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 fiddle into the stream, breaking it as he curses his master.