along their backs.
Night begins to fall, and the driver throws a blanket to Kunta. Kunta shivers in the cold and refuses to use the blanket. Kunta prays and vows to tell all the people of Africa about this land of the toubob, if he is ever to return to his native land. Finally, the group reaches another great white house that is their destination. Being later in the night, the welcoming party isn’t as big. After the white men leave the driver in charge of Kunta, they retreat back into the white house.
The driver disconnects Kunta’s chain from the wagon, and Kunta is upon him. Kunta’s hands clasp the neck of the driver until he gurgles and falls limp. Kunta runs...
(The entire section is 455 words.)
Chapter 43 Summary
Kunta is excited at first as he runs and runs through the forest of brambles and thorns. However, it isn’t long before Kunta comes to yet another set of fields with another white house beside it. Kunta realizes that he has simply run through a tiny patch of forest in between two identical toubob farms. He panics and, as dawn breaks, desperately tries to find the most inconspicuous place among the bushes to hide.
Within minutes, he hears the first howling dog. Then he hears a second one even closer. Kunta scrambles to find a more secluded place in the deepest thicket of thorny bushes. It isn’t long before a cluster of dogs, toubob, and blacks is upon him. The dogs spring up at him to knock him down and snap close to his face, but they don’t bite Kunta. The driver whom Kunta choked the night before towers over the dogs with fury on his face. Kunta is given a heavy blow to his head that subdues him and is made to walk to the forest’s edge. The group strings Kunta up to the nearest tree and whips him until he is unconscious.
When Kunta finally comes to, he notices that he is bound inside a hut with all of his limbs shackled. While lying there, Kunta hears a “strange-sounding horn” that calls the black people back from the fields. They shuffle by the cabin where Kunta is shackled. Kunta soon smells food cooking. The driver brings some of the food in to Kunta. Kunta realizes that the meat comes from a pig (which is revolting to a Muslim) and vomits all over the food. Kunta spends the night praying to Allah for forgiveness if he ever mistakenly eats the meat of a pig or even eats off of a plate that ever held pig meat.
In the morning, Kunta Kinte again hears the strange horn sound and smells food cooking again. When the driver returns again, after his own breakfast, and realizes that Kunta won’t eat the food, the driver roughly smears it onto Kunta’s face and leaves another plate. The next person to enter is the white man who bought Kunta to this place. The white man threatens, through gestures, to beat Kunta again if he doesn’t eat. Kunta picks up a small amount of earth from where the white man stood to whisper an evil curse on the toubob and his family.
(The entire section is 413 words.)
Chapter 44 Summary
Kunta spends four days in the hut, spread-eagle on the floor in chains. Each night he hears the black people singing and is bewildered again by their stupidity. Each morning, though, Kunta feels a special closeness to the sun, the same sun that rises in Africa. After praying as well as he can in that position, Kunta begins to inspect his chains and shackles. They cannot be broken. Kunta pays special attention to the small holes where “narrow metal things” are placed to make a “click” before the shackle opens. Desperately, Kunta tries to bite off his chains and cracks a tooth in the process.
Finally, the driver comes into the hut with a pair of shackles with a chain between them. These are meant to bind Kunta’s legs. As soon as Kunta gets onto his feet, he is beaten down again by the driver, who wants Kunta to know exactly who is in charge. When Kunta is finally made to walk, he realizes that he could never get away while wearing these leg shackles. They make him hobble along quite awkwardly.
The driver leads Kunta to another hut, where he is given some food. Then the driver tries for a long while to help Kunta learn his “name.” The driver points to himself and exclaims that his name is “Samson.” Then the driver points to Kunta and says the name “Toby.” It takes a while for Kunta to understand, but when he does, it takes all of his strength not to yell out his Kinte lineage and that he is Kunta, the proud son of Omoro Kinte from the village of Juffure. Kunta never says the name the master gives him. Instead, he is led to wash up, is given new clothes and a straw hat, and learns to use the outhouse. Kunta pays close attention to Samson and the ways of the toubob. He plans to use this wisdom to escape when it is time.
Kunta then admits to learning his first toubob animal: a “hoss.” As a horse is ridden by the overseer alongside the black people as they march to the fields, Kunta is shoved among them. Many of the people are carrying large knives to work the corn stalks. The driver beckons Kunta to walk behind them. As Kunta looks back to the slave huts, he can see they are positioned to be constantly monitored from the big, white house. Ahead of him, the black people work furiously, fearing the lash from the overseer. Kunta can feel them relax more when the overseer moves aside to monitor another group.
Kunta realizes that these are the people he hears singing in the evening. He...
(The entire section is 586 words.)
Chapter 45 Summary
Kunta decides to approach life with a look of “blankness and stupidity” so that the white men believe Kunta to be subdued. This is the best precursor to a good escape.
Kunta doesn’t let anything go undetected. He keeps his eyes alert in the cabin of the cook, who has all sorts of utensils that can be useful to Kunta. Kunta notices the uselessness of spoons but looks longingly at the forks and knives that can be used to stab. On this particular morning, Kunta’s breakfast is disturbed by the squeal of a pig being killed and boiled. Kunta is disgusted at these people who prefer herding filthy swine to herding useful goats.
Kunta is still in awe when he sees Allah in nature. These thoughts help unite him with Africa. He sees the sun rise and set each day. He sees the frost and haze disappear during the day. He sees the moon in the sky. Kunta longs to be back in Africa with his own people.
At lunchtime, the cook brings stew and cakes out to the people in the fields. Kunta carefully observes the food so that he never puts a morsel of pork in his mouth. He begins to recognize some foods from home, such as okra, black-eyed peas, and nuts. They all have different names here, Kunta notices, but they are the same foods nonetheless.
Kunta notices that the “master” comes out to the fields some days. The overseer is even more vigilant than usual at those times in keeping the slaves on task. It seems to Kunta that these slaves simply do all that toubob asks of them. Kunta realizes that it’s probably because they were born here instead of in Africa. “Kunta vowed never to become like them” and to escape as soon as he could. Kunta knows he must make a “saphie charm” to protect him, make or find some kind of weapon, memorize the landscape, learn the toubob speech, and acquaint himself with the farther countryside.
Kunta marvels at the differences between this place and Africa. There are no flocks of squawking parrots or howling monkeys, only tweeting birds and horses. The sun is not so hot and the people herd pigs instead of goats. Kunta wonders about the other men and women who were on the boat with him. Kunta assumes that they have been taken to other horrible farms like this one. Still, every day, Kunta wears his “expressionless mask” as he observes his captors and surroundings with skill.
(The entire section is 423 words.)
Chapter 46 Summary
In the fall, Kunta Kinte is given the job of harvesting and storing the pumpkins. Kunta has learned many of the toubob words now, and although he does not wish to communicate, he shows that he understands. Kunta notices other plants being harvested as well. Kunta takes special notice of the tobacco, something that is forbidden by Allah. Kunta feels the same way about tobacco as he does about swine.
Kunta notices that the women don’t tie their hair the same way as the women back home and they beat their clothes against folded pieces of tin to get them clean in the wash water. Kunta wonders why these women don’t do things “properly” as they are done in Africa.
After all of the crops are harvested and stored, the mood becomes lighter on the plantation. Kunta, however, spends most of the time in his hut taking care of his ankles, festering from the leg chains. He is amazed, however, at the carpet of autumn leaves on the ground. It is at this time that Kunta considers something he hasn’t heard: drums. Kunta wonders why the black people here don’t use drums. Do they not know how to use them? Do the white men forbid it?
While pondering drumbeats, Kunta’s mind begins to soften towards these kindred, black “pagans.” He is drawn to the things he sees them doing that are purely African: laughing with their whole bodies, singing loud songs, voicing similar exclamations, talking in hand gestures, wrapping their babies, cleaning their teeth with the edges of sticks, sitting around a fire to chat, making similar facial expressions, and training their children to respect elders. The other slaves are looking at Kunta with gathering concern for his infected ankle. Kunta “almost” acknowledges them. Kunta begins to wonder if Allah “willed him to be here in this place amid the lost tribe of a great black family.” Perhaps his purpose is to teach them their African roots.
Kunta Kinte realizes as time goes on that the other black people hide their true hatred for the toubob as much as Kunta does. Kunta notices when they purposely break farm tools, speak to each other in a secret language, steal away in the night in order to return by morning, work slower than they can, pray to their “Lawd” which is their word for Allah, scowl when backs are turned, mock the toubob around the fire, and dislike the blacks who work as hard as they can to please the “massa.”
Thanksgiving day holds...
(The entire section is 531 words.)
Chapter 47 Summary
Kunta’s ankles, festering with pus, cause concern for even his masters now. To Kunta’s surprise, the overseer orders Kunta’s leg chains removed. With his leg fetters gone, Kunta rejoices and immediately runs away again. This time he runs toward the heavier forest; however, Kunta is being followed. Samson has been watching Kunta. Because of Kunta’s weak ankles, Samson is able to give repeated blows to Kunta’s chest and abdomen. Kunta is caught again. Samson simply kicks Kunta and throws him into his hut.
Kunta and Samson keep their secret, but their hatred for each other still exists. Kunta realizes that he must go “through the motions” of doing the white man’s work in order to be trusted so that he can run to freedom. As Kunta begins this new mission, he notices a “thick iron wedge” in the dirt. Kunta is able to conceal it and hide it in his hut as a weapon. The weapon Kunta really desires is a knife, but those are kept under very close watch.
Upon repairing a fence one day, Kunta sees “what looked like salt” fall from the sky. Kunta is amazed at the coldness, wetness, and tastelessness of the substance. Both Kunta and the other slave he is working with are amazed at the snow. Kunta suddenly feels that this is the moment he has been waiting for. As they repair the fence, Kunta and his workmate are far away from the others near the deepest forest. Suddenly, Kunta knocks the other black man unconscious, ties him with the fence wire, steals the man’s knife that he had mistakenly set down, and runs into the forest. Kunta wishes that he had killed the man when he hears the other slave bellow for help.
Kunta runs until nightfall, but suddenly he notices that this snow makes his tracks appear like magic. It isn’t long before Kunta hears the dogs on his trail. Kunta turns and kills them both with his knife before running on frantically. The overseer shoots Kunta in the leg in order to stop him. This time, Kunta is whipped until the long welts reveal the muscles underneath.
Kunta is thrown, unconscious, back into his hut. As he slowly comes to, he realizes (to his horror) that he is wrapped in a cloth soaked in the grease from swine. Kunta vomits in disgust at being enveloped in something so offensive to Allah. Kunta vows to take revenge or to die trying.
(The entire section is 418 words.)
Chapter 48 Summary
The only two slaves who will now acknowledge Kunta’s presence are the woman who cooks and the older man who plays the fiddle. The others avoid Kunta like the plague. Kunta doesn’t know why, but Samson is nowhere to be seen. It isn’t until a few days later when Kunta again sees Samson. Samson also has a back that is now full of red welts, so he has been whipped as well. Kunta realizes now that Samson was somehow responsible for Kunta’s obedience.
Kunta is watched at all times; he is even watched by other slaves. Riding high upon his horse in the fields of crops, the overseer needs no excuse to rain blows down upon Kunta. In his extreme loneliness, Kunta begins to have imaginary conversations with the members of his family. Kunta forces himself to behave submissively, just like the other blacks do, when the overseer and other white people are around. Kunta lives a miserable existence like this through the spring and into the summer.
Soon the tobacco and the cotton are ready for harvest. The slaves are, therefore, made to rise earlier in the morning and return later at night. Kunta describes the bags of cotton he is forced to pick and how the contents of these bags are loaded into carts and stored. However, Kunta is most interested in the tobacco now because he sees carts passing along the road carrying tobacco back and forth. Kunta realizes that he can escape in one of these carts if he is wily and clever enough.
Kunta begins to make his plans of escape in a tobacco cart. Kunta makes a habit of standing for long periods of time behind the outhouse at night. This position gives Kunta the best view of the dirt road from the moonlight. Kunta counts the number of carts as well as the time in between them. The lanterns the drivers carry create soft, yellow lights that Kunta can see far into the distance. These carts go a long way and leave no smell for the baying hounds to detect.
In his planning, Kunta thinks a lot about having to spend so much time in the back of a dirty cart filled with loathed tobacco. This plant is something so offensive to Allah that Kunta convulses at the thought of having to move among piles of it. Still, Kunta admits that Allah would also want Kunta to be free; therefore, Kunta feels “sure that Allah would forgive him.”
(The entire section is 419 words.)
Chapter 49 Summary
Again and again, Kunta stands in his vigil by the outhouse, watching the road. Kunta begins to pick up rocks and kill a rabbit that hops nearby. He deftly skins the rabbit (as his manhood training taught him to do in Africa), cuts the rabbit meat into strips, and dries the strips in his hut. The dried rabbit meat will serve as sustenance while Kunta flees in the tobacco cart. Kunta also makes a knife using a bent blade he finds and a piece of wood that he whittles. Most importantly, though, Kunta makes a “saphie” to wear around his shoulder. In the saphie, Kunta places a rooster feather, a bird bone, a horse hair—all to keep him spiritually safe, strong, and successful in his escape mission.
After another day of back-breaking work picking the cotton and tobacco, Kunta senses the time is near. That night, Kunta leaps into the darkness and waits by the road. As the first wagon goes by, Kunta silently runs behind it, waits for it to bump due to a hole in the dust, and jumps on board as silently as an animal.
Kunta would be delirious with freedom were it not for the horrid stink of the plant that Allah hates so much. Kunta is forced to burrow deeply into the tobacco under a dense cloth. The smell is stifling. Just as Kunta begins to get settled, he panics. He wonders where the cart is going and if he would be followed. Why had he not thought of this? This time Kunta’s existence depends on this escape. He must not fail.
Worried that he will be caught at any moment, Kunta fights every urge to escape from the cart. It is almost dawn when Kunta finally decides that the time is right. Kunta jumps from the cart as silently as he entered it. In an instant, he is in the deep protection of the forest.
For the first time in this land, Kunta is both happy and free. He stops to drink at a stream and eat a piece of his dried rabbit, but then he runs on and on until darkness falls again. After a night of rest to refresh himself, Kunta runs on again and heads even deeper into the forest. On the fourth day of freedom, Kunta suddenly realizes that he doesn’t know where he is going. He remembers the map drawn on a hide in Africa and decides that Africa can be found to the east, where the sun rises. However, Kunta is at a loss as to how he would ever get across the ocean.
During his reverie, Kunta is shocked and chagrined to hear the howling of dogs! Kunta runs frantically and desperately, losing...
(The entire section is 580 words.)
Chapter 50 Summary
Lapsing in and out of consciousness, Kunta Kinte lies tied up in the center of a strange cabin. He is horrified every time he looks down at his bandaged, right half-foot. During one of the times when Kunta is conscious, a “toubob … carrying a small back bag” comes in. This doctor seems angry at whoever put Kunta in this position, examines Kunta’s foot, takes Kunta’s temperature, and leaves some medicine for Kunta.
Finally, Kunta Kinte sees “Bell”—a short, stocky, and strong woman who is tending to Kunta. She desperately tries to give Kunta his medicine which tastes absolutely horrible. Kunta is finally able to choke it down, however, mostly out of weakness. The doctor gives Bell some extra instructions for Kunta’s care before the doctor leaves. Unfortunately, the medicine does not help much because Kunta gets a severe infection and has such a high fever that he begins hallucinating. There are times when Kunta does not know who or what he is. Bell returns periodically as Kunta gets worse.
Finally, Bell comes in with some boiling water and leaves. She makes a poultice from the strange plant, puts it on Kunta’s skin, covers him with a blanket, and watches as Kunta can do nothing but sweat and wail. She leaves only after she removes all evidence of the ritual. Although very weak, Kunta knows that his fever has broken, that this woman named Bell was the reason, and that she did something distinctly African to get Kunta to this stage of healing. Kunta realizes that Bell has features that are distinctly from the Mandinka tribe.
Kunta begins to despise having to lie there, helpless, as he wonders where he is. He takes all of his anger out on Bell who seems to look upon Kunta with warmth and amusement. Still, it is the first time Kunta has spoken to anyone in the Mandinka dialect since he came to this land. Bell, of course, does not understand Kunta’s words.
Kunta’s foot bandages are finally removed as Kunta begins to gain full use of his faculties again. He is given crutches to practice with as Bell returns speaking softly and caring for his wound. Kunta Kinte won’t practice on the crutches until Bell leaves; however, the next time she returns, Kunta catches her looking with pleasure at the marks in the dirt where the crutches have been. Kunta is now almost fully recovered.
(The entire section is 409 words.)
Chapter 51 Summary
Kunta Kinte, of course, realizes he is on a completely different farm. Kunta marvels at the differences between the two. This new place is in much better condition. Even the slave cabins are whitewashed and in good repair. Some of the slaves even have their own vegetable and flower gardens. Kunta has some furniture in his simple cabin as well as a fork, knife, and spoon. Kunta can’t believe the stupidity of the new “massa” for allowing Kunta to have these things.
Kunta still avoids any contact with the other slaves on the plantation. He waits to go to the outhouse until all the others have gone to the fields. Bell no longer visits his cabin now either. Kunta eventually has to visit the cooking hut himself and is surprised that Bell isn’t the cook. Instead, Kunta sees Bell coming in and out of the big white house.
Kunta considers these black slaves on the new farm. They do have it a little bit better than the ones from his previous experience; however, they still have no “respect or appreciation” of where they come from. Kunta spends sleepless nights “burning with fury at the misery of his people.” Kunta again vows to never be like these blacks who do not know who they are; therefore, he is ashamed to find himself in need of love and companionship.
One day, Kunta sees one of the slaves exit the buggy with a white cast on his arm and an “oddly shaped dark box” in his hand. Kunta is disgusted by this man’s brown skin (as opposed to black skin) because he knows this slave is the product of a white man raping a black woman. However, he notices that all of the slaves gather into this man’s hut after dinner. Kunta wonders why.
Kunta is so curious, in fact, that he approaches the hut of this man who at first just calls Kunta an “African” and shoos him away. Kunta spends days imagining the insults he would like to throw at this “brown” man; however, Kunta does not have the toubob words to throw insults properly. Finally, the brown man corners Kunta one day as he comes out of the outhouse and begins talking (nonstop) to Kunta. The brown man’s name is “Fiddler.”
Fiddler never stops talking. He tells Kunta that he is lucky that no one killed him. He actually lists all of the white man’s laws for Kunta, including the law that allows a master to kill a slave who has run away and been caught. Even though Kunta cannot completely understand everything yet, Fiddler...
(The entire section is 893 words.)
Chapter 52 Summary
Every day, after work is done but before supper, Kunta Kinte retreats to his cabin to say his evening prayers to Allah and to practice writing in Arabic on the dirt floor. He thinks of Fiddler in a similar way as he thought of a wandering musician or a storytelling griot back in Africa. Everyone in the village would gather around to listen there, too. In this way, Kunta rationalized his new companionship with the older black slave of the plantation. Because of the importance of Kunta’s prayer and study, “it seemed to him he could remain himself without having to remain by himself.”
Kunta creates an interesting, albeit simple, way of recording the passage of time. He would drop a small stone into a dried gourd every new moon. By counting the stones, Kunta figured that he was now nineteen years old: a man of nineteen rains. Unfortunately, all of this depresses Kunta. Is this what his entire life would be like, working here on a plantation for the white man until he was too old and weak even to walk, like the old gardener Kunta works with?
