Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 40 Summary

Alex Haley

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 his family in Africa, Kunta Kinte cries.