Study Guide

Kizzy in Roots: The Saga of an American Family

By Alex Haley


Move aside, Marmee. Move aside, Annie John Sr. There's a new matriarch in town.

Kizzy seems to have the toughest road in all of Roots. She endures a lot of pain and wins few personal victories, and is sadly never able to reach freedom like her son and grandchildren. Still, she might be the single most important matriarch in the family, and Kunta's story would have never reached so many people without her singular determination.

Bait and Switch

Despite her later struggles, Kizzy's early life is wonderful. Because her parents, Kunta and Bell, are relatively respected by Massa Waller, she gets to enjoy certain perks that others don't. This is especially true after she develops a close friendship with Missy Anne, the massa's niece, which gives her even more latitude. Missy Anne even teaches Kizzy how to read.

But then something terrible happens—Kizzy's sold. She had forged a travel pass for her beau Noah, who he had been caught while running away. This is traumatic experience for Kizzy, but also an important learning experience in regards to her relationship with Missy Anne and white people in general. Despite being the one to teach her how to write, Anne abandons her in her time of need.

A Dark Cloud and a Ray of Light

Sadly, things get even worse from here. Kizzy is raped repeatedly by her new owner, Massa Tom Lea, almost immediately after being brought to his plantation. It's the most heart-wrenching scene in the novel. At this point, all hope seems lost.

Amidst this dark cloud, however, a bright light emerges—and his name is George. Although the circumstances of George's conception are awful, Kizzy commits immediately to helping him transcend them.

Check out this passage:

Kizzy decided that however base her baby's origins, however light his color, [...] she would never regard him as other than the grandson of an African. (85.20)

This is doubly important because Kizzy's promising to emphasize her son's African origins. In many ways, she's continuing the tradition that Kunta started with her, when they would go "rolling along the dusty Spotsylvania County roads" and "he would tell her the Mandinka names of things they passed along the road" (74.7). She gives these stories and words—and more—to her son, who from a young age promises to do the same with his children.

The Great Storyteller

And he does. George and his wife Matilda end up having a massive family of their own, all of whom adore Kizzy and her stories about "the African." Just look at this heart-warming moment:

"Gran'mammy say de African make us know who we is!"

"He do dat!" said Gran-mammy Kizzy, beaming.

For the first time in a long time, Chicken George felt that his cabin was his home again. (97.43)

Although Kizzy's own story doesn't necessarily have a happy ending—she's forced to stay behind when the family is sold to the Murrays and passes away on the Lea farm—she lives on through the stories she passed down to her son and grand-children, stories that over the generations have blossomed into something larger and more beautiful than she ever thought possible.