Kunta is also deeply puzzled by Bell, the cook in the big house who once tended to Kunta as he recovered from his foot wound. Bell never gives a second glance in Kunta’s direction. This irritates Kunta to no end. Kunta even decides that he hates her, thinking she cared for him only because she was made to do so by the master. Kunta wants to talk to Fiddler about this situation and about why Bell might be acting in this aloof manner toward Kunta; however, Kunta doesn’t yet have enough mastery of the language to manage an explanation.
When the feeble old gardener can’t make it to the plot one morning, Kunta becomes the gardener for the plantation house. Each morning, Bell comes to gather the vegetables for the master and then roughly places her basket on the ground. She expects Kunta to carry the basket for her as the gardener used to do. Kunta is enraged as he thinks about how it is the women who carry the headloads in Africa. Still, Kunta grabs the basket anyway and brings it to the house, where Bell accepts it without even acknowledging Kunta’s presence.
A long time passes, and Bell finally invites Kunta into the big house and gives him a meat sandwich. Kunta is so surprised that he is speechless. Bell just yells at Kunta for being stupid and shoos him away. Still, Bell begins to give Kunta more and more food each day as he brings...
(The entire section is 579 words.)
Chapter 53 Summary
It isn’t long before summer is over and the harvesting starts. Even Bell is called out from the house to work in the fields. Kunta has a hard time keeping up with his own work of gardening and tending to all of the plantation’s animals as well.
After the harvesting is done, the whole plantation gathers for a dance. Fiddler plays and all of the slaves dance in imitation of the farmwork they do every day. It reminds Kunta very much of the harvest dancing the Mandinka would do at the harvest festival, so much so that Kunta can’t help but tap his foot in time with the music. Unfortunately, after the harvest dance, Fiddler gets drunk and pays Kunta a visit in his cabin. Kunta is disgusted by Fiddler’s alcohol consumption, especially because it is something that Allah forbids. Still, Kunta listens all night to Fiddler’s rant about all of the famous musicians from Virginia with whom he has played.
With the harvest done, the slaves make soap and repair cabins and make new buckets and dye cotton. Soon it is snowing again, and the slaves begin to get excited about Christmas. Because Kunta knows this holiday has something to do with “their Allah,” he chooses not to participate. Therefore, he simply waits for spring, when planting begins again.
Kunta is amazed at this land, where all of the people have enough to eat during any season of the year. He remembers having to eat soup made out of little more than grubworms at this time of year in Africa. Kunta compares the young slaves on the plantation to the young children back in Africa. Kunta smiles as the young children take turns sitting on the head of a sheep while it is being sheared. The wool is then cleaned and carded before it is returned to be spun into the cloth that will clothe Kunta this winter.
When all of the slaves are allowed to go away to a church meeting one day, Kunta wonders why he doesn’t feel the urge to escape. Kunta thinks it is because he prefers the certainty of the work on the plantation to the uncertainty of freedom. Kunta knows that he will never see Africa again, but he still has hope. Most specifically, Kunta has hope that one day he will have a family of his own.
(The entire section is 401 words.)
Chapter 54 Summary
Soon it is Christmastime again, and this year, Kunta decides to at least pay attention to the celebrations. Kunta can’t believe all of the food that Bell is cooking. Then, after the feast, in the middle of the day, all of the slaves gather around the white house’s windows to sing Christmas carols. Then Fiddler is summoned to play the fiddle for all to hear. During all of this, Kunta can’t help wondering why the slaves seem to enjoy all of this so much. How could they be happy if, at best, they are kept as pets that cannot survive on their own? Kunta wonders whether he is now any different than they are.
Kunta is glad about the friendship he has with Fiddler, despite the differences between the two of them. Kunta decides to deepen that relationship by asking Fiddler more questions. After asking about the lesser subject of what taxes are, Kunta asks Fiddler where he is from. Fiddler knows why Kunta is asking this question and gets mad.
Fiddler says that Kunta thinks he’s been through the worst life has to offer, but that’s not necessarily the case. Fiddler hesitates, wondering whether he can trust Kunta. Fiddler finally decides to tell Kunta the entire story. Fiddler’s former master drowned one night, the same night that Fiddler ran away. Because the master didn’t have any children or family to speak of, no one came to find him. Therefore, Fiddler hid with a group of Native Americans for a long time, until he felt it was safe to get to Virginia, where he could play with some of the famous musicians of whom he had heard. Fiddler has to explain “Indians” to Kunta as well. Fiddler explains that Africans and Indians made the same mistake: offering kindness to the white man. “First think you know he kickin’ you out or lockin’ you up!”
Because Kunta doesn’t know what Virginia is, Fiddler explains all about the thirteen colonies in the 1700s that were originally settled by England. When Fiddler describes the northern colonies, he also explains that some white people up there don’t believe in slavery. Fiddler explains that he is kind of “half-free” and stays on a plantation only so random slave catchers don’t swoop in and grab him.
Suddenly, Fiddler turns on Kunta and yells at him for wanting slaves to be exactly like him. “How you ‘spec we gon’ know ‘bout Africa? We ain’t never been dere, an’ ain’t goin’ neither!” Kunta leaves without another word,...
(The entire section is 474 words.)
Chapter 55 Summary
Kunta is amazed at how much more there is to know about slaves like Fiddler. In fact, Kunta realizes that he doesn’t know Bell or the gardener very well either. Kunta decides to try to get to know them as well as he knows Fiddler. Kunta begins with the gardener, who tells him that slave catchers, like the ones who cut off his foot, do that job because they can’t afford to own slaves of their own. Then the gardener tells Kunta about how William Waller doesn’t have an overseer because he trusts his slaves to oversee themselves. Waller only insists that his slaves follow his rules to the letter. Unfortunately, the gardener doesn’t share what these rules are.
Suddenly, the gardener begins singing a song in an African dialect. He says that it was a lullaby sung to him by his mother, who got it from her own mother in Africa. The gardener asks Kunta whether he knows what tribe the words are from. Kunta says that the words are from the Serere tribe, but because they are different from the language of the Mandinka tribe, he can’t tell what the words mean. Kunta wants to assure the gardener that he is most definitely from the Gambia and has mostly Jolof tribal blood, but isn’t sure this is the time to tell him. So Kunta remains silent. The gardener talks about how strong he used to be, but since he has gotten old, he just wants to rest with the time he has left.
Kunta now turns toward Bell to see whether he could get to know her better, too. Kunta knows that Bell loves to talk about the master, so he asks her about William Waller. She tells Kunta about the master’s wife and how she died during childbirth. The baby died, too. Now all the master does is work helping other people get better. In fact, the doctor who tended Kunta’s delirium while his foot was healing was actually William Waller himself. Kunta is astounded that white people could have “human sufferings” as well.
Kunta has been wanting to tell Bell something for a long time now. After Bell finishes her story about the master, Kunta feels like it is the perfect time to share his thoughts with her. Thus, Kunta proudly tells Bell that she has very beautiful, distinctly Mandinkan features and that she is “almost like a handsome Mandinka woman.” To Kunta, this is a great compliment, but Bell’s response completely bewilders him. In her frustration, she wonders aloud why these white people keep stealing away slaves straight from Africa.
(The entire section is 444 words.)
Chapter 56 Summary
Bell doesn’t say a single word to Kunta some time, until one day when she comes running out of the big house with news of fighting in Boston. The master has to immediately go to a big meeting in the county about the trouble. Between what Bell hears in the big house and what the driver hears when he takes William Waller to these different meetings, the slaves get a pretty good idea of what is really going on.
The Boston Massacre has occurred and the plantation owners of Virginia worry about the English offering freedom to slaves who will fight for the king. Bell says she heard about the First Continental Congress up at the big house. In reality, Bell had actually read the news in a newspaper. Only Fiddler and Bell know about her ability to read—something so serious that the two of them decide not to tell Kunta yet. If William Waller were to find out about Bell’s reading ability, she would immediately be sold.
Soon it is 1775, and the slaves hear about Patrick Henry’s famous words: “Give me liberty or give me death!” Kunta Kinte adores those words! However, “he couldn’t understand how somebody white could say it; white folks looked pretty free to him.”
News arrives about the battles at Lexington and Concord as well as the ride of Paul Revere and the battle of Bunker Hill. Now that black people are supposedly fighting alongside white English people, called specifically by Lord Dunmore, the colonists, such as William Waller, suddenly get very secretive around all of the slaves. Bell continues to get news by listening through the keyhole when the master has guests over.
Finally, the master gives Bell a newspaper, reads an article to her, and orders her to repeat it to the rest of the slaves. The article says that any slaves caught deserting their masters will “ruin themselves.” Sure enough, there are slave revolts popping up all over the colonies. Christmas comes with less celebration, and Kunta decides that Allah must will for all of these things to happen.
In 1776, the slaves hear about the Declaration of Independence. Now battles are being fought right there in Virginia. The colonies call for slaves to fight; however, the slaves on William Waller’s plantation show their patriotism simply by learning the song “Yankee Doodle.”
A few years later, they hear about the burning of Jefferson’s Monticello and about Cornwallis at Yorktown....
(The entire section is 502 words.)
Chapter 57 Summary
Kunta’s reverie is disturbed by some other terrible news. William Waller’s driver has drawn an escape map for a runaway slave. Because he broke one of Waller’s rules, the driver is sold at the next auction. The plantation is abuzz as to who would replace the driver. It isn’t long before Bell calls Kunta into the big house to talk to William Waller.
Kunta enters the big house and is amazed at all of its grandness: rugs on the floor, paper on the walls, books, furniture, gold and such. The master is most impressed that Kunta doesn’t drink and seems loyal. Waller mentions, with a scowl, what happened with the previous driver and threatens to sell both Kunta and Bell if anything like that were to happen again. Still, Kunta Kinte becomes the driver of master William Waller, and Fiddler becomes the gardener.
Kunta, though never feeling any dignity in slavery to the white man, is a little excited to be a traveler like his uncles back in Africa. However, that excitement dies down quite soon because of the taxing work Kunta is now doing. Because Waller is a doctor, he is summoned at all hours of the night to tend to the sick. It is Kunta who must drive his master on these excursions, and he always gets Waller there and back safely, even when road conditions are horrible.
One day, the call for the doctor is from Waller’s own brother (Kunta’s former master), who comes in on a horse galloping at breakneck speed. “Massa John’s” wife is having a baby. Kunta drives William to his brother’s home, and John’s wife has a beautiful baby girl whom the slaves all call “Missy Anne.”
There are also more leisurely times when Kunta’s master would visit his parents a distance away, and Kunta would marvel at the nature around him. Kunta especially takes note of large, lone trees that remind him of the baobab trees in Africa. Those trees, standing alone, are symbols of where a village once stood.
Unfortunately, Kunta’s travels require him to be sociable with the blacks of these other plantations. He is especially disgusted with the cook named Hattie Mae, whom Kunta sees when Waller goes to visit his parents. Hattie May drones on and on about the Waller family and the historical aspects of the Waller houses. Other cooks are just as annoying, like the one who jingles her keys to show her superiority and who shows Kunta a room of swords and armor. The strangest thing to Kunta is hearing...
(The entire section is 451 words.)
Chapter 58 Summary
Kunta Kinte drives his master to John Waller’s plantation almost daily now, on account of the fact that William Waller absolutely adores his little niece, Missy Anne Waller. Everyone notices that William smiles more (probably replacing the love for his own dead wife and child with love for his little niece), but Kunta doesn’t care and is amazed at how much the other slaves do care. Kunta Kinte simply does his job and keeps to himself as much as he can.
On one of Doctor Waller’s many house calls, Kunta sees a black woman nursing a black child on one breast and a white child on the other. Kunta is disgusted by this and is absolutely revolted when he finds out that black nursemaids are commonplace in the South. Kunta is equally upset by the games that children play. Black children pretend to be slaves or animals, while the white children pretend to be the masters of the plantation. Kunta is told about the close bonds between many black and white children who grow up together. Some young whites feign sickness at the thought of their special companion being sold away. Others bring their companion to college with them.
The plantation owners worry again of slave revolts and complain about having allowed the blacks to join them in the American Revolution. When Kunta hears his master speak of these things on a buggy ride, Kunta sits rigid as he hears of the questionable deaths that the doctor has been attending. Sure enough, Kunta has heard about blacks doing horrible things to white people to take revenge: killing babies by stabbing them in the head with a pin, cooks putting arsenic and glass in their masters’ food, nurses beating young white children, maids filling pies with their excrement, and so on.
Although these things seemed far away from Kunta’s plantation, Kunta had both heard of them and dismissed them. To Kunta, there were too many “overwhelming odds.” Worse, Kunta now thinks that the slaves are their own worst enemy, doing the bidding of their masters with happiness and abandon. Kunta is disgusted to think that many of the very slaves he works with would still be on the plantation, happily working, if the master went away for a full year, giving no instruction. Kunta isn’t sure whether his thoughts stem from getting old or from growing up; however, Kunta knows that now he simply wants to be left alone.
(The entire section is 413 words.)
Chapter 59 Summary
As Kunta is resting, waiting for his master at a different plantation, he is shocked to see white people trudging back from the fields with the slaves. Furthermore, these white people even have their cabins right among the slave cabins on slave row. Kunta is so amazed that he asks the other slaves on the plantation about these strange white ones.
Kunta learns about indentured servants and how many of these white people are called “crackers” or “poor white trash” and are actually worse to black people than the white masters. Even the slaves admit that these white people are so very poor that the slaves would rather be slaves than to live as “white trash.” Kunta begins to resent these lower-class white people even more than the plantation owners because these white indentured servants do everything possible offensive to Allah: smoke, drink, eat pig, gamble, rape, beat their women, fight, and behave without dignity.
The very worst kind of indentured servants, Kunta learns, are called “pattyrollers.” It was a group of this kind who gathered and poked Kunta Kinte as he was led off the slave ship in the harbor. They seem to take joy in beating, torturing, and even dismembering black people. Kunta wonders about the reasons for this. Perhaps it is because they are jealous of the rich white people. Still, Kunta is unable to feel any pity for them. By cutting off half of Kunta’s right foot, these are the kind of people who took away Kunta’s last hope for freedom.
It is 1786. Kunta drives his master back from the county seat with a lot to think about. The people of the county have been yelling, running about, and waving copies of the newspaper, shouting the latest report. In this way, Kunta Kinte learns about a group called the Quakers, who help slaves escape to freedom. Kunta can’t believe that white people would do this! Kunta sees the fears in the plantation owners’ eyes as a result, so Kunta figures these people can’t be all bad to help the slaves like this. In fact, as Kunta takes his master on many different driving excursions, he even hears of a Quaker named John Pleasant who freed more than two hundred of his slaves in his will. Even more shocking is that the state of Massachusetts abolished slavery altogether. When Kunta asks his friends what abolished means, it is the old gardener who replies that someday, it will mean freedom for all of the slaves.
(The entire section is 421 words.)
Chapter 60 Summary
Kunta Kinte is sad about the status of his relationship with Fiddler. When Kunta was made buggy driver, Fiddler was given all of the gardening duties that the gardener couldn’t handle anymore and that Kunta used to attend to. Furthermore, Fiddler used to be the one to tell great and grand stories; however, now it is Kunta who hears the most interesting news and tells the tales every time he returns from a drive. Fiddler doesn’t even play his fiddle much anymore unless he earns money for it on another white man’s plantation. Kunta is amazed when Bell talks about Fiddler’s plan to buy his freedom.
Kunta drives Master William Waller to these celebrations where Fiddler plays his fiddle and gets paid. They are parties held for no reason, apart from Thanksgiving or Christmas. Kunta is shocked and chagrined at the plethora of wealth wasted at these parties: enough booze to get everyone drunk, enough food to get everyone fat, and enough music to get everyone dancing. Kunta didn’t know this kind of wealth existed. In fact, Kunta finally realizes, it doesn’t exist. Kunta sees that the white people are living a lie. No person is truly wealthy and civilized who can’t treat fellow humans with dignity and respect.
On Thanksgiving of that year, when Master Waller visits his parents at Enfield, Kunta hears distinctly African qua-qua drums! After impatiently waiting for his master to retreat into the big house, Kunta runs as fast as his crippled foot will allow toward the sound. Kunta finds a circle of black people (the slaves of that plantation) having their own Thanksgiving celebration. He finds an old African man playing the qua-qua in the center of a small group of other musicians. Kunta’s eyes meet the old African’s eyes and the two men embrace, greeting each other in Arabic. The two try to share a bit about who they are and where they are from, but the other slaves get impatient for more music.
Kunta is beside himself with wonder. For weeks and weeks, Kunta thinks about this qua-qua player from Master Waller’s parents’ plantation. Kunta wishes he could ask the man’s tribe, how he knew Kunta was a Muslim, what part of Africa the man was from, and how long this man has been in this strange land. Kunta remembers the few times that he has been blessed to see actual Africans like himself. In fact, Kunta avoids real Africans as much as possible because of one experience at a slave auction: One time he had...
(The entire section is 548 words.)
Chapter 61 Summary
The two men grunt with satisfaction when they figure out that both of them prefer to squat on the floor rather than sit in a chair. Suddenly, the man begins to talk about his upbringing. He is from Ghana, from the Akan tribe. Even though the white people call him Pompey, his real name is Boteng Bediako. Kunta tells Boteng all about Juffure, the Mandinka tribe, and his family. When Boteng hears that Kunta is thirty-seven years old, he wants to give Kunta a piece of advice. Through a story from the land of Ghana, Boteng imparts to Kunta one of the most important things that Kunta is to learn: To survive in the land of the white man takes patience and a hard shell.
Kunta marvels at how this man would be his father’s age, and probably a kintango if not a chief. Boteng asks Kunta whether the reputation of the Mandinka tribe is correct. Boteng has always heard they are great travelers and traders. Kunta agrees and tells Boteng all about the uncles who travel the land. Then Boteng tells Kunta all about where in Africa most slaves are taken and how their different personalities and tribal traits distinguish them. Boteng admits that he mostly talks through his qua-qua drum, and maybe he was talking to Kunta the night they met. Kunta is moved by the thought.
Kunta feels as though he is talking the night away with Omoro himself. Boteng remarks that if they were in Ghana, he would be talking to Kunta while whittling away at a large thorn to make something to give his visitor. Kunta also says that if they were in the Gambia, Kunta would be talking to Boteng while whittling away at a large mango seed to do the same. Suddenly, they shake hands in the African way, showing that the two would meet again not too long in the future.
No other night meant more to Kunta in his entire life. Kunta tells Boteng that he truly wishes for a wonderful mango seed right now to plant so that he could taste that delicious fruit again. Boteng uses the mango seed idea to share one last bit of wisdom with Kunta. In fact, what Boteng tells Kunta shocks him into reality: “You’s young. Seeds you’ve got a-plenty, you jes’ needs de wife to plant ‘em in.”
(The entire section is 398 words.)
Chapter 62 Summary
Back at the Waller plantation, none of the slaves (Fiddler and Bell and the gardener included) can figure out why Kunta is acting so very strange. Even William Waller asks Kunta whether he is feeling okay. The reality is that Kunta was “rocked to the core” of his soul by his meeting with Boteng from Ghana. There is excitement about meeting a fellow African, yes. However, Kunta’s excited thoughts soon turn to dread when he can’t remember the names of any of the members of his own Mandinka tribe other than his family.
Over the years, Kunta seems to have forgotten everyone. “Without even realizing it, Kunta had forgotten who he was.” Kunta becomes more and more irritated by slaves such as Bell, Fiddler, and the gardener. Kunta knows he can never be like them because he did not grow up in this horrible land. Still, Kunta is disgusted with himself for not praying to Allah as often as he should and for forgetting the names of all of these important people in his life.
