Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 55 Summary

Alex Haley

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.