Thursday, February 23, 2012

Roots Readalong Post 3: Chapters 61-90.

Welcome to post 3 of 4 for the readalong of Alex Haley's Roots, hosted by Christina of Reading Thru the Nite. Christina divided the book into 4 big chunks, and we are reading a chunk a week before posting our thoughts. You can see my first post here, and my second post is here.

I took a break at the halfway point to read David Copperfield, so I was a little hesitant to jump back into Roots. We left off with Kunta Kinte learning his place as a slave on Master Waller's plantation. He had already tried to escape 4 times before going there, and he was beginning to learn that while he might want to hold on to his African roots, the others around him were uncomfortable with his strangeness.

This section followed in that vein. By the time this section started, Kunta had been living life as a slave on this plantation for a number of years. While he didn't agree with all of the slave customs, he adapted the ones that he was okay with. But he still had a constant battle between his old African ways and those of the other slaves. They were scared of the things he believed, but he was also scared to abandon his heritage. Haley truly succeeded in capturing that kind of dissonance between Kunta and the other slaves.

This section also shows Kunta marrying (Bell, as I knew he would) and having his first and only child, Kizzy. Both Kunta and Bell are older when they have Kizzy, but both seem happy to have a family. The family dynamics were interesting. Being taken from Africa, Kunta had certain beliefs of hos his wife and child should act, whereas Bell didn't know much about her ancestors. It was an interesting dynamic, as they learned what quirks to live with and what traditions to abandon. Again, Haley focused on Kunta's displeasure at the other slaves' lack of knowledge about who they truly were. Kunta made it a point to educate Kizzy as much as possible her other family across the ocean.

Once Kizzy is born, it is clear that Haley is setting us up for some heartbreak. Kizzy is "adopted" by the white niece of the master and seems to live a softer life than some of the other slaves. The niece even teaches her to read and write. I actually wasn't all that surprised by this knowledge. Many white children were brought up with slave children. Rich plantation owners' wives couldn't be bothered to rear their own children, so often the slave mothers took in the white children as their own until they were independent. Relationships between whites and slaves were common until white children hit puberty. Then those slave companions and friends were discarded. In retrospect, it seems incredibly hypocritical-that those who most hated blacks would allow their children to be so close and intimate with them.

Eventually their friendship comes apart and Kizzy begins to form a friendship with Noah, a field slave. Both are in their teens and they fall in love. This portion of the novel was hard to read. I can relate to that kind of teenage obsession-the want to do anything for the other, even when there can be severe consequences for your actions. So when Noah runs away and is caught with a forged traveling pass, I just knew that Kizzy had something to do with it.

The scene where Kizzy is taken away, and her resulting rape by her new master, was incredibly hard. It took me a chapter or two to realize that we weren't going to hear anymore about Kunta or Bell-not because their story was finished, but because Kizzy never knew what happened to them after she was taken away. And if, in fact, Haley was descended from them, then the story had to move elsewhere. I had to go back to read the last little piece of Kunta's story:

"He would never see Kizzy again. His face contorting, Kunta flung his dust toward the cabin's roof. Tears bursting from his eyes, snatching his heavy gourd up high over his head, his mouth wide in a soundless scream, he hurled the gourd down with all his strength, and it shattered against the packed-earth floor, his 662 pebbles representing each month of his 55 rains flying out, ricocheting wildly in all directions," (546).

I love that passage for its passion. And I think it captures something about slavery that Haley was hinting at in the first 545 pages of the novel. Eventually, all men and women who were captured in Africa and brought to the New World broke. Some probably gave up their African roots early on after being broken by harsh masters and overseers, but others, like Kunta, held on to a false hope that eventually they could and would return home. That smashing of the gourd? So symbolic.

From that scene, we follow Kizzy to her new home in North Carolina. She is now one of five slaves on a small farm-owned by a poor white. Time passes much more quickly once we are in Kizzy's narrative. Where we lived with Kunta and truly got to know him well, I feel like Kizzy was just a transitional character to get us to George, her son by the master. True, we see a lot of heartache from Kizzy in her narrative. Her new master is much harsher-he rapes her, beats her, and seems a lot meaner than Master Waller. She is also sent to work in the fields-a big change from her place in the household on the old plantation.

Once George arrives, it seems as if the narrative transitions drastically to his life. Born as the master's illegitimate son, it seems as if he has more hope than his mother. He eventually finds a place helping Uncle Mingo, one of the master's slaves and in control of the fighting roosters that the master breeds.

To be honest, I was incredibly disinterested in this last portion. I find the idea of cock-fighting to be disgusting and disturbing, so the descriptions of the fights I glossed over a bit. I am hoping that the next section flies over it a bit quicker.

The sections ends in the middle here, so I am curious to see how Haley is going to get us from around 1820 to the 1960s in thirty chapters. I have really enjoyed the description and insight in the first 3/4s of the book, so I think it will feel rushed from this point forward.

I do have to say that I am still a bit disturbed by the plagiarism in the novel. While I know that the proven plagiarism took place in the first section, I still find myself questioning the integrity of the author who chose to do that. But I cannot fault him for the power of what he has to say. I am moved by every description and I want to know how it'll all come together.


  1. I to am beginning to wonder about the huge leap that he needs to take. I did a quick google search for the book that he allegedly stole from and the irony is that it is out of print.

    I just can't get over the scenes with the chickens.

  2. I just finished Roots today, and like you found the chickens and the cock-fighting not very interesting. I also did not care for Chicken George at all.

    That bit with Kunta throwing out his pebbles after Kizzy is sold is heart wrenching. It's hard to read about so much pain and how they are not treated like real people at all, but chattel.

  3. I have a last post won't be up until this weekend. We won the cluster for basketball and we haven't been champs since the 90's. It's been a big past week and will continue on for me as we move further into the competition.

    I starred your other post to read after I've finished Roots. I have about ten chapters. Can I just say that it IS extremely unfortunate that the plagiarism debacle follows Kunta's story. So far his experience has been the most heartfelt. Of course we've spent the most time with him, but STILL.