Kunta realizes a big piece of the problem is that he had learned the toubob tongue. That was the method that allowed Kunta to slowly lose himself to the ways of the slaves. Kunta admits that the only real pride he has left is in the fact that he has never once touched (and certainly never eaten) any pig meat. Kunta thinks further and realizes that there is yet another thing he has kept: his dignity. He vows never to lose that dignity. In fact, he wants to use dignity to shield himself against the other slaves and their complacent ways.
After wallowing in the self-pity of being unable to recall the names of his friends, Kunta finally begins to remember. His reverie begins with his best friend back in Juffure: Sitafa Silla. Through the memory of his best friend, all of the other names from his village come flooding back to him. Kunta cries as he falls asleep because he knows that he will never see any of these people again.
However, on the next driving excursion, Kunta Kinte hears about a group that calls itself the Negro Union, whose members want to create a mass exodus of black people from the United States back to Africa. Kunta really wants to talk to Fiddler about this. The problem is, Kunta has ignored everyone for weeks now. When Kunta knocks on Fiddler’s door one night, Kunta isn’t exactly given a warm welcome.
All the slaves on the plantation are disdainful of Kunta for being solitary all of the time and for...
(The entire section is 537 words.)
Chapter 63 Summary
Now when Kunta thinks about Juffure, he feels nothing but emptiness. If Kunta still lived there, he would have a few sons by now. Yet Kunta still did not like to think about taking a wife. One of the reasons is that Kunta feels that jumping over a broom to signify marriage is a silly idea for such a special occasion. As a Mandinka man of more than thirty rains, he should choose a woman only sixteen rains old. However, Kunta thinks nothing of the girls that age in this land. They are just as giggly here as they were in Juffure.
The first woman Kunta seriously considers is Liza, the cook on Doctor Waller’s parents’ plantation. Liza has certainly shown interest in Kunta. However, because she lives on another plantation, he would be able to see her only with a valid traveling pass and only on Saturdays. On the other hand, since Liza tends to smother Kunta, the distance might be a blessing. However, living apart is not how a family thrives. As Kunta thinks more and more about Liza, there is always something in his thoughts preventing him from going farther.
Suddenly, Kunta’s mind wanders toward Bell. Kunta wonders why he hadn’t thought of Bell sooner! Still, Kunta tries to nix the idea in his mind. She is a heathen, even having a picture of Jesus in her cabin. She gets upset when she is compared to anything Mandinkan. She has participated in petty annoyances with him for years. Kunta has never even dreamed of Bell. Bell is too bossy and irate, and she talks far too much. However, Kunta cannot shake Bell from his mind.
Kunta starts to think longingly about Bell. He remembers how she cared for him when his foot was healing. He remembers how she performed the ancient African ritual with the poultice to cure his fever. He remembers how strong and healthy she has always been. He remembers how well Bell can cook.
Ironically, Kunta acts colder and colder to Bell the warmer his feelings become. It doesn’t help that Fiddler and the gardener suspect something. Therefore, when Kunta asks where Bell is from, they immediately jump on the subject. Fiddler and the gardener start joking with Kunta about Bell’s big backside and how only Kunta could handle it. Kunta becomes so enraged with the two friends speaking about something so serious in this manner that Kunta storms out of Fiddler’s hut.
(The entire section is 415 words.)
Chapter 64 Summary
Kunta deals with his dilemma about Bell by polishing all the different parts of the master’s buggy. When he feels warm and soft toward Bell, Kunta polishes slowly and softly. When he feels irate and irritated toward Bell, he polishes fast and furious.
Kunta even begins considering things a bit more controversial, such as how much pull Bell has with the master of the plantation and how that could lead to an advantage for both of them. He also considers how Bell knows how to work magic with plants, not only with the poultice but also with certain leaves that stop his eyes from itching. However, Kunta could never approve of her pipe-smoking habit or of the way she dances by wagging her bottom every which way.
Kunta finally remembers how the men in Juffure, when they are ready for a wife, would choose a special, seasoned piece of wood and carve something for the woman. Kunta decides to do this very thing for Bell. In fact, Kunta is sitting on a large block of hickory wood seasoned just perfectly. Since it is of no use to anyone else, just lying there for him to sit on while polishing the buggy, Kunta moves the large block back to his cabin. For a long time, Kunta just stares at it, marveling at how perfectly seasoned it is. Then Kunta begins chopping at the wood in a very rough shape of a wood bowl. Kunta then switches from an axe to a file and a knife. For days and days, Kunta works on it until the wood turns smooth and strong under his hands. Finally, Kunta finds another big hickory branch, which he carves into a pestle. As Kunta sits back and looks at his work, he realizes that this very mortar and pestle wouldn’t look out of place in Juffure. Now Kunta just needs to find the courage to give the gift to Bell.
Kunta waits two weeks before he takes the mortar and pestle along to check whether the master needs the buggy after lunch one afternoon. While Bell’s back is turned after giving the report, Kunta simply sets the bowl down and ambles away. Bell picks up Kunta’s beautiful piece of craftsmanship and cries. It’s the first time in her life that anyone made something for her.
They both feel excited and confused at the same time. Neither Kunta nor Bell is sure what to say to each other the next time they meet. Bell decides to simply ask what it should be used for. Kunta angrily grunts that it is for her to grind corn. Both of them feel like fools and don’t say much more to...
(The entire section is 812 words.)
Chapter 65 Summary
Master William Waller approves the marriage of Kunta and Bell, and preparations begin for the Sunday before Christmas. Even little Missy Anne gets excited and shouts it all over the plantation when she hears that Bell is getting married. Everyone wishes Kunta and Bell congratulations over the coming weeks. Finally, the day arrives. Even Kunta’s previous master, John Waller, and his wife attend with Missy Anne. There is another person who arrives from Enfield, though, who is the guest of honor in Kunta's eyes: Boteng Bediako, the qua-qua drummer from Ghana.
With everyone gathered around the garden, the laundry woman of the Waller Plantation, Sukey, begins the ceremony. Sukey’s words echo the usual wedding ceremony but include prayers that the two never get sold away from each other and that the two have good and healthy children. Suddenly, Sukey places the broom on the ground and motions for Kunta and Bell to link arms. Kunta panics for a moment, hoping that Allah will forgive him for participating in this pagan ceremony and again feeling foolish doing something like this on such a solemn occasion. Sukey asks both of them if they want to get married. After both answer in the affirmative, Sukey proclaims: “Den, in the eyes of Jesus, y’all jump into the holy lan’ of matrimony.”
The two jump over the broom and everyone claps and cheers. Before Sukey walks away, though, she looks at Kunta and asks the couple to be faithful to each other and always be “good Christians.” William Waller says a few words and then leaves the slaves to continue the celebration how they see fit. There is a big feast that Kunta enjoys, although he wishes that people wouldn’t have so much wine (including Bell).
Kunta finds himself actually enjoying life on the plantation with Bell beside him in the nicest slave cabin. Kunta now gets to sleep on a cotton mattress with sheets. His clothes are well tended to by Bell, who washes and irons them every day. She even softens his leather shoes with tallow once in a while and knits him more socks. Bell always makes sure that Kunta has a warm meal every night when he returns from driving and, most importantly, that Kunta has alone time when he needs it. Kunta is shocked that life could be so much better only a few feet away from where he lived previously.
(The entire section is 405 words.)
Chapter 66 Summary
It isn’t long before Kunta worries that Bell has some kind of secret that she won’t tell Kunta. Kunta feels as if Bell doesn’t trust him. One day, Kunta tells Bell some things that he overheard Master Waller saying. Specifically, there was a doctor in New Orleans who had a slave for many years. The doctor taught the slave absolutely everything he knew about the medical profession. As soon as the doctor thought his slave had learned enough, the doctor set the slave free. As Bell completes the story herself, Kunta asks how Bell got her information. She replies, “I got my ways.”
Kunta had just promised himself to start withholding the information he hears when Bell approaches Kunta one day after dinner with something serious on her mind. Bell retrieved one of the newspapers under their bed; Kunta had just assumed she enjoyed flipping the pages. Instead, Bell shocks Kunta by telling him that she can read and that Master Waller would sell her immediately if he knew.
Bell tells Kunta that she learned to read when she was little, when the white children on the plantation would play school with her. Bell has gotten a lot of practice over the years reading these newspapers, and although reading still tires her out, she can do it fairly well. Bell reads a few articles to Kunta, who sits there shocked and amazed at his wife. She also shows him the pictures and descriptions of runaway slaves. Bell remembers when one of the descriptions was of Kunta. Bell admits that the story about the New Orleans doctor and his slave was one she had read.
When Kunta expresses concern that Bell will get caught, she tells him a story about a time when she was supposed to be dusting Master Waller’s library. Instead, what Bell was really doing was looking at Waller’s books and reading the titles. Master Waller appeared and caught Bell looking at the books. Since then, the bookcase has been locked. Next, Bell shocks Kunta again by showing that she can write as well. After writing both of their names, though, she throws the paper in the fire because she cannot ever get caught with any writing or she will be sold.
In a few weeks, Kunta decides to wow Bell with his own schooling. One evening, he spells his own name in Arabic in the ashes of the fireplace. Although Kunta usually allows Bell to do all of the talking, the story of Kunta’s education in Juffure spills out of him. He describes everything to Bell, who is...
(The entire section is 483 words.)
Chapter 67 Summary
Kunta is a bit saddened that he doesn’t have quite the same relationship with Fiddler and the gardener as he did when he was single. Still, even though everyone is not as quick to share stories, Kunta does feel more accepted by the slaves of the plantation, almost as if his marriage to Bell makes Kunta a part of them at last.
One day, the gardener and Fiddler tell Kunta about the census the white people are having in Virginia. Fiddler says that the white people are participating just to make sure that the whites still outnumber the blacks. Fiddler tells Kunta about how in the West Indies, there are so many slaves on sugar plantations there that blacks outnumber the whites one thousand to one. Kunta is astounded at how much Fiddler knows even though he has never been beyond Virginia and North Carolina. Kunta isn’t as upset at his own ignorance as much as he is about how much more Kunta himself knows than any other slave on any plantation. “Most blacks literally didn’t even know where they were, let alone who they were.” In fact, most slaves never leave the plantations on which they are born.
Kunta is thinking about all that Fiddler and the gardener told him and is sharing the information with Bell when Bell surprises Kunta by asking if he would ever consider running away again. Kunta admits that he hasn’t thought about that for a long time. Bell shares her reverie about freedom with Kunta. She admits that she thinks about freedom a lot. It doesn’t matter if a slave has a “good” master; he or she has a master nonetheless. Bell admits that if she and Kunta were both a bit younger, she would ask him to run away with her that very night. She adds that she must be just too scared and too old now.
Bell’s last statement wounds Kunta to the core. Kunta Kinte is too old to run away again, and too scared as well. This depresses Kunta. In fact, Kunta continues in his depression even after ruminating quietly on all the horrors of escape: the gunshots, the dogs, the fear, the brambles, and the axe that took his foot. Bell is heartbroken for having brought on this depression. Poor Bell just gets up and goes to bed. Kunta feels bad for underestimating Bell and all of the other blacks on all of the plantations. Kunta has done this for years, never knowing that these people thought as much about freedom as he did. Kunta realizes now that slaves never show their true feelings about their condition...
(The entire section is 509 words.)
Chapter 68 Summary
Kunta notices that Bell is acting strangely. She doesn’t talk nearly as much and sighs all of the time. Bell is pregnant and tells Kunta by placing his hand on her belly and smiling. Kunta is beside himself with joy. Sure that their child is a boy, Kunta imagines Bell as a woman of the Mandinka tribe in Africa carrying his baby on her back and working on her plot of rice outside the village. In fact, Bell’s pregnancy brings Kunta Kinte closer to Africa even than his visits with the drum-playing Ghanaian.
By using his gourd and the stones within it, Kunta figures out that he is twenty-two years old now. Kunta continues in his solitary state that Bell calls “his Africanisms” until Bell awakens in fear one night. She had a dream that her child was offered as a prize for a white man’s game. Kunta finds himself promising that Master Waller would never do anything like that. Although Bell finally goes back to sleep, Kunta Kinte lays awake all night in a reverie. He thinks about how much money slave babies fetch at auction. Worse, he thinks about how inquisitive Master Waller’s niece, Missy Anne, is about Bell’s baby growing within her. Kunta is disgusted by the thought that his child will most likely play with Missy Anne.
In September, Bell goes into labor. It is not an easy labor for Bell, being that she is more than forty years old. At first, Bell doesn’t allow Kunta to go and get Master Waller. Bell simply grips Kunta’s hand and tells him her last secret: She had two little girls before this, both of whom were sold away by a different master. Kunta is too involved in the task at hand to think much about what Bell is telling him. In fact, Kunta dwells on the fact that Omoro and Binta are becoming grandparents, something they would never know. Kunta finally fetches Sister Mandy (who often helps with births) and Master Waller and leaves them to their work.
Kunta is shocked to hear that it is a baby girl instead of a baby boy. Kunta is a little bit bothered by the fact the child isn’t a boy until Kunta gets one look at the baby girl’s face. Her features are distinctly from the Mandinka tribe. Kunta Kinte is proud. Now the Kinte blood will continue to the next generation. Kunta thinks about what he might name this child. He absolutely forbids that this child have a toubob name. Kunta considers the story that Bell told him during labor and decides that the name should reflect that...
(The entire section is 642 words.)
Chapter 69 Summary
Kunta despises the fact that Missy Anne is enamored of Kizzy. Missy Anne now visits her uncle twice a week just so she can spend hours playing with Kunta’s daughter. Meanwhile, the four-year-old Missy Anne keeps exclaiming, “Cain’t she be mine?” Ironically, Bell smiles at Missy Anne’s treatment of Kizzy. Despite Kunta's fear and anger, Bell knows that a close connection between Missy Anne and Kizzy could very well end up keeping the family together. Kunta, however, simply wishes that his master would get married so that he wouldn’t be so involved with his niece. Kunta notices that there are quite a few of Master Waller’s female patients who aren’t sick at all; they simply want the doctor's attention. Still, William Waller never seems to choose another wife.
On the days Missy Anne isn’t visiting, Bell and Kunta enjoy watching Kizzy go through the various baby stages that any doting parent finds amusing. They particularly enjoy watching Kizzy crawl along the floor of their cabin with her backside high in the air. However, Kunta finds himself full of disgust again when Missy Anne returns and beckons Kizzy to follow her wherever she goes. Kizzy is thrilled with the new game and happily follows Missy Anne around the plantation, much to Kunta Kinte’s chagrin.
Bell tries to calm Kunta Kinte’s fears by telling her husband a story. She tells Kunta about a master’s child whose mother died in childbirth. The child, having no mother of her own, was nursed by a slave who also had a child of the exact same age. The two children, one black and one white, grew up together “almost” as siblings. As they grew, the two girls became inseparable. When the master married again, the new wife was set against the two children being close friends. The wife sold the slave child along with her mother. Meanwhile, the master’s child made herself gravely ill until Master Waller told the couple that the slave child had to be returned for the master’s child to live. Since then, the two young ladies never left each other’s side. They were so devoted to one another that neither one ever got married.
Kunta finds it ironic that this story, told to encourage positive feelings about friendships between blacks and whites, actually makes the opposite case: The slave child grows up so beholden to her mistress that she never marries or has children of her own.
(The entire section is 418 words.)
Chapter 70 Summary
Now the plantation is abuzz with news from a country called Haiti, a country with a population made up mostly of slaves shipped from Africa. The plantation owners in Virginia are first in an uproar that the few rich white people in Haiti (who own thousands and thousands of slaves) look down at the poorer whites who can’t afford to own slaves. The slaves on William Waller’s plantation snicker to each other out of earshot at something so surprising to their master but not at all surprising to them. In fact, the plantation owners are even more appalled that the white people are mixing with the black people so much in Haiti that many blacks wished to prove they were not of African descent at all. These “colored” people, being of close relation to the French white fathers, come to own most of the slaves on the island of Haiti. In fact, these “colored” children are being given the same education as the whites are. While William Waller is disgusted about this, the slaves on his plantation are thrilled to hear it.
Fiddler continues the story of whites, coloreds, and slaves with some news he heard at one of the white people’s fancy parties. The white people in Haiti began to discriminate against the colored people. Then both the white and the colored began to take out their aggression on the Haitian slaves. Some of the worst stories of the treatment of slaves come from this aggression: pregnant slaves whipped until they lose their unborn children, slaves clubbed to death, slaves hands nailed to walls, slaves made to eat their own body parts, slaves' tongues removed, and slaves’ children starved to death.
Sure enough, the news of a revolt in Haiti reaches the Waller plantation. The revolt in Haiti is so bloody and so violent that the plantation owners of Virginia begin to react out of anger and fear. William Waller begins to bark orders at Kunta. White people look at Kunta with anger no matter where he drives. The militia is patrolling the streets at night. Even the Waller Thanksgiving celebration is canceled.
Of course, over the coming months, the news from Haiti subsides, and life gets closer to normal. In fact, there is such an amazing cotton crop that year that the plantation owners are quite happy. However, it isn’t long before the plantation owners find something else to be upset about: abolitionists. In fact, there are many white people who create “antislavery societies.” The people in these...
(The entire section is 552 words.)
Chapter 71 Summary
One afternoon, Sukey comes frantically looking for Fiddler. Sukey tells Fiddler that she hadn’t seen the gardener at breakfast and that he hasn’t shown up to each lunch together, either. No one has seen the gardener anywhere. Sukey flies to the gardener’s door and knocks to no avail. Even Kunta, driving Master Waller back from a visit with a patient, feels a strange, somber feeling on their return to the plantation.
Sure enough, Fiddler steps into the gardener’s cabin and finds his body lying peacefully in bed, as if asleep. The gardener has passed away. As is slave custom, his straw work hat is placed on the door so that the other slaves can pay their respects after returning from the fields that day. Then the slaves sit up most of the night telling stories of the gardener and his life.
Both Kunta and Bell grieve the gardener’s death. Kunta regrets not visiting as often as he should have since Kizzy was born. Bell regrets not telling the gardener that he was like the father she never knew. After dinner, they are ready to join the mourners around the fire. Sukey tells of the gardener’s history with the Waller clan. The gardener was actually a beloved slave companion of their own William Waller when he was a youth. The gardener simply traveled with Master Waller after he got his own white house.
William Waller is upset about the gardener’s death as well. He promises a half-day of work off so the slaves can bury the gardener in their own way. Most of the slaves speak about Waller as a “good” master, which Kunta can never understand. Bell talks about how some of the most beloved slaves, such as cooks and nurses, are given a funeral rite in the big house and then are buried directly in the white people’s graveyard. Kunta finds all of this an ironic (and far too belated) tribute to a lifetime of service.
Kunta thinks back on the gardener’s life and realizes that the gardener is one of the “lucky” slaves, allowed to do what he wanted during his “retirement.” Many older slaves are sold to poor white people who work the old slaves to death.
Slaves have no caskets. Instead, they are buried on a “wide board.” The gardener is dressed in his best suit and placed on the wide board before all of the slaves as well as William Waller walk down to the slave graveyard. The slaves sing spirituals as they descend. Master Waller says a little prayer about...
(The entire section is 533 words.)
Chapter 72 Summary
Kunta is bothered by the gardener’s death for even longer than the other slaves. Finally, Bell snaps Kunta out of the doldrums by mentioning Kizzy’s second birthday. Kunta decides to make Kizzy a present: a very special doll with skin polished to shine of ebony.
