Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 36 Summary

Alex Haley

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 hold, Kunta and his Wolof mate shackled to him decide to begin to communicate with each other. In fact, the entire hold starts to buzz with the sound of communication. Soon Kunta Kinte begins to believe that they are all starting to be “one village.”