Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 81 Summary

Alex Haley

Chapter 81 Summary

Missy Anne is now fifteen, and there is a change in the games she and Kizzy play when she isn’t away at school. Although Missy Anne insists on “playing teacher,” she actually is teaching Kizzy to read. Often Kizzy feigns slight failure just to see the delight on Missy Anne’s face when Kizzy gets a letter correct.

Kunta has mixed feelings about this. Kunta is proud of his daughter for gaining such a wonderful and difficult skill, but he's terrified Waller will learn Kizzy can read. That would definitely end the friendship between Missy Anne and Kizzy and also might get Kizzy sold off the plantation.

Even after Missy Anne leaves, Kizzy sits up late studying words in either an old book from Missy Anne or a piece of Waller’s newspapers Bell takes from the trash. Kizzy finds delight in “teaching” her mother, Bell, to read. Just like Kizzy with Missy Anne, Bell feigns slight failure just to see Kizzy’s pride. One evening, Bell realizes Kizzy knows more about reading than her mother does!

It isn’t long before the relationship between Missy Anne and Kizzy changes. Missy Anne’s big sixteenth birthday party will be held at Waller’s plantation (because Missy Anne’s mom complains about headaches). Everyone is involved in the preparations. Unfortunately, the second the first white guest enters appears, Missy Anne pretends not to know Kizzy, finally treating her as a slave. This crushes Kizzy, who spends nights crying in her room.

Kunta can’t help but feel this negativity is necessary. Kizzy needs to learn it is impossible to be friends with a toubob. As time passes, Missy Anne spends less of her time with Kizzy when she visits the plantation.

The plantation owners are abuzz in praise of Jefferson for his purchase of the Louisiana Territory and Toussaint's eventual death. Among this news in 1803, Kizzy becomes an adolescent. Her body begins to bud in ways that make her truly a woman. Kunta muses about what Kizzy would be learning in Africa: making her skin shine with shea butter, blackening her feet and hands with the black from cooking pots, attracting men twice her age. Kunta notices that most people who get married here are about the same age. He wonders why Kizzy and Noah (who are almost the same age) don’t seem to acknowledge each other’s existence, even as friends. Kunta prays and asks Allah to find a suitable mate for Kizzy.