Missy Anne will be at the Waller plantation for the entire weekend of Kizzy’s birthday. Master Waller promises Missy Anne that Kizzy can celebrate her birthday in the big house among the whites. This upsets Kunta Kinte to no end. He does not want Kizzy to have this kind of relationship with a toubob. To make things worse, Missy Anne now insists that Kizzy spend an entire day (almost every week) at John Waller’s plantation. Of course, William Waller wants Kunta to drive her there. Kunta and Bell cry themselves to sleep as a result.
To Kunta’s surprise, he begins to cherish these rides with Kizzy back from Missy Anne’s. It is their only time alone as father and daughter. In fact, Kunta decides to use this precious time to impart some of his African wisdom to Kizzy. The first word Kunta teaches her is Fa, which means “Father” in Mandinkan. Kunta is thrilled on the next trip back when Kunta tries to teach Kizzy his African name (Kunta Kinte). Instead of replying right away, Kizzy looks bewildered, points to Kunta, and says, “Fa.” Kunta Kinte is very proud.
Bell is mortified when she finds out what Kunta is teaching Kizzy. As a small child, Kizzy can’t be expected to keep her new special talent a secret. Bell’s reaction, however, is enough to make Kunta angrier at Bell than he has ever been before. Kunta feels that he can’t even share his heritage with his offspring. Kunta’s spirits end up being lifted by a story from Haiti of the man named Toussaint, who became a great warrior by hunting down and killing many plantation owners.
Kizzy comes down with the mumps. Kunta is worried until he finds out that the sickness will keep Missy Anne away for at least two weeks. One day, a present arrives for Kizzy from Missy Anne: a brand-new white toubob doll. Kizzy loves this beautiful doll, and Kunta is furious that he was not able to give Kizzy the special doll he made for her first. When he finally does give Kizzy the African doll, Kizzy doesn’t like it half as much. This hurts her father deeply.
After Kizzy gets better, she takes Missy Anne to see the slave cabins. Missy Anne finds Kunta’s stones in the...
(The entire section is 577 words.)
Chapter 73 Summary
Kunta takes William Waller to church every other Sunday. He is amazed that plantation owners like his own master would never offer a ride to a poor white person but see nothing wrong with being in the same church with one or nodding their hat in greeting. Kunta does admire the white person’s way of quieter worship, though.
Now Kunta’s thoughts turn toward the “meetings” that Bell attends with much of slave row. Kunta has always made some excuse not to go, but this time she insists because it is Kizzy’s christening. What Kunta doesn’t realize is that Bell has Master Waller himself ask Kunta to drive her and her friends.
When Kunta inquires, angrily, about why Kizzy has to be christened and the meaning behind a christening, he is furious when he finds out that Missy Anne wants Kizzy to attend church with her. However, Kunta realizes that if he says no to Missy Anne, the entire family will be back out in the fields picking cotton.
Kunta reluctantly drives Bell to her “big camp meeting” that Sunday. However, when Kunta realizes the huge numbers of blacks attending, he begins to pay closer attention to the gathering. At first, Kunta sits behind the wagon in such a way that he can see everything going on. After a song is sung, a black preacher gets up to pray and preach (with the congregation replying continually). Then another song is sung with still more preaching. At this point, some of the women shriek the name of Jesus again and again out loud. Kunta is appalled to see that one of the women is Bell.
Suddenly, Kunta sees a similarity between worship in the United States and worship in his homeland of Africa. The people involved simply let their feelings guide them into the proper movements, just like it is in Juffure. After more songs, it’s time for a baptism. The whole group walks to the pond. The preacher and a couple of helpers push down the willing participant under the water until he or she is writhing and thrashing. Only then do they let him or her up to symbolize the Resurrection.
After seeing a baptism or two, Kunta is terrified when it is Kizzy’s turn to be christened. Kunta jumps up from his hiding place and sprints to the pond, where everyone looks at him with frustration. Bell has to pipe up and say that she will explain everything to Kunta later. Luckily for Kunta (and for Kizzy), Kizzy simply has some water sprinkled on her.
Bell knows her...
(The entire section is 474 words.)
Chapter 74 Summary
Kizzy is seven years old; therefore, Bell starts taking her to the big house in order to begin work. Kunta Kinte is unhappy about the prospect of Kizzy doing any kind of toubob work, but he understands the importance of Kizzy working in the house as opposed to the fields. Bell is thrilled with Kizzy’s “accomplishments” of being able to dust shelves, wax floors, and polish the forks, knives, and spoons. Kunta, however, can feel only anger when he hears Bell giving Kizzy instruction on how to be a good, personal maid to a mistress. This is because Bell considers Master Waller to be a “good” master, one of the “quality white folks.” Kunta believes there to be no such thing as a “good” master.
Even William Waller notices Kizzy’s new skills as a personal maid. He always allows Kizzy the entire day off when Missy Anne comes to visit. The two children run around and have fun all day, but these visits make Kunta almost impossible to live with. He treasures the times after Kizzy attends Missy Anne’s church when Kunta has time alone in the buggy with his daughter.
During these treasured times, Kunta points to different things (a cow or the sun, for example) and says the Mandinkan work for each one. Kunta then has Kizzy repeat the word faithfully. It isn’t long before Kizzy asks Kunta for different African words (for her head, her foot, and her finger). At this display of interest in Mandinkan culture, Kunta feels "overwhelmed with his love for her.” Kunta is amused that Kizzy calls every river “Kamby Bolongo” instead of just a “bolongo.”
Kunta also uses these special times to tell Kizzy about her grandparents, where they are, and why they are not with them. He tells her about Juffare and the two brothers who are great travelers and village founders. He tells her where the Gambia is and how they say “months” as “moons” in Africa. He tells her about the trip over in the slave ship and its horrible conditions. He tells her to have respect for all creatures and that he was stolen away as he tried to find some wood to make a drum. He even argues with Kizzy about Missy Anne. Kizzy protests that Missy Anne is her best friend. Kunta’s response is simple and clear: “You can’t be nobody’s frien’ an’ slave both....Cause frien’s don’t own one ‘nother.” Even after Kizzy admits that she wants to belong to Missy Anne when she grows up, she promises that she could never leave...
(The entire section is 452 words.)
Chapter 75 Summary
Kunta drives Master Waller to an important meeting in Fredericksburg. They stop at one of the Waller family plantations along the way. The cook there, Hattie, refused to speak to Kunta for a while after he married. Hattie is one of the women who was romantically interested in Kunta, but Kunta chose Bell instead. Hattie, still interested in Kunta, begins talking to him again. Hattie begins by commenting on the cuteness of little Kizzy: a prefect transition to a larger conversation with Kunta.
They visit in the kitchen of the “big house.” Kunta looks on with amazement at all of the preparation that goes into serving a big dinner for white people. Kunta is usually never in a kitchen for more than a few moments (as that is Bell’s workplace), so spending a whole day there teaches Kunta about what Bell does all day (and especially during a large toubob party). The house slaves go in and out of the kitchen as the smell of homemade bread wafts throughout the house.
First, Hattie gives the other slaves soup to serve to the guests; she gives instructions to be careful with the master’s best china. Hattie prepares greens, squash, and meat as her helpers come in and whisper news to her. The news this time is about a conflict between the United States and France. The plantation owners are abuzz with American pride and praise for the United States Navy that is “teachin’ dat France a lesson.”
As Kunta listens, he is allowed to eat the leftovers not being served to the white guests. Kunta is amazed at the different kinds and the sheer amount of meat served: duck, turkey, chicken, ham, and beef. It is a big announcement when the food is served to the master and his friends. Hattie reveals that it will take them exactly forty minutes before they are ready for dessert.
Hattie decides now is the perfect time to talk more with Kunta. Kunta admits to thinking that white people are not happy unless they are in a conflict with someone. Hattie responds with the newest report of Toussaint from Haiti. A mulatto has reportedly led a revolt against Toussaint. Master Waller thinks that Toussaint will be worse off without slavery, but Kunta completely disagrees.
The conversation of the plantation owners switches to how they feel about freeing black people. The plantation owners agree that only blacks who...
(The entire section is 525 words.)
Chapter 76 Summary
Kunta performs a special ritual every day before dawn. He has done this for years, and it has caused everyone to joke that Kunta can see in the dark because he gets up so early. He awakens, walks to the barn, and in the privacy among the hay bales, Kunta Kinte turns to the East and prays to Allah. By the time Kunta feeds the horses and returns, Kizzy is fed, dressed, and ready to work for the day.
Kunta begins to notice a field hand slave named Noah who has distinct features from the Jaloff tribe. Noah is not much older than Kizzy and reminds Kunta of himself. Noah says little but sees all. Kunta often notices Noah watching Kizzy, especially when Kizzy and Missy Anne are playing together. Kunta begins to catch Noah’s eye sometimes as they spy on Kizzy. Kunta believes they have the same negative thoughts about slave children being friends with white toubob children. At first, Kunta is surprised that Noah and Kizzy are not friends, but Kunta understands too that house slaves and field slaves are not usually friends.
Kunta becomes “resigned to sharing his Kizzy” with his master and Missy Anne. Kunta tries not to dwell upon what Kizzy does all day up in the big house. Kunta waits for Sundays after church when he gets to drive Kizzy back to the plantation in the buggy and then take long walks in the evenings together alone. They often pack a picnic, and sometimes Kizzy recites nursery rhymes that Missy Anne teaches Kizzy. Kunta then responds by telling Kizzy one of the many stories that old Nyo Boto would tell back in Juffare. One day, Kunta marvels at how odd Nyo Boto looked with her bald head, toothless grin, and biting tongue. Kunta tells Kizzy that Nyo Boto had two children who were stolen away in a battle between tribes. Suddenly Kunta stops. He realizes that this is just what happened to Bell. Kunta desperately wants to tell Kizzy about those two children of Bell’s (Kizzy’s half-sisters), but he knows the revelation would only cause hurt and sadness.
Suddenly, Kunta begins graphically recounting the horrors of the slave ship. He describes how they were stripped of everything: their clothes, their names, their dignity. Then Kunta tells Kizzy something he has wanted to say since the day she was born:
Dem like you gits borned here don’t even know who dey is! But you jes’ much Kinte as I is! Don’t never fo’git dat!
Kunta then picks up a...
(The entire section is 521 words.)
Chapter 77 Summary
In 1800, the slaves on the Waller plantation are scared to learn that William Waller’s brother, John Waller, is coming to keep an eye on things at the house for a few weeks. John Waller is Kunta’s former master who drinks and smokes and treats his slaves poorly. Kunta tries not to show his displeasure, but he knows that Bell and Kizzy will be without him for that week. Kunta will be driving the buggy for his own master to attend an important meeting—the reason William Waller has been called away.
Bell is disgusted with John Waller’s treatment of both the slaves and even of the plantation house. Bell is considering this when a white man approaches the house and asks to speak to John Waller. In a few minutes, John frantically and angrily insists that Bell call all of the slaves together. The slaves line up behind the big house and John flies at them with a gun in hand. John Waller yells the latest news: a revolt has has just been crushed in Richmond. A large group of slaves, headed by a man named Prosser, planned to kidnap the governor and murder large groups of white people. John Waller forbids the slaves to gather. He will be patrolling the plantation to keep order. The slaves are only allowed back to their own cabins at the end of the day. Anyone who disobeys is threatened with a bullet between the eyes.
The slaves are terrified. They are allowed no further news. John Waller even burns every newspaper he reads so that none of the slaves can find it in the trash. The slaves are less worried about Kunta than they are about Fidder, who was out playing at one of the parties in Richmond. Fiddler has not yet returned even though Kunta and the master have come back. After John Waller leaves, even William Waller sends a notice to the sheriff about the legitimacy of Fiddler being on the road. The sheriff knows nothing of what happened to Fiddler.
Kunta is returning with that very message when he hears a strange voice in the woods. It’s Fiddler, bruised and beaten, but alive. Kunta and Fiddler swing each other around in happiness at seeing one another. Fiddler climbs into the buggy, and they ride to the plantation together. Fiddler tells Kunta everything he has seen and heard. News of the revolt came right in the middle of the party Fiddler attended. Fiddler ended up jumping out the window and crawling through the woods to return home. Fiddler was caught only once, but he played the fiddle so hard for those...
(The entire section is 479 words.)
Chapter 78 Summary
Most of the slaves who participated in the Richmond uprising, even Prosser, have been imprisoned. The plantation owners are feeling a lot better now that Thomas Jefferson is president.
All the slaves on the Waller plantation are surprised to hear the stories about how much Jefferson’s slaves adore their master. Fiddler declares that it’s only because he’s mixing his blood with all the young black womenfolk like Sally Hemings. The slaves aren’t quite sure how they feel about Jefferson. They talk about how he believes white people and black people are just too different to be able to live together. Jefferson also feels they should be shipped, gradually, back to Africa.
Here the conversation changes. Kunta knows the slaves never would be shipped back to Africa because of the high price they fetch in the deep South for plantation owners to work their cotton gins. They talk about how slave traders are constantly angling masters to sell their slaves. Fiddler even talks about an elderly slave sold at auction yelling about final judgment on the whites. Bell is shocked to learn that this is the preacher who baptized Kizzy. All of these things scare the slaves so much that Cato approaches Fiddler and Kunta about talking a bit less of the horrible stories they hear.
Much to Kunta’s chagrin, Master Waller asks Kunta to stop at a slave auction during one trip to the county seat. An old cook is sold as well as a young field hand and a pregnant woman. Even a young woman who looks very much like Kizzy is stripped naked before she is sold. Master Waller quickly orders Kunta to drive away.
Back at the plantation, the slaves are beside themselves because a slave trader visited that very day looking for William Waller. Learning that William is not home, he forces Bell to take the slave trader card and orders her to give it to her master. Bell doesn’t feel like she could follow through with the request, so she throws the card on William Waller’s desk and waits for the worst. The slaves try to reassure themselves that William Waller has a strong financial mind and, therefore, is not in debt. They should have nothing to worry about as long as they keep following the rules. Despite Bell’s insistence of how “good” a master William Waller is, no one feels very confident that they won’t be sold.
(The entire section is 412 words.)
Chapter 79 Summary
Kunta drives the buggy as he listens intently to what William Waller says to his favorite cousin about the substantial sums a slave owner receives for quality slaves. Master Waller mostly worries that Virginia is losing its best workers. Both Waller and his cousin worry there are too many free black people; William thinks strict laws will maintain order. He recognizes that the black population has a monopoly on many good trades. Finally, Waller admits how much he despises the slave traders.
Kunta finally has some good news to report to his friends on slave row: Master Waller has no intention of selling to the hated slave traders. The conversation shifts to talk about slaves buying their freedom. Everyone looks at Fiddler because Fiddler has been saving for his freedom for years. Fiddler admits that’s why he does so many fiddling shows for the white folks. Still, he won’t say how much he has saved. Soon, the conversation turns to white folks thinking lighter skinned blacks are better because they often were fathered by white men. Fiddler and other slaves begin proving the richness and intelligence of African blood by listing famous (and strictly black) people who originated right from Africa: Prince Hall, Phyllis Wheatley, Gustavus Vassa, and so on.
After his next trip to play fiddle, Fiddler returns downcast. He saw many happy white people celebrating Toussaint’s capture in Haiti. The French already took Haiti back by force, but they didn’t have the rebel leader. Napoleon trapped Toussaint by inviting him to dinner and immediately arresting him. Toussaint is Kunta’s hero; the news hits him hard.
Something shakes Kunta out of the doldrums, though: Fiddler has saved the 700 dollars that Waller told Fiddler “a long time ago” would buy his freedom. Fiddler can’t wait to tell the master, but first he confides in Kunta and shows him his mattress full of dollars and burlap bags full of coins. Kunta is spellbound and speechless. Would his good friend actually be free? “Jes’ seem too good to be true.”
Sure enough, Fiddler comes back from meeting Waller as white as a sheet, all the light gone from his eyes. Waller now demands more than twice what he originally told him: 1500 dollars. This is an amount Fiddler could never save in a lifetime as a slave. Waller tries to speak to Fiddler as if this were just business, but freedom is never “just business” to a slave. Fiddler throws his...
(The entire section is 425 words.)
Chapter 80 Summary
Things have never been more glum on the Waller plantation. Fiddler’s playing no longer sounds the same; his spirit is broken. He now wanders the plantation hardly even nodding to anyone, never telling stories. Further, there is a horrible fever sweeping the county. Most slaves on the plantation come down with the sickness, even Kunta.
Bell notices one evening that Kunta isn’t acting like himself, even complaining when backrubs begin to hurt. The next morning, Kunta is unable to get out of bed. The doctor—and master—William Waller comes down to observe Kunta. Waller admits it’s the dreaded fever causing so many deaths to both blacks and whites; however, because of the number of urgent house calls, he demands that Fiddler be his driver. As Doctor Waller attends to the sick white people with medicine, Bell passes her own herbal remedies to Fiddler for the black people.
Fiddler continues in his downtrodden, lifeless state until he hears Kunta is sick and rushes to Kunta’s side. Kunta’s sickness changes Fiddler. Even though Fiddler is no longer happy, he becomes a more caring and compassionate man. Similarly, Bell deepens in her love for Kunta as he lays there, delirious one minute and comatose the next. Bell simply squeezes her husband’s hot, dry hand and prays for him to return to her.
There is a lot of praying around the Waller plantation. Aunt Sukey and other older slave women admit it’s their prayers doing the curing instead of the medicines and herbs. During the worst part of Kunta’s sickness, even Missy Anne comes into the cabin and is upset by all the sadness she sees in Kunta’s family and friends. Missy Anne especially notes how sad Kizzy is. Missy Anne asks her uncle for some advice on what Bible verse to read for the occasion and then spends the afternoon reading the peaceful Psalm 23. The slaves are visibly moved by Missy Anne’s recitation.
Kunta finally begins to get better. His first smile in a long time comes when Kizzy leans over and whispers that she religiously has placed a smooth stone into her father’s special gourd every single month. Kunta asks if he’s dreaming when the Fiddler complains about the buggy routes they are taking each day. Everyone knows Kunta is recovering when he smiles at Kizzy for putting pebbles in his gourd at every new moon and fusses at Fiddler for his buggy-driving complaints.
(The entire section is 415 words.)
Chapter 81 Summary
Missy Anne is now fifteen, and there is a change in the games she and Kizzy play when she isn’t away at school. Although Missy Anne insists on “playing teacher,” she actually is teaching Kizzy to read. Often Kizzy feigns slight failure just to see the delight on Missy Anne’s face when Kizzy gets a letter correct.
Kunta has mixed feelings about this. Kunta is proud of his daughter for gaining such a wonderful and difficult skill, but he's terrified Waller will learn Kizzy can read. That would definitely end the friendship between Missy Anne and Kizzy and also might get Kizzy sold off the plantation.
Even after Missy Anne leaves, Kizzy sits up late studying words in either an old book from Missy Anne or a piece of Waller’s newspapers Bell takes from the trash. Kizzy finds delight in “teaching” her mother, Bell, to read. Just like Kizzy with Missy Anne, Bell feigns slight failure just to see Kizzy’s pride. One evening, Bell realizes Kizzy knows more about reading than her mother does!
It isn’t long before the relationship between Missy Anne and Kizzy changes. Missy Anne’s big sixteenth birthday party will be held at Waller’s plantation (because Missy Anne’s mom complains about headaches). Everyone is involved in the preparations. Unfortunately, the second the first white guest enters appears, Missy Anne pretends not to know Kizzy, finally treating her as a slave. This crushes Kizzy, who spends nights crying in her room.
