This week we’re discussing Ch 81-100, Kizzy is sold away from her parents and life as she’s known it changes completely. Kunta’s worst fear was that his daughter become a field hand. Forever separated from her parents, we follow her life on the plantation of a poor white master, Master Lea, who is nothing like a Master Waller. Follow our conversation below.
Shell: Were you expecting this with Kizzy? I remember last week you mentioned you thought she might be given to Missy Anne. Did this surprise you?
Melanie: I’m not sure if we’re trying to avoid spoilers in our conversation, though it would be pretty hard to do so! Kizzy was sold for forging a day pass for Noah, a young slave on Master Waller’s farm. At the time, I was so surprised that Noah had been pressuring Kizzy to have sex with him that I forgot about Missy Anne. Noah was always described as such a good, kind boy — and I don’t think of boys who try to force girls to have sex fondly. Kizzy is sold away to a “po’ cracka” as punishment and immediately things get very bad. I was concerned not just because she is repeatedly raped by Master Lea, but because she was so sheltered on Master Waller’s farm. I felt like she was emotionally naked and unprepared. How do you feel Kizzy adapted to her new location?
Shell: I didn’t want to go on a tangent and am trying to keep my thoughts organized since I finished already. I was surprised to find that out about Noah pressuring Kizzy, but I thought maybe he might have tried to use that as positive pressure to get her to run with him. I almost wished she would have because the end result was the same: she got sold to that awful master and I was sick again. Since she didn’t have much experience with hardship with her parents, I think she had a difficult time initially, but the older women took her in, similar to how those on Waller’s plantation took Kunta in, and helped her adjust and survive the life she now lived.
Let me back up just a bit; it was hard but almost like a slap in the face when Bell and Kunta begged Waller for some leniency with Kizzy. What did you think about that?
Melanie: Begging, to me, is someone putting their pride and dignity aside in order to ask for something they know they shouldn’t. Kunta was always a proud, dignified man, so to see him begging broke my heart. He wouldn’t even speak to folks born slaves and certain points in his life because he felt they didn’t have dignity or a sense of culture or, well, roots! It really is weird to think about Kunta and compare him to his grandson, Chicken George. I was just talking to my husband about it last night. Their differences have affected the way I feel about the whole story.
Shell: “His Kizzy was gone; she would not return. He would never see his Kizzy again.”
“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 agree. This scene just broke me down. I thought he and Bell wouldn’t see her again and Kizzy wouldn’t see them. I remembered again this happened to so many people so many families were broken and had no sense of knowing their roots. If Kunta hadn’t been the man he was, Kizzy and her offspring wouldn’t have this heritage.
Chicken George disappointed me; I had to reevaluate my feelings many times over when I learned more about him. He seemed a bit disillusioned about his relationship with Master Lea but Mingo put him in his place, or tried to.
“Hear me, boy! You thinks you’s sump’n special wid massa, but nothin’ don’t make no difference to mad, scared white folks! Don’t you be no fool an’ slip off nowhere till this blow over, you hear me? I mean don’t!” (610)
I couldn’t understand why he didn’t get the fact that he was a slave; Master Lea wasn’t going to do him any favors, and Kizzy even told him something similar. I just kept thinking maybe because he didn’t have a prideful black male role model, like his grandfather, around he just sort of tried to figure things out for himself. I don’t know, he just didn’t think about much outside of those chickens.
Melanie: I think what happened is that George was born a slave, and thus he is more like those slaves that Kunta resented. I couldn’t help but notice how many things have circled around: George has a completely different mindset than Kunta, much like the folks born as slaves on Master Waller’s farm. But, in the dark, they are still talking about escaping and how to please white folks. Master Lea has a whole conversation with George about how slaves never give a straight answer. George knows that if he does he may be whipped or sold for insolence. Master Lea, born a “po’ cracka,” seems to identify with slaves. He said he worked alongside his first slave and was nearly starved as a child. In a weird way, Master Lea wants to be both master of and peer to slaves like George. It’s manipulative and weird. And George seems to buy into some ideology in which he is really a “real” slave because he was fathered by his master. It’s all so psychologically jacked up. Other ways I saw the book coming full circle is how Matilda leads prayer circles under the Chinquapin tree, much like the folks in Juffure gathered under a certain tree. Kizzy also mentioned that George has always had an itch to be on the go and travel, which reminded me of Kunta’s uncles who created their own village. Though we’ve come so far, things are mirrored, and I have to wonder if all of history is like this. The connections are amazing. I’m reminded that we’re all human.
