Critics have had a difficult time categorizing Roots. Although based on genealogical and historical research, it is not a book of history, because most of its details and dialogue are invented. However, unlike most historical fiction, Roots is much more than a fictional story placed against a real historical background, with perhaps a few famous historical figures making cameo appearances. Alex Haley chose to call the book “faction,” a mix of fact and fiction. Roots also is highly unusual in its voice: The story is told in the third person almost until the end, when Haley relates his own birth and switches to first person for the remainder of the book. “Cynthia pulled back the blanket’s top fold—revealing a round brown face. . . . The baby boy, six weeks old, was me.” Although changing voice in this way is not common, it works in Roots. The third-person narration throughout most of the book allows the story to follow characters easily from one generation to the next, but the first-person narration at the end brings a much more personal feel to the entire book, giving it the intimacy of an autobiography rather than a novel.
Because of the difficulty in categorizing Roots, critics have sometimes found it challenging to evaluate the book. Some have criticized it for historical inaccuracies—for instance, it is unlikely that the Gambian village Juffure was as peaceful and egalitarian in the...
(The entire section is 1629 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Alex Haley Critical Essays. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!