Kunta can’t help but feel this negativity is necessary. Kizzy needs to learn it is impossible to be friends with a toubob. As time passes, Missy Anne spends less of her time with Kizzy when she visits the plantation.
The plantation owners are abuzz in praise of Jefferson for his purchase of the Louisiana Territory and Toussaint's eventual death. Among this news in 1803, Kizzy becomes an adolescent. Her body begins to bud in ways that make her truly a woman. Kunta muses about what Kizzy would be learning in Africa: making her skin shine with shea butter, blackening her feet and hands with the black from cooking pots, attracting men twice her age. Kunta notices that most people who get married here are about the same age. He wonders why Kizzy and Noah (who are almost the same age) don’t seem to acknowledge each other’s existence, even as friends. Kunta prays and asks Allah to find a suitable mate for Kizzy.
(The entire section is 415 words.)
Chapter 82 Summary
Kunta eavesdrops outside as Bell chides Kizzy for flirting with Noah. Kunta is very surprised because he never suspected this, thinking the two were purposely avoiding each other. Kunta isn’t sure what to think about the entire affair because in Africa a father always makes sure of good breeding before a match is made. In the United States (and as slaves), there is no way to be sure of something like good breeding.
What Kunta does like about Noah is that any baby would be as black as can be. Kunta is disgusted even hearing about lighter skinned babies, always a product of a white master or overseer raping a slave. Kunta secretly thanks Allah that he doesn’t know of anyone who had that tragic experience. In fact, William Waller always speaks against that horrid practice even if it is for a less honorable reason: Waller simply thinks blacks and whites shouldn’t mix.
Kunta isn’t the only one doing the observing, however. It isn’t long before he notices that Noah is observing Kunta as well. Finally, after weeks of peeking around barns and bushes, Noah approaches Kunta with a plan to run away. Kunta is shocked and can only say that Noah is forbidden to run away with Kizzy. It turns out that Noah approaches Kunta to ask him about his four escape attempts. Kunta remembers the terror of those times and the frustration of daily living when all he could think about was freedom.
Noah is so young and knows so little about escaping that Kunta tells Noah to be ready to die if he is caught. At least Noah knows how to follow the North Star. He also has a knife he plans to use to kill anyone or anything that becomes a threat, dogs and people alike. Noah admits that he doesn’t know when he’s going to run, but it will be soon. Again and again, Kunta demands that Kizzy has nothing to do with this escape. However, as Noah turns to go, Kunta grabs “the young man’s hand between both of his own” and says, “I hopes you makes it.”
That night, as Kizzy sits studying her reading and writing yet again, Kunta marvels at the beauty and intelligence of his daughter. Kunta wishes he could spare her all of the suffering this land is bringing to their family.
(The entire section is 401 words.)
Chapter 83 Summary
A week after Kizzy turns sixteen, Noah is gone. Only Kizzy and Kunta exchange knowing looks about Noah’s plan of escape. The slaves begin their morning with breakfast and then realize that Noah is not among them. First, they are angry that Noah overslept; but not finding him in the cabin, they know something is amiss. After searching the entire plantation, they know they have to tell Master Waller. Bell suggests they not tell him until after his breakfast.
When Bell breaks the news to Waller, he wonders whether Noah is just philandering among other plantations. He says Noah will be sorry if he actually is trying to escape. Waller gives Noah until the next morning before Kunta is asked to hitch up the buggy for a ride to the jailhouse. Master Waller then tells the sheriff that Noah, having broken one of the plantation’s rules, will be sold down South immediately if he is ever caught.
It is Sunday morning when the sheriff appears at the Waller plantation and sprints into the house. A few minutes later, Kizzy is called inside. Kunta and Bell, panic stricken, run inside the big house. William Waller coldly tells them that Noah has been caught but nearly killed two white men with his knife in the process of escaping. Noah was carrying a traveling pass forged by Kizzy. Kunta and Bell ask to be sold along with Kizzy, but Master Waller refuses to listen. Kunta tries to grab Kizzy by the waist, but he is beaten to the ground. Bell flies into a frenzy of despair and panic as Kizzy is chained and thrown into the back of the sheriff’s wagon, screaming first for her parents and then for Missy Anne.
As Bell weeps in the wagon’s wake, Kunta picks up the dust from Kizzy’s footprints and runs back to his cabin. As Kunta runs, he thinks about the old African tradition way back in Juffare. Anyone who saves the dust from the footprints from where a person last stood will assure his/her return to that very spot. Just as Kunta is about to drop the precious dust into the gourd with the pebbles that count the months, Kunta realizes that he will never see his daughter again. He throws the dust and the gourd to the ground in anger and despair.
(The entire section is 395 words.)
Chapter 84 Summary
Kizzy is sold to a slave trader immediately. That trader sells Kizzy to her new master, Tom Lea. The first night on the run-down Tom Lea plantation in North Carolina, he appears at Kizzy’s ragged cabin door. Smelling booze on his breath, Kizzy can tell what he plans to do. Sure enough, he subdues her by force and rapes her brutally until she blacks out. When she comes to, a black woman is cleaning Kizzy’s private parts from the soiled mess. Kizzy lies there, spent in despair.
Kizzy wonders about her mom and dad. Would Bell and Kunta remain on the Waller plantation? Had their disregard for the rules in trying to save Kizzy caused them to be sold, too? Then Kizzy wonders about Noah. She wishes she had allowed Noah to make love to her before he ran away. Has Noah been killed because of his infractions, or just sold? Kizzy remembers that Noah demanded the traveling pass from Kizzy to prove her love for him. Suddenly, Kizzy wonders if Missy Anne might come to the rescue when she hears about this. Kizzy’s heart sinks once again, however, when she realizes it has been four days since Noah has been caught. Surely Missy Anne would know about it by now.
Miss Malizy, the blacked woman who helped clean Kizzy, now returns to Kizzy’s cabin with some soup. Miss Malizy tells Kizzy, point blank, that Master Lea is one of those masters who loves women, especially young black women. Malizy tells Kizzy to expect him nightly, whenever the master isn’t off fighting his chickens. Tom Lee breeds chickens to participate in cock fighting. This is how he was able to work up from being a “poor cracker” into a meager plantation owner. Unfortunately, his manners did not improve with his living situation.
Kizzy tells Miss Malizy a bit about her former life. Miss Malizy’s jaw drops when she finds out that not only did Kizzy have a good life as a house slave but also lived with both parents. The latter fact is so rare in the South that Malizy can’t believe it. Kizzy is even more scared and saddened when she finds out that Tom Lea purchased her to work her to the bone in the fields. Even worse, most likely Tom Lea purchased Kizzy to breed and create more slaves he doesn’t have to buy. Kizzy is speechless.
(The entire section is 408 words.)
Chapter 85 Summary
Kizzy is pregnant. The only good part about this is that Tom Lea no longer shows up as often in Kizzy’s cabin. Kizzy has no idea why she is feeling sick all the time or how to bring a baby into this world. She muses on the stories Bell used to tell about storks bringing babies, but then she realizes that women might have to push them out somehow (just like she saw a cow do once).
In 1806, Kizzy has her baby and immediately is alarmed that this baby boy is definitely what Kunta Kinte would call a disgusting “high-yaller” color. Kizzy is so ashamed that she’s actually glad Bell and Kunta can’t see their first grandson. Kizzy wishes again that she had made love to Noah.
It’s Miss Malizy who finally snaps Kizzy out of her depression, telling her that black women having white men’s babies is just the way things are. Further, anyone who notices that her son is a mulatto will surely know that Kizzy’s master is not a quality person. Mizz Malizy finally begs Kizzy to let this child bring some joy into her life and the lives of the other few slaves on the plantation.
Tom Lea is glad, even proud, of the new slave he has produced. He demands that Kizzy start work in the fields. When Kizzy protests, Lea threatens to keep the child and sell Kizzy. Kizzy is beside herself with fear and chagrin at the thought of being sold away from her child. Tom Lea rapes Kizzy after a month even though she hasn’t healed completely from the birth. More than the rape, Kizzy is terrified that her little child will wake up and notice his mother being beaten into submission. Before Tom Lea leaves, he says the child will be called George after a slave he personally worked to death. In despair again, Kizzy abandons her plans to name her child “Kunta Lea” or “Kinte Lea.”
Kizzy remembers Bell joking about how lucky Kizzy was at the Waller plantation, that she didn’t know what being a slave truly meant. Kizzy knows now. She also remembers Kunta telling her about some of these atrocities, but he thought the worst thing masters did was keep their slaves “ignorant of who they are.” Kizzy remembers Bell’s admission of the reason why she fell in love with Kunta: “He was de proudest black man I ever seed!” Kizzy is determined, despite her child’s yellow color, to think of him as the grandson of a great African warrior.
(The entire section is 433 words.)
Chapter 86 Summary
The birth of George brings a bit of joy back to the Lea plantation. The old slave everyone calls Uncle Pompey, who never gave a second glance to Kizzy before, now coos at her son. When Kizzy brings George to the field for the first time, Uncle Pompey points to a new little shelter he made for the baby under the shade of some nearby trees. Kizzy is very moved. She now can work in the fields, tending to her baby whenever he cries. The two other field hands, Sister Sarah and Miss Malizy, squabble over who gets to carry little George back to the cabins when the day is done. Still, at night, Kizzy does her best to keep George awake as long as she can before breastfeeding him and allowing him to fall asleep. She is still terrified that her little son will awaken to the sight of his mom getting raped.
One afternoon, the other field slaves talk about the slave named George who is little George’s namesake. George was one of Tom Lea’s only slaves when he bought this land. George cleared all of this land and then his heart gave out.
When Kizzy asks why the master has fighting chickens, the slaves marvel at the richness of Kizzy’s former “good” master. Kizzy is also surprised to hear that there is another slave she hasn’t yet seen. Mingo tends only to Tom Lea’s chickens.
As Kizzy works in the fields daily, little George learns to eat real food and then to crawl and to talk. Soon he gets into such a bad habit of eating dirt that Kizzy has to allow George to spend the day in the big house. As George grows, everyone is amazed at his confidence and independence.
Kizzy begins to share more and more about her past with the slaves on the Lea plantation. One day Kizzy tells Miss Malizy about Noah. Kizzy often imagines Noah simply showing up and them running off together to freedom. However, when Sister Sarah offers to read Kizzy’s fortune, the result is so distressing that Kizzy runs out of the cabin screaming. Little George is frightened by his mother’s outburst and runs to her. Kizzy simply tells George to be quiet. Kizzy doesn’t have the heart to tell little George the news: she will never see Kunta, Bell, or Noah again.
(The entire section is 403 words.)
Chapter 87 Summary
Kizzy’s little George is three now and as confident and spirited as ever. George spends his time determined to help the adults, which often sends them into fits of laughter instead of thanks. George becomes famous for such “helpful” tasks as toting firewood one stick at a time, racking ashes onto the floor in front of the fireplace, and filling up a water bucket so full he can’t lift it. With all the praise everyone gives him, Kizzy decides to keep quiet about George’s new abilities. George’s pride is already starting to show.
One day George asks his mom why he isn’t black like she is. Kizzy gives him a simple explanation: people are just born in different colors. Still, George seems to ask about his color or his non-existent father almost every night. Kizzy becomes angry more about the real answers than at the fact that George is asking. To distract George and quench his curiosity a bit, Kizzy begins telling him stories about his “Gran’pappy,” Kunta Kinte.
Kizzy first explains Kunta Kinte’s story briefly. She tells George that Kunta Kinte came over from Africa in a slave ship bound for Annapolis, Maryland. First, John Waller bought Kunta, but because Kunta ran away four times, slave catchers chopped off half his foot. Finally, William Waller convinced his brother to sell Kunta, which is how Kunta came to live on a Spotsylvania County plantation for what they call a “good” master.
George has a hard time understanding most of the story. He is full of questions about why the slave catchers cut off part of Kunta’s foot. George also asks why slaves run away. After George begins to grasp the true meaning behind the story, his questions get more inquisitive: George begins to ask about Africa. Even though Kizzy sometimes loses patience, she tells her son everything she can about what her father told her. Kizzy tells George about the old songs from Africa that Kunta used to sing while riding in the buggy with her after church. She tells him about the long walks by the fence she took with her father when he would test her on all sorts of African words, like the words for river (“bolongo”) and fiddle (“ko”).
Kizzy finds herself asking George to repeat as many African words and phrases as she can remember. His interest, concentration, and success fill Kizzy with great love for her son.
(The entire section is 411 words.)
Chapter 88 Summary
George turns six, and Tom Lea makes George work in the fields. George “helps” as well as he helped with bucket-filling. Still, George always smiles and lifts the others' moods with his “characteristic good spirits.” George is so independent and self-reliant for his age that Kizzy can’t help but feel pride for him.
George amuses Kizzy at night telling stories about wildlife and singing slave spirituals. He also amuses himself whittling or drawing. Kizzy is scared George might learn to write. She keeps her solemn vow never to write again.
Kizzy misses news she would hear after Kunta’s buggy rides. Because Lea drives himself and the field hands stay in the fields, the slaves know nothing about what is going on. The Lea plantation is isolated completely.
Luckily, the Leas do like to entertain guests, mostly to prove they aren’t “poor white crackers” anymore. After these visits, Miss Malizy relays information she overhears. One dinner guest talked about the War of 1812. This sparks little George to ask Kizzy about war. Little by little, news trickles. In 1814, George does a rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” for slave row.
George is growing up to be a true entertainer. His most requested act is his impression of his master. George can do a good, mocking impression of anyone with only a little observation beforehand. This particular skill brings extra cheer to slave row.
About this time, George sees Mingo, Lea’s cock-fighting slave, for the first time. A funny impression immediately ensues. One day, Lea sees George chasing a rat and inquires what good George is doing. George confidently replies that he “preaches.” Amused, Lea listens as George does some mock-preaching and has the best laugh he has had in years. Lea asks George to mock-preach for his next dinner guests, amid the news of Cherokee Indians and Davy Crockett.
In 1818 some tension among the field hands erupts when Sister Sarah comments on sending free blacks back to Africa. She says she would never go because the blacks are all romping “up in trees wid monkeys.” Deeply insulted, Kizzy stops her. Even George reacts negatively to the disrespect of his grandfather, and he tells Kizzy he plans to tell his children about Kunta Kinte.
Tom Lea likes George so much he gives him extra liberties like inspecting Lea’s beloved game cocks. Soon Lea lets George help Mingo feed them....
(The entire section is 417 words.)
Chapter 89 Summary
Tom Lea allows George to help Mingo with the prize-winning chickens more and more. George is amazed at the specific foods given to these birds. He also notices the similarity between Mingo (with his hands scratched so many times by spurs) to the old “catchcocks” (with their many spur scars as well). One day, George hears Mingo telling Tom Lea that there will probably be forty good trained birds for the cockfights this year.
Tom becomes more confident in George's ability to handle his prize birds; therefore, he demands that George leave his mother’s cabin and stay in a new cabin by the chickens that both Mingo and George can build. Of course, the hard part about his new arrangement is telling Kizzy. Feeling the separation in her heart, Kizzy panics in anger and yells, “Massa don’t care nothin’ bout you. He may be yo’ pappy, but he don’t care nothin’ ‘bout nobody but dem chickens!”
George is shocked and chagrined with the news that Tom Lea is George’s father. Silently and tearfully, George packs to move down closer to the chickens. Mingo senses what happened and is extra nice to George, who is “silent and withdrawn” for the very first time in his life. Mingo helps George out of his slump by explaining that these birds need to be George’s family now.
Mingo begins to explain to George how these birds are bred for their aggression and just how important that aggressive trait is. Sure enough, George begins to notice the spur scars on his own arms and hands while handling the birds. Mingo also describes how fearless Tom Lea is in the cockpit. Lea loves nothing more than to pit his cocks against the cocks of some right white plantation owner and win. Mingo admits that the winnings are often incredible.
At fourteen, George leaves the chickens only on Sundays to visit slave row. It is obvious that George has begun to love the chickens he tends now. He shares all of their stories and peculiarities with Kizzy and the other slaves. Of particular interest is the transfer of a stag to a rangewalk. Once a stag rooster is old enough, he is set free in a rangewalk to spike his aggression even more and until he is old enough and ready to train for a fight. When the rangewalk stag is ready to train, Mingo and George would bring out one of the old catchcocks and that stag would immediately charge. George’s job was to catch the stag and put him in a basket. One day, they catch dozens of...
(The entire section is 685 words.)
Chapter 90 Summary
When George visits slave row on Sundays now, he struts like a chicken himself. Tom Lea has been telling everyone who will listen that he is apprenticing George, a “natural born” cockfighter. The news from outside the plantation now has to do with new immigrants coming to the United States. Specifically, these immigrants are taking lots of jobs that would have otherwise gone to free blacks. George is amazed and admits that he would never know about any of this stuff unless a chicken told him.
Another reason for George’s frequent Sunday visits is that he longs for Miss Malizy’s good food from the kitchen (as Mingo is not much of a cook). Still, it isn’t long before George gets restless and hightails it back to the chicken coops. George’s afternoons are spent catching choice grasshoppers and other bugs for the birds to eat.
Tom Lea and Mingo are amazed at George when they come upon a cock that they feel cannot be tamed enough to be handled in the cockfights. George has a special way with chickens to calm them down when it’s time. It is truly a natural gift. Still, both Mingo and Tom are continually teaching George. Only a cock trained to physical perfection can be used in the ring. In fact, one good cock can be the difference between wealth and poverty. A long time ago, Tom Lea had won a tiny amount of money in the lottery and bought one cock with that money. The rest is history.
George admits that his favorite fights are when Lea’s birds quickly kill their opponents with no injuries to leave behind. However, his biggest thrill is when two fighting cocks were totally exhausted and George’s bird would gather one last ounce of strength to move in for the kill. When George first began this job, he didn’t understand Mingo’s connection with the old catchcocks; however, now George realizes how each catchcock has a story behind his former greatness.
George is starting to surpass both Mingo and Tom Lea in cockfighting knowhow and ability. There is one thing that George can’t seem to curtail about himself, though. George can’t seem to keep from getting emotional when one of his birds died in the ring.
George does have a new hobby now, however: philandering. Because George always returns faithfully to his chickens the next day, neither Mingo nor Tom Lea has much of a problem with George’s wanderings. Mingo remembers the time when he was the young one hitting on the ladies....
(The entire section is 447 words.)
Chapter 91 Summary
One Sunday, George takes his weekly trip to slave row and discovers almost immediately that something isn’t right. Sure enough, Kizzy grabs George and yanks him inside the cabin. Seeing George’s confusion, Kizzy explains about another slave uprising, this time in Charleston, South Carolina. Supposedly a black man named Denmark Vesey convinced hundreds of blacks to kill any white they saw on that very Sunday night. A few black slaves told their masters about the attack and stopped the entire thing cold. However, Tom Lea goes off immediately to a big meeting about this issue, while Mrs. Lea points the shotgun at anyone who moves. In fact, Kizzy is so worried about George getting caught away from the chickens that she shoos him away.
Tom Lea gets back from his meeting and immediately approaches George and Mingo. Lea threatens to blow them both away if either of them causes any trouble at all. Mingo warns George not to go visit any girlfriends at night until all of this blows over. George is upset at himself for even considering that Lea could act like a father. Further, George can talk to no one about this (not even Charity and Beulah, the girlfriends whom Mingo referred to). Even worse, with this uprising development, George is unable to share with Tom Lea a new idea, one that he has thought about for a long time now.