Shell: Excellent points! I love how you’ve reminded me of Juffure again. I would often think about that more when we followed Kunta’s narrative, but probably didn’t think much about it in this part of the book.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how he was so different from his grandfather but never considered how they were similar. I just kept thinking, how is Kunta and Bell doing without their Kizzy. I had to let go and start and follow Kizzy’s new life and accept George for who he was: a product of his environment, one neither he nor his mother had any control of. His relationship with Mingo was as close as he got to a black male role model (direct contact), but he also knew something about his grandfather, Kunta. We are all human and in many respects there are so many things that connects us.
Melanie: It wasn’t so much George’s enthusiasm for hanging out with chickens and the man who owns him so much as his disrespect for his really amazing, kind, dignified wife. We know he’s cheating on her every chance he gets — and then claiming he was tending a sick chicken all night! I mean, we never hear about his children, wife, or mother getting sick, but surely they have to. He doesn’t tend to them. I don’t think Kunta would have ever cheated on Bell — though, to be fair, the men in Juffure would take on more than one wife. The practice was agreed upon and accepted by all parties, though. Maybe the first wife wouldn’t like it (remember how Binta wanted to wean Kunta as fast as possible so Omoro wouldn’t have a reason to find a new wife), but everyone knew about it. The way Master Lea and Uncle Mingo talked about “tomcattin’” suggested to me that men at that time felt like they had a right to have fun, and that no woman should say anything to stop them.
Shell: OMG! I was completely angry with him about his cheating. Matilda was such a loving person, and he took advantage of her in so many ways. When he realized she was different from other girls he was visiting, he wouldn’t stop until he had her, but then didn’t value her as he should have. Kizzy gets on to him about it, but he didn’t seem to care. George was a chicken!
Melanie: I was surprised that Matilda agreed to marry him. He was clearly visiting to “get some,” but she would only acquiesce after marriage. That seems like the worst reason to get married — and like there are lots of red flags suggesting that jumping a broom wouldn’t stop George’s behavior — but I know people felt marriage was scared in the eyes of God and would perhaps influence a roaming man and tame his ways. That didn’t work then, and it doesn’t work now. However, I just finished chapter 100 this morning and feel some hope. George realizes he’s spending all his earnings chicken fighting on gifts and clothes. He could have bought his family’s freedom by now! George and Matilda are banking on the master getting too old to manage his slaves and hope that by helping Master Lea build a house, they will then convince him to let them buy their freedom. It’s a great moment that brings the family together, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. I think it’s not a good idea to have hope when you’re reading a sage about slavery. Otherwise, Alex Haley would be romanticizing those shameful hundreds of years, and there are already plenty of authors who did that — most often white authors and some African Americans who were trying to please their white patrons.
So, I know you know what comes next because you finished the book, but when you got to this chapter in which George and Matilda discuss buying their freedom, did you have any guesses as to what would happen next?
Shell: Yes, I did feel hopeful and thought FINALLY George is seeing some sense and thinking about the future and what saving could mean for his growing family. Matilda was smart enough to figure out how much it would cost to buy freedom for the whole family, including the older ones that had become their family on the plantation.
You’re right about not feeling an unrealistic hope, but I wondered if it could be possible and tried to imagine how that sliver of hope would keep them from running away. I suppose George felt a measure of comfort or safety in his life, but Matilda’s patience and love kept her from being more like Bell. But I digress, and it will lead me on another tangent. The older ones probably gave up on freedom and are resolved to just die from working to death, but I asked myself: slavery existed for hundreds of years and no one lived that long, so is it even a good idea to get your hopes up and have them crushed like the fiddler? Trusting a master to allow you to buy your freedom seems very rare, especially Lea. I don’t trust him as far as I could spit.
Melanie: I think Master Lea sees the value of money and property because he was born poor, thus he will never let George and his family go. I’d be suspicious if Master Lea got all sappy at the end and had feelings for his bastard son, causing him to free the family. And even if that does happen, frequently, freed slaves were not believed and taken captive again to be sold to a different master! I know the book is supposed to take us up to Alex Haley, so we have a lot of generations to read about still. We shall see where this goes…