Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 117 Summary

Alex Haley

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.