A few months go by before Tom Lea gets back to being his regular, surly self again. George decides it might be time to tell Mingo his new idea: to exercise the chickens’ wings so that the best of their birds can have a leg up on the competition. Mingo thinks it's a great idea and suggests that George tell Lea about it. When George tells Master Lea, George is careful to explain the losses they experience only when their cocks can’t fly high enough to get the advantage. Tom Lea is thrilled about the prospect of wing exercises for his best cocks. They begin the process of training the birds, and the season of 1823 is the best yet for Tom Lea and his chickens. In fact, they do so well that Master Lea allows George to continue sneaking out at night to get some “hot tail.” Knowing that Charity has been “two-timing” him, George turns his attention to a young lady owned by Mr. Jewett, who, unfortunately, is one of Tom Lea’s archrivals in the cockpit.
(The entire section is 414 words.)
Chapter 92 Summary
Another Sunday, it’s Mingo who presents an idea to Tom Lea. Mingo makes the case that even the birds that get injured in the cockpit can often be coaxed back to health to fight again. However, these birds, called “culls,” are fit not for the main fights but only for the “hackfights” led by poor whites and free blacks. Mingo suggests that this is a perfect way to get George started truly handling and fighting the cocks. Ironically, it’s also the way that Tom Lea began making his fortune.
After Tom Lea agrees, both Mingo and George rejoice. They have secretly been working on training George for hackfights for months now. Still, George can’t find the words to thank Mingo. It’s one of the few times when George remains speechless. As they continue to train, Mingo tells George just how much money can be won through hackfighting. When Tom Lea tells George that he can have half of the winnings, George vows to buy freedom for both himself and his mother, Kizzy. George can’t wait to get into the cockpit!
George enters one of Tom Lea’s culls in his first hackfight. Unfortunately, the cull loses. George gets so emotional over the loss that Mingo wonders whether George will be able to hackfight again. They do win another few fights and make two dollars, but George is still upset about the first loss. It’s Tom Lea who talks George out of his misery. Everyone has to lose a cockfight or two.
Sure enough, George gets back into the cockpit and wins almost every bout in hackfighting. Kizzy beams with pride at her son’s skill, but Mingo still can’t believe how much George cries over every single dead cock they pit. The next time George returns home, he has made eighteen dollars: nine for himself and nine for Tom Lea. George gets so used to winning that he begins strutting around the cockpit and crowing like the roosters. George gets so good at it that Master Lea starts attending the hackfights as well (which for rich plantation owners is generally looked down upon). The regulars become so used to George’s amusing, cocky show that they say, “Look out! Here come dat ‘Chicken George’!” The name sticks.
At the next “main” fight, the rich aristocrat Mr. Jewett asks Tom Lea if he would consider selling Chicken George for four thousand dollars. As Lea refuses, Jewett casually lets drop the fact that Chicken George has been “visiting” with one of the slaves on the Jewett plantation....
(The entire section is 476 words.)
Chapter 93 Summary
On one of their many buggy rides to the main fights, Tom Lea starts talking to Chicken George almost as an equal. Tom Lea is often asking Chicken George what he is thinking about. Whenever Chicken George lies and tells Lea that he isn’t thinking about anything, Lea gets mad about blacks not speaking their true intelligence. Chicken George tells Tom Lea the truth: that most black folks are scared of white folks. Tom Lea is flabbergasted by this (especially considering the recent slave uprising in Charleston).
Eventually, Tom Lea compares his own young life with that of Chicken George. Tom Lea admits that he is one of ten children who all lived in only two leaky rooms on ten acres of rock not fit for growing any food. Lea’s family is still dirt poor today. Tom Lea left home at eleven years old after a preacher at a revival told Lea that he could make something of himself if he worked hard. Through this comparison, Tom Lea proves that George has had a better experience with everything except freedom.
At one point, Chicken George works the age of the other slaves into the conversation with Tom Lea. George is secretly hoping that Tom Lea will hire another field hand to help his mother and the other slaves on slave row. When Chicken George says that Mingo has been like a father to him, the air fills with tension. Both Chicken George and Tom Lea know who George’s real father is. Still, it isn’t long before the conversation gets friendly again and Tom Lea encourages Chicken George to continue seeing women off the plantation. Lea even offers to give Chicken George a permanent traveling pass.
Suddenly, Chicken George begins confiding in Tom Lea all about a new girl: Matilda. She’s a girl unlike any of the others that he has “tomcatted” with in the past. In fact, she won’t have anything to do with him physically. A former master of Matilda’s was a preacher; therefore, she got to know the Bible really well. It’s Chicken George’s affection for the hard-to-get Matilda that makes him consider that love is more than just sex. Chicken George even admits his thoughts about marrying Matilda. Tom Lea, knowing that he has been meaning to hire another field hand, offers to buy Matilda for Chicken George. Again, Chicken George finds himself speechless.
(The entire section is 406 words.)
Chapter 94 Summary
In 1827, Chicken George wakes up on the morning of his wedding day in a panic. It is expected that he will have his new cabin completed by this day, but he still has so much work to do (mostly because he wasted so much time in the past weeks). He finishes putting the hinges on the front door that Uncle Pompey made and stained himself. Then he mixes up some whitewash and completes the outside of the cabin. Then he saunters inside, where he views the tub that he has for bathing right in the house. He gets the tub ready for his wedding day bath. Afterward, he gets dressed up quite fancy for his wedding day, with a blue shirt, a yellow suit, a black belt, bright orange shoes, and a green scarf. Chicken George even wears a new black derby hat given to him by Tom Lea himself.
The group sets out for the wagon ride an hour late. The wedding will be at the MacGregor plantation, where Matilda works the fields. Unfortunately for everyone, the last item that Chicken George slips into his pocket is a small flask of “white lightning,” an inexpensive liquor that many of the poor white people drink. He begins sipping from the flask on the way to the wedding and is already drunk when the group arrives.
With fierce looks from Kizzy as well as the other slaves from the Lea plantation, Chicken George staggers about, meeting all of Matilda’s friends and family on the MacGregor plantation. The entire slave row does not have a very high opinion of Chicken George due to his indulgence of the bottle on this very important day. Still, the wedding commences.
This particular wedding is a combination of jumping the broom and a traditional Christian ceremony. Still, poor Matilda has to lead her drunk husband to the proper place by the preacher before the ceremony can begin. Chicken George says his vows much too loud and kisses Matilda much too long, but the two are married nonetheless, though not before George misquotes one of the Psalms: “De Lawd is my shepherd! . . . He done give me what I wants!” Glared at by the crowd, Chicken George gives up trying to get in their good graces and drinks the rest of his liquor.
Chicken George sleeps all the way back to the Lea plantation. Kizzy and the other slaves run to their cabins and slam the doors in disgust, but Matilda takes one look and can’t believe what she sees through the door: the wedding present that George has purchased for her, a real grandfather clock. Chicken...
(The entire section is 459 words.)
Chapter 95 Summary
The morning after his wedding, George is back down with the cocks, and Matilda is knocking on the big house door requesting a hoe for the fields. It isn’t long into the first day of work when Matilda asks whether the slaves have regular prayer meetings. After hearing they do not, Matilda begins planning a prayer meeting of her own for every Sunday afternoon.
Matilda begins talking to the few other slaves along slave row about how Chicken George came courting her. Because George was shocked that she wouldn’t make love with him until they were married, Matilda thought she would never see him again. However, next time he came around, he asked her to marry him. Kizzy pipes up to say, “I wants me some gran’chilluns!” Luckily for Kizzy, less than two months pass before Matilda is pregnant.
In 1828, Chicken George’s first child is born. Since George is off fighting chickens, Matilda names the child after her own father, Virgil. As soon as Chicken George returns from the cockfights, he sits with Virgil and tells him all about his grandfather, named Kunta Kinte; the African words for drum and fiddle; the way Kunta was stolen from the woods when he went to make a drum; and how the quest for freedom earned Kunta a half-foot. Kizzy is beside herself with love for her son and grandson.
Kizzy and Matilda spend a lot of time together, which forces Kizzy to become used to Matilda reading the Bible. It also forces Matilda to get used to Kizzy’s sleep-talking of stories about being stolen away from Kunta and Bell. Meanwhile, everyone but Chicken George and Mingo attend Matilda’s weekly prayer meetings.
Even though Chicken George still has a roving nature, he is a good husband and father when he is at home. Now it’s Chicken George who talks about the news around the state in the same way that Kunta Kinte did when he was a driver. Often, Chicken George returns from the cockfights with stories about Indian chiefs, president Andrew Jackson (who loves cockfights as well), and free blacks who are “buildin’ dis country wid dey muscles!”
It’s Chicken George’s meanderings (especially with other women) that cause Matilda to feel a bit sad about their marriage. Chicken George tries to promise that he is thinking only about Matilda and the children, but Matilda knows that’s not exactly true. Matilda tries to be a good wife even though she doesn’t thoroughly trust her...
(The entire section is 452 words.)
Chapter 96 Summary
Chicken George has been out running around and philandering almost every night. This particular morning, he stands outside his and Matilda's cabin with slurred speech and a swagger to his walk. His lies hurt Matilda the most. Chicken George promises that both he and Mingo had simply been chasing loose chickens all night. Matilda knows better. But being the good and honest wife that she is, Matilda tells Chicken George that no matter what he does, she will always be there for him when he comes home. Still, Matilda gives Chicken George a strict warning from the bible about reaping what one sows. Of course, Chicken George has to sleep with the chickens instead of with his wife.
With a renewed sense of duty, Chicken George spends many of the next days being a family man. In fact, he even persuades Tom Lea to let him stay home from fighting the cocks so that he can be present for the birth of his third son. Even though Mingo is beginning to show signs of failing health, he can still accompany his master on limited trips with the chickens. After the little boy is born, Chicken George is so proud that he sits everyone down yet again and tells them all about Kunta Kinte.
While Chicken George and Tom Lea are coming back from their latest cockfighting adventure, news spreads about Nat Turner and the most successful slave revolt in history. All of the blacks accompanying their owners glance at each other with looks of dread. They remember the way their masters acted after the last slave revolt. Nat Turner’s revolt would surely produce a worse result. Tom Lea, fuming with anger, turns back toward George and the buggy.
Sure enough, Tom Lea gallops back home without a word to Chicken George, gathers the slaves together, and (despite George’s protest) destroys all of the slaves’ few meager belongings. Matlida screams as her master ruins the one special wedding present that Chicken George gave her: a grandfather clock. Even Sister Sarah’s medicinal herbs are destroyed. It isn’t until every container is opened and every mattress ripped that Tom Lea is satisfied. After finding no dangerous guns or knives or weapons, Tom Lea struts down to the gamecock area and takes George’s and Mingo’s tools. After threatening to sleep with his shotgun as if expecting George and Mingo to come threatening, Tom Lea gallops back to the big house.
(The entire section is 412 words.)
Chapter 97 Summary
A full year later, the fear and anger inspired by the Nat Turner slave revolt finally begins to subside. Ironically, after the worry about the revolt abates, George and Tom are closer than ever. In fact, Tom kicks the dust one day and asks why one of George’s children hasn’t been named after Tom. George is surprised and pleased. He names his fourth son Tom Lea. Both Chicken George and Tom Lea hope and pray that there are not other serious slave revolts for as long as they both live. It made life horrible for both of them and inspired nothing but anger and fear on the part of the plantation owners and their slaves.
Chicken George and Tom Lea are preparing to travel all the way to New Orleans, Louisiana, to fight their top gamecocks. Tom Lea plans to win himself a fortune and gain a name for himself across the entire South. Chicken George plans to do the same. When Tom Lea asks George how Mingo is doing, Chicken George has to be honest and tell his master that Mingo’s health is deteriorating a bit. He often has “coughing fits” that last the whole night. Both Tom and George dread having to tell Mingo that he can’t go to New Orleans.
Chicken George can’t wait for the trip to Louisiana. As he massages and conditions their best gamecocks for the fights, George imagines the beautiful creole women he will meet there as well as the authentic African dances he will see. George is so caught up in his reverie about New Orleans and the good relationship with Tom Lea that he is surprised that Kizzy and Matilda don’t like the name Tom for their fourth son. Kizzy just wishes it were some other Tom that is this child’s namesake. After Matilda spouts some Bible verses at him, George storms out, sick of being lectured all of the time. He sees nothing wrong with indulging in the urges he has “just for being human.” Both Chicken George and Tom Lea indulge in such urges every time they finish a cockfight abroad.
Despite Chicken George’s anger toward his family, he still calls everyone together one more time before the trip to again tell the story of Kunta Kinte. Kizzy has to admit that her son is a good man. Chicken George again feels at home in slave row.
(The entire section is 406 words.)
Chapter 98 Summary
Before leaving for New Orleans, Tom Lea and Chicken George have to pick up a custom-made wagon for the trip. Tom Lea and the craftsman argue about the price, and then Tom and George drive the beautiful new buggy home, complete with its twelve crates for the chickens. On the ride home with the wagon, Chicken George contemplates his plan to have his firstborn son, Virgil, become Mingo’s replacement after Mingo’s health deteriorates to a certain point. George worries about the chance that Tom will try to bring in an outsider. George also wonders how he would ever convince his family, seeing how much all of them hate George’s absence so much.
Unfortunately, while Tom Lea and Chicken George are gone to get the new wagon, Mingo has a severe stroke and drags himself all the way from the gamecock area halfway to slave row to beg for help with the chickens. No one knows how to help Mingo or how to summon a doctor, so they just drag the old man back to Uncle Pompey’s bed. Kizzy and Miss Malizy run to tell Mrs. Lea and instruct little Virgil on how to feed the chickens; however, Mingo dies alone in the meantime. The women are the ones who dig the hole and bury Mingo (with Matilda reading some appropriate scripture passages).
The duo gets back to the Lea plantation, and they can tell something is dreadfully wrong. It’s Tom Lea’s wife who tells the two of them that Mingo has died. Chicken George flies into fits of grief for the man who was the closest thing he would ever have to a real father, the man who taught Chicken George everything he knows about chickens. Chicken George seeks to find comfort in his chickens, so he tries to make it back to them while avoiding the trail in the dust where Mingo dragged himself looking for help with the very same birds. Chicken George ambles down to the gamecock area to grieve for Mingo alone.
Almost as bad as Mingo’s death is the fact that Tom Lea has gotten discouraged about the cockfights in New Orleans. Tom Lea admits that everything has to be exactly right for them to go. Neither Tom nor George could stay behind to mind the other chickens, and no one else really knows how. Tom Lea cancels the famed trip to Louisiana. Chicken George is heartbroken, but says nothing but a simple “Yassuh.”
(The entire section is 416 words.)
Chapter 99 Summary
As Chicken George continues his grieving for Mingo, he considers the differences between the two of them. Mingo preferred the company of the birds to the company of people. Chicken George is exactly the opposite; however, George truly does need someone to help him care for the birds (especially when he is away). Chicken George longs to train his Virgil just as Mingo trained Chicken George.
Chicken George finally makes his way, determined, up to slave row to convince Matilda and Kizzy. George won’t let either of them talk before he is through with his explanation. Chicken George brings up the point that if they don’t propose Virgil as a helper, then the next time George goes away with the master, Tom Lea is bound to force Virgil to go down there. If that happens, “Virgil be wid chickens to stay.” Chicken George explains that what he wants to do is to go ahead and simply teach Virgil to feed, water, and exercise the chickens only when George and Tom are away. Virgil can stay with the family whenever Chicken George is at home. Even though they are concerned about Virgil’s young age, the women agree.
Unfortunately, Virgil does not have the knack with chickens that Chicken George had at that age. In fact, Chicken George remembers his fascination whenever he would see one of the fighting cocks. He also remembers just sitting there contemplating how ferocious and beautiful these birds are. Virgil does nothing of the sort. He just does what he is told and then goes out to play. Chicken George is furious. He makes all sorts of attempts to spark Virgil’s imagination and inquiry about the birds, to no avail. Chicken George frantically hopes he has better luck with Ashford, George, and Tom. George can’t help being upset that Virgil is destined for a lifetime of drudgery in the field.
With the New Orleans trip canceled and summer coming up, there is nothing but routine work to do with the chickens. Chicken George finds himself getting angry at the old catchcock that Mingo kept as a pet for not telling everyone that something was seriously wrong with Mingo. George also begins wondering about that first chicken that Tom Lea won. Further, George begins to watch the males on the rangewalks and ponders what it means for them to be free. George watches the irritable roosters in the pens compared to the free roosters on the rangewalks. Chicken George marvels at the sight of the free cocks out in the open....
(The entire section is 490 words.)
Chapter 100 Summary
Even though Tom Lea never mentioned the huge cockfights in New Orleans again, both Chicken George and Tom had enough cockfighting in the immediate vicinity to keep them busy.
In 1836, Chicken George hears just as much national news as ever on his cockfighting travels. For example, bitterness toward white men seemed to grow and grow. Chicken George even hears about the Seminole Indians down in Florida killing United States soldiers with no mercy. Furthermore, Chicken George gets word of the Alamo, where hundreds of Mexican people massacred white man after white man, including important lawmen, such as Davey Crockett. Finally, Chicken George hears news of President Van Buren forcing the lion’s share of Indians west of the Mississippi River. The slaves on the Lea plantation all agree that the Indians must wish they hadn't been so friendly with the white people when they first came over.
In 1837, Matilda and Chicken George have their sixth son and extend their family even more with their first daughter. No one is more excited about this new baby girl than Kizzy. This first little girl is going to be Kizzy’s namesake, and no one is more proud than her grandmother as she shouts, “I ain’t done lived in vain!” Sure enough, that little baby girl isn’t but a day old when Chicken George sets her on his knee and gathers his other children close around him to tell the story of Kunta Kinte.
It’s about this time when Chicken George surprises Matilda one day by asking about the money they have saved. Matilda admits that it’s only a little over one hundred dollars because Chicken George is quite a spendthrift with gifts and clothes. In fact, Matilda tells George that they’d have around four thousand if he had been wiser with his money.
Chicken George begins talking seriously with Matilda about the possibility of them buying their entire family into freedom. These thoughts come to George while he is all alone with the chickens so much. Tom Lea has told him that it won’t be long before he makes a fortune with his cockfighting and he and his wife can settle in a big white house with six columns and stop this cockfighting business. Even though Matilda doesn’t believe Tom Lea would ever give up cockfighting, she is quietly thrilled at the prospect of freedom.
One night, Matilda and George sit down to figure it all out. With Matilda’s gift of reading and math, they compute that it will...
(The entire section is 519 words.)
Chapter 101 Summary
One day, Chicken George approaches Tom Lea with a beautiful pitcher made of wound metal wire. Proudly, Chicken George explains to his master how handy his son Tom is with metal and fire. Tom Lea isn’t impressed. Chicken George sees that he is going to have to press the issue further, so he continues explaining that Tom is very dependable as well as handy. Finally, Chicken George gets to the point of telling Tom Lea that George’s son Tom would make a wonderful blacksmith. Tom Lea doesn’t like the idea, but Chicken George keeps suggesting ways that Tom's being a blacksmith could save Tom Lea some money. Tom could fix hoes, blades, knives, sickles, and tools and even shoe horses. The neighboring plantation owner, Mr. Askew, happens to have a blacksmith named Isaiah who needs an apprentice. Tom Lea is hesitant, but he agrees to think about the entire prospect a bit more.
Even though Tom Lea is wary of the idea of Tom blacksmithing, Tom Lea goes right to Miss Malizy in the kitchen and asks her thoughts about the boy Tom. Luckily, Miss Malizy was just informed by Kizzy about Chicken George’s intent for Tom. Miss Malizy tries her hardest to seem impartial, so she says that Tom isn’t the kind of boy that’s good to talk to, but that he’s smart and loyal. Miss Malizy admits that Tom will probably grow up to be more of a man than Chicken George. Tom is solid and dependable, the kind of man that will “make some woman a might good husban’.”
Tom Lea breaks into the conversation with Miss Malizy about his worries for the other children of Chicken George, especially Virgil. Virgil, never having taken to gamecocks, has taken to women on plantations far and wide. Tom Lea complains that Virgil is off most every night “tomcattin’.” Miss Malizy says that Tom, even though he is much younger than Virgil, simply isn’t that kind of young man. Tom Lea admits that it just might be worth allowing Tom to learn a trade.
A few days later, Tom Lea approaches Chicken George to tell him of an apprenticeship with Isaiah Askew for Tom to learn to be a blacksmith. After a quick threat about what would happen if Tom didn’t live up to his reputation, Chicken George bounds back to slave row to tell the family. Little Tom is amazed to hear the news! The rest of the family is thrilled as well (even though most of Tom’s brothers show quite a bit of jealousy). The only person who isn’t thrilled is Tom’s brother,...
(The entire section is 482 words.)
Chapter 102 Summary
Tom stays on the Askew plantation until Thanksgiving, when the family welcomes him home for a visit. Everyone is there to greet Tom with hugs and kisses except for Little George (whom Chicken George is teaching to tend the chickens) and Ashford (who preferred the company of women off of the Lea plantation). Even the ailing Uncle Pompey comes out of his cabin to greet Tom.
Tom is overwhelmed with love for his family, whom he missed so much while he spent his first months learning to blacksmith. The family’s love and respect overwhelm Tom. Even though Chicken George teases Tom a bit at dinner about neither making money nor shoeing horses yet, the family can tell that Chicken George is just as proud of Tom as the rest of them.
The family gathers at a large table under a tree outside to share their Thanksgiving meal together. Tom is amazed when his mother, Matilda, asks him to say the blessing. Not being good with words, Tom wishes he had been prepared. After the quick and simple blessing by Tom, everyone stuffs their faces full of food. When they are done, Tom tells the family all the news he has heard from the white folks when they come to get their horses shod.
The latest news is about the telegraph sending messages over wires. Tom also tells them how President Polk has died, with President Taylor to take his place. They talk about Stephen Foster, who is a white man writing songs to sound like slave spirituals. However, the biggest news is about the many famous black people who are fighting against slavery. Frederick Douglass taught himself to read and write and now has his own books and newspaper. Sojourner Truth speaks to huge crowds of people, telling about her former slave experience. Harriet Tubman makes numerous trips back to the South to help slaves travel to freedom via the underground railroad. Even Abraham Lincoln, a white man running against Stephen Douglass for president, is said to be on the side of freedom for slaves.
After a quick discussion about the California gold rush, the meal is over, and Chicken George and Tom wander down to the gamecock area to relieve Little George of his duties so he can go eat. On the way down, Chicken George speaks frankly with Tom about how both of them have good jobs that have the potential to make money enough to buy freedom. With that suggestion, Tom is spellbound and excited. They figure with two of them working as hard as possible and saving as much...
(The entire section is 449 words.)
Chapter 103 Summary
Chicken George is beside himself with excitement because the rich Mr. Jewett has agreed to fight chickens with Sir Eric Russell of England. As a result, the biggest cockfight of the year has been planned, with a pot of $30,000 and side bets of $250. In preparation for the big fight, neither Chicken George nor Tom Lea is seen by anyone as they prepare their chickens for the cockfight of the century against the prime stock of the Englishman.
The only two people upset about this cockfight are Mrs. Lea and Matilda. Tom Lea demands their savings of $5,000 from the bank to bet on the cockfight. Likewise, Chicken George demands and receives their savings of $2,000 to bet as well. Even being the dutiful wife that she is, Matilda can’t help exclaiming, “He ain’t got no right to gamble wid our freedom!”
When Chicken George finally tells Tom Lea about the money George saved to bet in the cockfight, Tom Lea is surprised that Chicken George was able to save that much. Tom Lea is so impressed that Chicken George is willing to pool the money that he insists that the money will be doubled and that Chicken George will receive every penny of the winnings in return. After Tom Lea asks Chicken George what he is going to do with the winnings, Chicken George decides to tell Tom Lea about Chicken George’s plan to free his family. To Chicken George’s amazement, Tom Lea praises Chicken George for all of his years of service. Furthermore, Tom Lea promises that because the Leas will be able to build a house to cater to their old age and because Tom is getting sick of fighting cocks, if Chicken George gives his winnings to his master, Tom Lea will free his entire family. Chicken George decides to keep Tom Lea’s promise of freedom a secret until after the big cockfight.
Tom Lea and Chicken George travel to the cockfight, where slews of “poor crackers” are to cheer them on. With so much riding on the winnings, Chicken George chooses to massage and prepare the cocks for the fights instead of watching the first bouts himself. Finally, Tom Lea’s birds are announced. The yells of the poor whites reach fever pitch, showing that Tom Lea and Chicken George are legends here in the South. Seeing the quality of Tom Lea’s birds and the skill of Chicken George, Sir Eric Russell asks if Tom Lea would like a side bet of $10,000. Tom Lea ups the bet to $20,000 and the two accept. The two birds fight admirably, and it’s Tom Lea’s...
(The entire section is 613 words.)
Chapter 104 Summary
With Chicken George away in England, no one is good enough to tend Tom Lea’s chickens. Lea tries to teach “L’il George” and then Lewis, but he ends up doing most of the training himself. Tom Lea’s birds are losing more fights than they are winning. Even worse, Tom Lea has taken to drinking to ease his pain. The entire slave row fears being sold away.
About this time, Matilda steals away to tell Tom “that she saw him as the family leader” with Chicken George away in England. Sure enough, Tom has turned into a highly skilled blacksmith. With his quiet ways, Tom has won everyone’s heart. Tom confides to Matilda that it just might be better for the family to be sold away from Tom Lea (as long as they stay together in the process).
After Tom Lea sells some of his prize cocks for hundreds of dollars, the slaves begin to fear the worst. Their worst fears are realized in 1856 when a slave trader appears on the plantation and walks with Tom Lea directly down to Tom’s blacksmith shop to ask some questions. The slave trader finds out that Tom is twenty-three, with no wife of his own yet, and probably the best blacksmith in the state. Tom is sure to impress on the Slave Trader that the Lea slaves are a family and wish to stay together.
Tom Lea gathers the slaves, but it is the slave trader who makes the announcement. Tom Lea has insisted that the slaves be sold together, much to the chagrin of the trader. They will be sold to Master Murray in Alamance County, North Carolina and will live close to the North Carolina Railroad Company where Tom can be of use as a blacksmith. Unfortunately, Kizzy and Sister Sarah and Miss Malizy will be left behind. Tom offers to buy Kizzy, Uncle Pompey, and the others, but Tom Lea says that they can only go when the three hundred dollars apiece is in his hand.
Before the group is shipped off without their “Gran’mammy Kizzy,” Kizzy urges them not to forget to tell the children about Kunta Kinte and the family’s history. “Tell de chillums all de res’ about who we is!” Tom and the others promise to do so. Just as they are about to leave, they decide to kiss Uncle Pompey one more time and find him sitting in his chair, dead.
(The entire section is 411 words.)
Chapter 105 Summary
It isn’t long before the family admits that life on Master Murray’s plantation is a whole lot better for them than it was on Tom Lea’s. The Murrays “soun’s like good Christian peoples.” However, the lack of Chicken George, Kizzy, and the others still weighs on the hearts of the Murray slaves. It turns out that Master Murray doesn’t know much about either farming or owning slaves. Originally from the big city of Burlington, Master Murray didn’t move out to the country until his uncle left him this plantation.
Master Murray, casually commenting that he might need an overseer, listens to Tom and the others when they tell him that the slaves will be happy to raise a bumper crop of tobacco without any overseer. Tom’s only worry is that Master Murray won’t want to seem an “easy” master. Meanwhile, everyone is waiting for Chicken George to return.
In 1856, the slaves on the Murray plantation do their best. Matilda cooks and cleans in the big house. The others work as field hands planting tobacco and cotton. Tom, of course, continues to be a blacksmith. Everyone does such a good job with the house and fields that the Murrays are beside themselves with appreciation.
Anyone who visits the Murray plantation, white and black people included, always admire Tom’s blacksmithing capabilities. Everything Tom makes is expertly crafted. It isn’t long before other plantation owners are asking Mr. Murray for Tom to have a traveling pass to do some extra work away from home. Master Murray always pays Tom ten cents on the dollar for everything he produces.
Life continues on the Murray plantation with Tom’s youngest sisters, L’il Kizzy and Mary, visiting with young slave men from other plantations down at the blacksmith shop. Matilda is getting more and more worried about their flirtatious ways. Finally, Mary announces that she wants to marry a stablehand from Mebane; however, Matilda is more worried about Mary leaving the family.
As Matilda and Tom discuss this new development, Matilda shocks Tom by asking him when he is going to get married. Tom changes the subject by asking how much money is saved to buy the older slaves on the Lea plantation. Eighty seven dollars isn’t enough. Tom does finally admit to Matilda that in his travels he has noticed a beautiful girl on the Holt plantation named Irene. Matilda is beside herself with joy.
(The entire section is 412 words.)
Chapter 106 Summary
Mr. Edwin Holt, the owner of the Holt Cotton Mill, has been admiring Tom’s blacksmithing work for a long time. Mrs. Holt desires for Tom to make some “decorative window grills” for their big house, so Mr. Murray writes out a traveling pass for Tom to discuss it with the Holts further. Only Tom could accomplish the delicate work that Mrs. Holt proposes: each metal grill containing twisting vines with leaves and flowers. As Tom measures the windows, it is the first time he sees Irene working within the house. Tom can’t get her out of his mind. Tom feels sure that this beautiful, copper-colored young lady must already be spoken for. Tom finds himself unable to sleep at night, thinking about Irene.
Tom’s blacksmithing work allows him to think while he toils over the hot fires. Of course, most of his thoughts rest on the beautiful Irene. Tom thinks nothing of people watching him as he hones his craft. Little does he know how proud the Murrays are to own such a skilled craftsman. Soon, the Holts' window grills are done. Amid the happy cries of Mrs. Holt and the others regarding Tom’s delicate work, Tom secretly hopes to catch a glimpse of Irene again as he installs them.
Tom and Irene finally meet at the Holt plantation. Irene confides in Tom that she is hoping they can talk even more. Tom is taken aback by her honesty and her desire to see more of him. From then on, Tom asks for an all-day traveling pass every Sunday to visit with Irene. One of the first things Irene explains to Tom is that she gets her “copper” coloring from her father, an American Indian.
Irene things very highly of the Holts and can’t say enough about how wonderful her master and missus are. Tom worries about this a bit because he can never see eye to eye with her about that. Tom also worries about how the Holt family is equally devoted to Irene. Tom would never allow a marriage to exist between two different plantations. When Tom expresses the latter concern to Irene, she replies, “I git sol’ whenever I gits ready!” That seals the deal. The marriage is planned. Knowing how much Irene likes roses, Tom plans to craft a delicate rose of iron for her as a wedding gift.
(The entire section is 398 words.)
Chapter 107 Summary
Because of the Holt’s devotion to Irene, they insist on having the wedding and reception at the Holt plantation. Ironically, even considering the beauty of the occasion and the richness of the decorations, it’s the delicate metal rose Tom gives to Irene that steals the show.
Tom is both happier and more talkative after his marriage to Irene and her subsequent move to the Murray plantation. He enjoys eavesdropping on the white folks who come to his blacksmith shop to get their horses shod or tools fixed. Tom begins to learn lots of news from around the country. He hears bitterness toward the white abolitionists. He also hears about the presidential prospect named Abraham Lincoln who wants to free the slaves.
About this time, Irene requests that Tom build her a handloom. Once it’s complete, Irene works tirelessly at it to make her family some new clothes. She begins with a handmade shirt for Tom and then does some other exquisite pieces for the rest of the family. Irene finishes up with a piece for Mrs. Murray as well. Irene also adores coloring the cloth with her own, homemade dyes. In the middle of her frantic nesting, Irene tells Matlida that there will soon be a new baby added to the family. Matilda is thrilled to have a grandchild!
During Irene’s pregnancy, the family decides to try to stop L’il Kizzy’s flirtations. They concoct a plot to make L’il Kizzy jealous about one of her beaus by saying he sees other women as well. Sure enough, it isn’t long before L’il Kizzy is happily engaged.
L’il Kizzy’s fiancé, Amos, tells the family about the appearance of a telegraph station right there in North Carolina. First, Amos explains that the special “clicking” of the telegraph goes through the wires that never seem to end and translate into words for the white folks. Then Amos talks about his serving job at Nancy Hillard’s hotel, where lots of railroad folks stop to stay and eat. Finally, Amos describes the huge dinners that the railroad guests all hanker for as well as the “drummers” that everyone can't wait to arrive to sell their wares. They all admit that the railroad has really improved business for the county and even for the state. They also admit that if the railroad ever gets to the point where it connects the entire country, their lives will change even more.
(The entire section is 414 words.)
Chapter 108 Summary
Chicken George returns to the Lea plantation shocked by the disrepair of his old homeplace. Seeing an old woman sitting hunched over, Chicken George finds that it’s Miss Malizy. Unfortunately, Miss Malizy’s mind is long gone. She only partially recalls that he is Chicken George, who frantically asks where his family is. Miss Malizy absentmindedly responds that they are all gone with only her and Tom Lea left. When pressed, Miss Malizy says that Kizzy has died and rests under a tree near the edge of the property. Chicken George yells out in grief. He doesn’t want to rattle the senile Miss Malizy, who has just told him his wife and children have been sold; he runs to the big house yelling Tom Lea’s name.
Tom Lea is in a worse state of disrepair than his house and grounds. Drunk and disheveled, Tom Lea stares at Chicken George. After recognizing him, Tom Lea is so excited that he tries to give a grand hug but stumbles.
For the first time, Chicken George and Tom Lea share an alcoholic drink together. Chicken George spends the entire afternoon buttering up Lea to hear where Matilda and the children are. Absentmindedly, Tom Lea tells Chicken George about the death of Mrs. Lea, Kizzy, and Sister Sarah. Tom Lea also describes how poor he is now. He even had to sell the last of his chickens; however, in his mid-eighties, he wouldn’t be much use as a cockfighter now.
Chicken George almost lunges angrily at Tom Lea when he says the two of them “can get this place agoin’ again.” Chicken George calmly reminds Lea of his promise to free George while demanding, again, the whereabouts of his wife and children. Finally, Tom Lea says he sold them to Master Murray in Alamance County.
Now Chicken George only has to find the freedom papers Tom Lea had drawn up and signed before he left for England. Chicken George knows they would be in what Tom Lea calls his “strongbox.” He gets Tom Lea so drunk that he slumps down onto the table, and then he searches the house.
He finds the box under the bed, takes it outside, and busts it open with a hatchet. Sure enough, inside are George’s freedom papers. Holding the coveted papers in his hand and with a quick hug for Miss Malizy, Chicken George rides away from the Lea plantation, never looking back.
(The entire section is 410 words.)
Chapter 109 Summary
Chicken George rides to the Murray plantation and meets Irene along the way. She is astounded to see the man she has only heard about. She introduces herself and explains that she is Tom’s wife, about to give him yet another grandchild.
Everyone rushes in from the fields, the big house, and the blacksmith shop to see Chicken George and hear of his return. First, he tells everyone the bad news of “Gran’mammy Kizzy’s” death. Over supper, George tells the family about his experiences in England fighting English chickens and about how upset he was when Sir Russell made him stay one extra year. Finally it was time to return and George talks about the harrowing journey back to the United States. After braving plenty of storms, the ship finally arrived in New York. From the free blacks there, George learns about the main trouble they have: immigrants taking the jobs of free blacks.
With all his stories told and all the other of Master Murray’s slaves working, Chicken George finds himself at a loss of what to do with himself. Finally, he stumbles upon his first grandchild, Uriah, son of Virgil and his wife. Uriah asks Chicken George where he “works at.” After explaining that Chicken George doesn’t have to work for any master because he’s free, Uriah says, “What free is?” Even though Uriah is fairly slow, Chicken George explains that “Free mean ain’t nobody own you no mo’.” Then Chicken George tells Uriah all about his great grandfather: Kunta Kinte. Overhearing the story yet again, Matilda feels pride for her husband.
Accompanying Tom to the town of Graham, a white man named Mr. Cates, obviously a troublemaker, makes both Tom and Chicken George serve some water. Tom explains that Chicken George is free. Mr. Cates mentions that Mr. Murray must not know the law about free blacks. It isn’t long before Mr. Cates is on the Murray plantation explaining to Mr. Murray that free blacks are only allowed in the state sixty days before they are made slaves again.
That night, Matilda insists that Chicken George leave the family yet again. “You jes’ can’t go back to bein’ a slave!” Chicken George cries at the thought of being separated from the family. Before he leaves, he insists that everyone continue to tell the story of Kunta Kinte and their lineage. Once Tom agrees, Chicken George bolts out the door.
(The entire section is 411 words.)
Chapter 110 Summary
In 1860 the news around Tom’s blacksmith shop echoes more and more the prospect of war. All of the Southern white men are complaining about the new president, Abraham Lincoln, because he wants to free the slaves. No one can believe that freedom might actually be achieved in their lifetime. The slaves all seem to know that if the dreaded “Yankees” win the pending war, perhaps freedom for slaves will be assured. Still, they have hope.
It isn’t long before Master Murray is talking with his dinner guests about South Carolina seceding from the union. Now they know there is going to be a war, but none can believe that white men will fight about the ownership of black men. The slaves on the Murray plantation aren’t sure whether to be happy about the news or scared about the prospect of war.
Master Murray, as well as all of the other white people who visit, become more and more secretive in their conversation. They begin spelling words so that the slaves can’t understand and often become silent when their servants enter the room. Finally, Matilda gets so fed up with not hearing any news that she takes a risk, feigning loyalty, while serving the Murrays their dessert one night: “We be’s mighty scared o’ dem Yankees, and we sho’ hopes you gwine take care of us if ‘n dey’s trouble.” The Murrays nod in approval and vow their protection. Still, the Confederacy is formed and a president, Jefferson Davis, is named. Even though upstanding plantation owners such as the Murrays and the Holts disagree with the secession, the fighting begins anyway.
One morning, Tom notices a slew of white men riding on horseback at top speed, one after another. They shake their fists at the slaves on the Murray plantation and go riding past. Tom, determined to find out the reason behind the taunts of these men, rides into town to hear what the white men, clustered around the telegraph office, are saying: Confederate President Jefferson Davis abolishes the slave trade, and shots are fired at Fort Sumpter. General Robert E. Lee is no longer a general in the United States Army. Instead, Lee has offered to lead the Army of Virginia for the Confederacy. In 1861, then, the war truly begins. White men in the South are lining up to fight in the Civil War.
(The entire section is 400 words.)
Chapter 111 Summary
Tom and Irene have another girl, Ellen. The day after Ellen is born, Matilda reminds Tom of the importance of telling the family story from Kunta Kinte on down. Tom admits that if someone ever forgot to tell the story to any newborn infant, surrounded by kin, the ghost of “Gran’mammy Kizzy” would terrorize them all.
The Civil War rages and news of battles reaches the Murray plantation almost daily. The air is hot with numerous Confederate battles fought and won. White plantation owners laugh at Lincoln losing personal friends on the battlefield.
The Murray slaves begin to lose hope of freedom. In 1862, things get worse when Mr. Cates (now Confederate “Major” Cates) informs Tom that, at Mr. Murray’s request, he will be shoeing horses for the cavalry every other week.
Stationed by tents of trash, Tom works as the cavalry blacksmith. With so many men fighting, the line of horses needing new shoes seems endless. One night, Tom finds a ragged white teenager trying to steal half-eaten food. He drops the trash and runs away. Soldiers ask Tom what happened but don’t believe him. They accuse Tom of stealing, tell Major Cates, and have Tom whipped severely.
Wounded and beaten, Tom staggers back onto the Murray plantation. The Murrays are disgusted. Tom vows never to return, and Mr. Murray is happy to oblige. Tom is allowed to go back to the Murray blacksmith shop to do his work.
Tom hears more news. Even though there are still some Confederate victories, there are more draws now. With Irene pregnant again, the slaves wish they could stop hearing endless stories of fighting and killing.
Amazingly, the same teen who stole trash from the cavalry knocks on Tom’s door begging for food. Tom tells him he knows he's doing more than begging; the boy runs away. He appears the next morning at the big house. Mr. Murray learns he is George Johnson, a poor white boy who grew up working the fields. He left his home in South Carolina when battles destroyed the crops. He agrees to stay on as overseer (although he has no idea what this involves).
Angry at first, the Murray slaves realize he is the first quality white person they have ever met. He works the fields with great sincerity, only stopping to pretend to yell at them when Mr. Murray approaches. Slave row is thrilled, expressing approval with the nickname “Ol’ George.”
(The entire section is 409 words.)
Chapter 112 Summary
The North and the South continue fighting. Tom hears more news at his shop, but luckily doesn’t have to shoe horses for the Confederates anymore. Tom’s mood is lightened a bit when he hears the white plantation owners getting more upset about the way the war is going. Tom begins to hope again that someday he and his family might be free.
About this time, Ol’ George mentions that he has to “’tend to some business” and will be back as soon as he can. Matilda, Irene, and the other slaves talk extensively about what George may have needed to “’tend to,” but none remembers him mentioning any family, only that his crops were destroyed. The mystery is solved when Ol’ George returns with his wife, Martha. Ol’ George explains that he married Martha right before he left South Carolina looking for work. He had promised his wife that he would return as soon as he had a steady position. George was as shocked as anyone else that Martha was already carrying his child.
Ol’ George and Martha become more and more worried that Master Murray won’t allow both of them to stay. Luckily, Matilda goes up to the big house and, after cooking some of their favorite foods, talks with Mrs. Murray first about how scared Martha is about being rejected. Mrs. Murray has a heart for Martha and convinces her husband to be kind as well. Master Murray, then, allows them to stay on as a team.
George and Martha thank the Murrays and slaves for their kindness, compassion, and friendship. Tom and family know they have gained yet another friend in Martha. It is still an amazement to be friends with a white person and a further amazement that a white person could be friends with black people. Irene says it all when she exclaims, “Lawd! I sho’ ain’t never thought I’d end up likin’ no po’ white folks!”
Everyone is a bit worried, however, because Martha doesn’t seem in good health. Because she is skin and bones, her pregnancy gives her the appearance of having swallowed a pumpkin. When Martha finally goes into labor, she has a very hard time. Martha labors for days, in extreme pain. Matilda and Irene tend to the birth; however, when they emerge from Martha’s cabin, their faces show sadness and despair. Ol’ George is now the daddy of a little baby girl but even though Martha survives, the baby dies.
(The entire section is 417 words.)
Chapter 113 Summary
On the first of January, 1863, Matilda flies to slave row with the news that Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation “dat set us free!” Although at first the slaves celebrate with great joy within the privacy of their cabins, their happiness soon turns to despair when they realize that nothing changes within their daily lives. All the Emancipation Proclamation did was make the Confederacy (and the white plantation owners) more bitter toward Lincoln.
The North wins most major battles now, but the slaves don't allow themselves to rejoice anymore until the following year when news of General Sherman’s victories reaches their ears. Finally, Charleston, South Carolina falls. Then Richmond, Virginia. In the spring of 1865, Robert E. Lee surrenders. The North has won! The slaves are free!
The slaves’ jubilation only stops for a brief, sad moment when the news of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination arrives. The Murrays offer some land to Tom and the former slaves to do sharecropping. The family has a huge debate. Some want to leave immediately. Some want to stay and split half of the crops with Murray. Matilda settles the argument with her insistence that the family stay together. Tom also makes a good point that the family isn’t ready to be on their own yet. Afterwards, Tom takes Irene by the hand and leads her through the plantation to the parcel of land they now own. It’s a great feeling.
Tom soon gets back to his blacksmith work when Major Cates bothers Tom again. It is just as Tom gets Major Cates a cup of water only “because I’d bring any thirsty man a drink” that Tom notices Chicken George riding up to the plantation! The Murray plantation is abuzz with excitement at Chicken George’s return and their newfound freedom. Chicken George also comes with the announcement that he is relocating his entire family to a brand new settlement that has plans to become the town of Henning, Tennessee.
After turning all of their buggies into covered wagons and inviting many other black families to come, the Murray family (no longer slaves) are ready to set out for their new home. After asking permission, even Ol’ George and Martha prefer to travel and live with their friends instead of staying on the plantation where they lost their first child.
Chicken George, Tom, and the whole mass of family and friends travel to “the promised land” of Henning, Tennessee.
(The entire section is 409 words.)
Chapter 114 Summary
The Murray family has to admit that Chicken George’s “promised land” is lacking when they get a glimpse of it: a few storefronts, a few white people, and no real roads. Even a few white children, rolling hoops in the dust, stop and glare at the large wagon train coming through to join the town. Chicken George tells everyone this just shows it’s a new settlement and that “ain’t nothin’ it can do but grow.” Their mood is better when they get a look at the soil, rich and black. Each small family unit is given thirty acres of land.
All of the families live out of their covered wagons while they begin clearing the land, planting crops, and building cabins. Ol’ George and Martha happily live by their colored friends as the white community completely shuns them for their association with blacks.
News quickly spreads that Tom plans to open his first blacksmith shop. A few white men try to stop Tom’s new business plans by telling Tom he must work for a white owner, not own a shop himself. After recovering from dismay that white people seem to be the same everywhere, Tom decides to craft a “traveling” blacksmith shop on the back of a flatbed wagon. Tom politely acknowledges every man, black or white, in the town of Henning and offers his blacksmithing services at a reasonable rate. It isn’t long before Tom is wanted and needed by almost everyone in the county.
In 1874, with their businesses, farms, and families settled, the entire group (led by Matilda) turns to the new, all-important project of building a church. Everyone contributes, even down to the beautiful stained glass window purchased from Sears Roebuck, and in no time the New Hope Colored Methodist Episcopal Church is erected.
It is a special day for the family, especially for Matilda as she gazes upon the new house of God. A former slave, Reverend Sylus Henning (who used to be owned by the very Henning the town is named after), becomes the preacher and “Matilda watched misty-eyed” as the children romp and play in the churchyard after services: a testament to freedom. All enjoy a huge celebration with all kinds of food and drink after the services are over. Chicken George admits that Kunta Kinte’s daughter, Kizzy, is certainly looking down on them in happiness.
(The entire section is 398 words.)
Chapter 115 Summary
The New Hope Colored Methodist Episcopal Church becomes more than just a place for worship and services: it becomes a school, too. The teacher, Sister Carrie, does her best with the materials contributed by the community of believers and teaches all grades in one room. Her students range in age from twelve (Tom’s oldest, Maria Jane Murray) down to six (Tom’s youngest, Elizabeth Murray). Elizabeth becomes the most capable student in the Murray family and begins to teach her own father to read and write. Elizabeth is also so good with numbers that she becomes the bookkeeper for her father’s blacksmithing business, now one of the most prosperous businesses in the town of Henning.
Soon, Elizabeth falls in love with John Toland, an apt sharecropper with not only good looks but also intelligence. The two court in secret and, after two months, Tom orders Elizabeth to bring the young man home to meet the family. The meeting does not go well. Tom is adamant not to allow the marriage because “he too high-yaller. He could nigh ‘bout pass fo’ white—jes’ not quite. He ain’t fish or fowl. . . . He never gon’ b’long nowhere. . . . I don’t want dat kinda life fo’ you, ‘Lizabeth.”
Elizabeth is beside herself with despair, even telling her father that while he talks about other people not accepting black folks, he is the one doing the rejecting. Matilda is beside herself as well, knowing Tom has some white blood in him. Tom Lea was his grandfather. After making that statement, Matilda clutches her chest and falls into a stupor, only to die two days later.
Upon Matilda’s death, Chicken George’s happiness and spirit die as well. No one ever sees him smile or laugh again. Chicken George refuses to live in the cabin that once was his and Matilda’s, so he spends his nights traveling from child to grandchild to get rest.
One day, in his mid-eighties, Chicken George sits by the fire in his granddaughter’s cabin. As Mary Jane leaves to bring her husband his lunch, Chicken George falls into the fire and is burned over half of his body. He dies that very night. Almost everyone in Henning comes to his funeral. As cantankerous as George was in his final years, everyone is sad that the legendary Chicken George is gone.
(The entire section is 396 words.)
Chapter 116 Summary
Irene’s daughter, Cynthia, ecstatically proclaims that a young man named Will Palmer asked to walk her home. Cynthia confides this mostly to Irene; Tom tends to be particular about who dates his daughters. Irene mentions that Will Palmer has had his eyes on Cynthia for two years, glancing at her during church services. The oblivious Tom, however, has not noticed this and immediately inquires about the quality of Will Palmer’s character. Cynthia again asks if Will Palmer can walk her home from church, and Tom says he will consider it. Cynthia is heartbroken at not receiving immediate approval.
Irene knows that for Tom, nobody is good enough for his daughters. Although Tom knows this already, Irene explains again that Will Palmer is one of the most upstanding businessmen in Henning. Even though Mr. James legally owns the lumber company, Will Palmer runs it because Mr. James is always drunk. Will Palmer unloads the lumber off the train cars, sells and ships it to neighboring towns, writes out bills, collects payments, and deposits money into the back. He never utters a harsh word against his drunk boss.
Tom says his main concern is that so many other girls are interested in Will Palmer. Irene points out that Will Palmer is the biggest catch in Henning. Tom also remembers that a year ago, Will Palmer gave flowers to a girl named Lula Carter, became interested in her, and then dropped her. Irene is surprised; it shows Tom has been paying keen attention.
Tom has had his eye on Will Palmer for a potential mate for Cynthia for a long time and wishes his own sons would be as accomplished. Will Palmer reminds Tom of himself.
Will and Cynthia begin courting. Less than a year later, Will Palmer proposes and they marry in the church. Will begins building the family’s new home in 1894 while still working at the lumber company, proving himself again. One day Will rides his horse in the rain to deliver a payment to the bank on time. The banker, impressed, mentions Will Palmer’s name when the owner declares bankruptcy. All the white businessmen agree that Henning still needs a lumber company and that Will Palmer is the perfect man to run it. They agree “to cosign a note to pay off the company’s debts for [Will] to take over as new owner.” Further proving his strength of character, Will asks that half his savings be sent to Mr. James.
The W. E. Palmer Lumber Company thrives.
(The entire section is 422 words.)
Chapter 117 Summary
In 1895, Will and Cynthia Palmer welcome their first baby girl: Bertha George Palmer. Immediately after the birth, Cynthia gathers the whole family together and tells the ancestral story all the way back to Kunta Kinte. Will Palmer admires Cynthia for her devotion to family, but he can’t help feeling a bit sad that it seems that Cynthia’s ancestry monopolizes the family name. Perhaps this is why Will Palmer begins spoiling little Bertha from that day on.
Will Palmer makes Bertha’s crib with his bare hands. When Bertha is six, Will ensures there is a credit on her account at every candy store. When Bertha is fifteen, Will buys her anything she wants from the Sears Roebuck catalog and hires a piano teacher from far-away Memphis for her to take piano lessons. When Bertha finishes eighth grade, Will pays for her to attend Lane Institute in Jackson. The town gossips about Will’s parenting of Bertha from the very beginning: “I’m tellin’ you, chile. Anythin’ dat Bertha want!”
Despite all of Will Palmer’s spendthrift ways concerning his daughter, it is quite an accomplishment for Bertha Palmer to be going to college. She is the first in her family to do so. As a result, Bertha tries (to no avail) to correct her parents’ English, but she just can’t seem to stop them from saying “’dis” and “fo’.”
At college, Bertha Palmer becomes a teacher and meets an upstanding man named Simon Alexander Haley. Their big “test” of the relationship is when Simon is invited home to New Hope Colored Methodist Episcopal Church to attend services. Even though Simon Haley is a bit lighter brown than the rest, he is approved by everyone. Simon Haley works as a Pullman porter to complete college at A&T in North Carolina. He also fights in the First World War. In the Argonne Forest of France, Simon Haley is gassed. After he returns home and recovers, Bertha Palmer marries Simon Haley.
After moving to Ithaca, New York, so Simon Haley could complete a master’s degree in agriculture at Cornell University and so Bertha could enroll in the Conservatory of Music, Bertha writes home faithfully for almost a year. When her letters suddenly stop, Will and Cynthia Palmer worry. One night, Bertha and Simon Haley show up on her parents’ doorstep with a new baby: Alexander Murray Palmer Haley.
(The entire section is 401 words.)
Chapter 118 Summary
Switching to first person, Alex Haley describes growing up as the favorite of Grandpa Will Palmer, Alex being the son Will never had. Bertha stays in Henning with Alex while Simon stays at Cornell to finish his degree. Alex spends his first years exploring the nooks and crannies of the W. E. Palmer Lumber Company, having fun and imaginary adventures, and following his grandpa everywhere. Little Alex is devastated when Will Palmer dies. Simon Haley comes home from Cornell to take over the lumber business.
Alex becomes very close with Grandma Cynthia. The summers are spent on the front porch listening to stories from visiting family members such as Aunt Plus, Aunt Liz, Aunt Till, Aunt Viney, and Cousin Georgia. Many center upon Kunta Kinte, stolen away from Africa on a slave ship, given the name “Toby,” and who tried to run away so many times that white men cut off part of his foot.
Little Alex is confused as to why white men would ever do such horrible things. The elderly ladies continue the story down from Kizzy to little Alex Haley himself. Alex looks in amazement upon Grandma Cythia and realizes that, as a little girl, she was on that wagon train to freedom with her mom and dad (Tom and Irene). Alex Haley credits these stories on the front porch as being the original inspiration for discovering his lineage.
Eventually, Simon Haley sells the lumber company to become a professor of agriculture at A&M College, as they add a couple more sons to the family. Bertha dies fairly young, and Simon marries again just as Alex Haley enlists in the Coast Guard as a messboy in World War II. On the ship for days, Alex Haley begins to treasure his little typewriter as he learns to write at an expert level. Even though it takes eight years for his first story to be purchased, Alex Haley eventually earns the title of “journalist” in the Coast Guard.
After writing The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Alex Haley sees the Rosetta Stone in his travels and has a revelation: just as the Rosetta Stone unlocked the mystery of language, maybe he can unlock the mystery of his lineage. Alex Haley now begins a new project with few specific historical details: the African name “Kinte” and the sound “ko” for a musical instrument and the words “Kamby Bologo” that indicate a river.
(The entire section is 403 words.)
Chapter 119 Summary
Alex Haley sets off on what will become an ancestral journey. As he ponders where to start, his mind rests on the graying old ladies who told him vivid stories while rocking on the front porch in Henning. Instead of beginning with the few historical details (such as his ancestor’s name “Kinte” and the few African words that have the “k” sound predominating), Alex Haley decides to begin where his inspiration began: on that front porch with oral history. Alex figures out that the very youngest of the graying old ladies would be “Cousin Georgia,” Georgia Anderson. With all the other old ladies dead and gone (including his own grandmother), Alex sets out to visit Cousin Georgia.
It turns out that when Georgia Anderson visited Henning to tell the stories to Alex, she was visiting from Kansas City, Kansas. In her mid-eighties now, Georgia Anderson lives with her son and daughter in Kansas. On the way to visit Georgia Anderson, Alex Haley considers how Georgia helped Alex’s younger brother, George, in the past. George, being very politically oriented, decided to run for state senator in Kansas. When he won, he credited the win to a “Cousin Georgia” who would take her walking stick and knock on people’s doors with it and always demand that they vote for her George because he had such tremendous integrity.
When Alex finally reaches Georgia Anderson, she is very ill and in bed all day. However, with one mention off Alex Haley’s quest, she immediately sits up straight, opens her eyes wide, and recites all that she knows: that the African’s name is “Kinte” and that a guitar is called something like a “ko” and that a river is called a “Kamby Bologo” and that Kinte was chopping a log to make a drum when he was caught and sold into slavery.
Alex Haley desperately tries to make Georgia Anderson understand that his mission is to find out where this “Kinte” came from and, therefore, reveal the family’s ancestral tribe. When Georgia Anderson begins to understand Alex Haley’s quest, she informs him that not only is she on his side but every ancestor in the family, “dey up dere watchin’ you!” With that kind of heavenly guidance, Alex Haley continues on his quest.
(The entire section is 385 words.)
Chapter 120 Summary
From Kansas, Alex travels to the National Archives and finds the North Carolina census records from after the Civil War. There he sees the blacksmith, Tom Murray, recorded as well as his wife, Irene. Alex even sees that his own “Great Aunt Liz” was six years.
Now Alex focuses on “ko” and “Kamby Bolongo” to figure out the tribe. Alex’s friend George points him to a group of African linguists. One oral historian, Dr. Jan Vansina, is particularly interested in how this story was passed down. He is certain the sounds come from the Mandinka language. A “ko” probably refers to a “kora,” a stringed instrument made from a dried gourd covered with goatskin. “Kamby Bolongo” probably comes from the word for moving water of the Gambia River.
When Alex speaks at Utica College, he hears about a student from the Gambia. Ebou Manga is of the Wolof tribe and offers to take him to Africa the following week. Ebou Manga and his father tell Alex that villages are named for the families who settled them centuries ago. They point on a map to the village of Kinte-Kundah Janneh-Ya (exact village founded by Kunta’s uncles named Janneh and Saloum). They also tell Alex of men called griots, living messengers of oral history. Eventually, they find a griot who is very knowledgeable about the Kinte clan.
Alex finds himself speeding up the Gambia River (the “Kamby Bolongo”) to reach the village of Juffare, where this old griot lives. Alex calls meeting him the “peak experience” of his life. Among the thatched roofs of the village, Alex Haley listens to the griot. Finally, he talks about Kairaba Kunta Kinte, a marabout (Muslim holy man) who founds villages and whose second wife is Yaisa who begot Omoro. Then comes the final piece of evidence: “About the time the King’s soldiers came . . . the eldest of these four sons, Kunta, went away from his village to chop wood . . . and he was never seen again.” Alex is awestruck.
Suddenly, the entire assembly gathers around Alex in concentric rings. They chant and move counterclockwise, asking Alex to hold their babies in an ancient ceremony called “The Laying on of Hands” that connects them all together. The holy men pray for Alex. When they approach the next village, Alex is brought to tears as the village people shout his name as “Meester Kinte!”
Using the griot’s information, Alex Haley visits England, where he finds the...
(The entire section is 582 words.)