Roots

(Representations of Race in American Literature)

The Work

Roots: The Saga of an American Family, published by Alex Haley in 1976, is one of the most widely read works ever written by an African American. A fictionalized version of actual events, Roots details the history of seven generations of an African American family in the United States. Haley began the story by detailing the life of his ancestor, Kunta Kinte, who was sold into slavery and taken to the United States. Haley introduced readers to U.S. history as experienced by African Americans. His work was so compelling that Haley received a Pulitzer Prize for Roots. Network television serialized the saga in 1977, and it received tremendous attention and large viewerships. More than 130 million viewers reportedly tuned in to watch the incredible tale, which featured some of the most popular actors of the 1970’s. Historians praised the television series, which is now available on video in most school libraries and video stores, for its accurate depictions of U.S. history and eye for detail. Many people argue that both the book and the television miniseries had a significant impact on race relations because it introduced many Americans to the severity of the African American experience.

Bibliography

Arnez, Nancy L. “From His Story to Our Story: A Review of Roots.” The Journal of Negro Education 46 (Summer, 1977): 367-372. Sees the book as a gift to African Americans, restoring their heritage. Believes that it and the television miniseries of the same name have helped white Americans to understand the horrors of slavery.

Baldwin, James. “How One Black Man Came to Be an American.” New York Times Book Review, September 26, 1976, 1-2. This important African American writer compliments Haley’s re-creation of Kinte’s Africa. Emphasizes the impact of generations on following ones and history’s effects on individuals.

Blayney, Michael Steward. “Roots and the Noble Savage.” North Dakota Quarterly 54 (Winter, 1986): 1–17. Provides a correlation between the popularity of the novel and the American fascination with the romantic ideal of the noble savage. Sees Kunta Kinte as a character in that tradition. In addition, shows how Haley inverts the notion of the American Eden: Africa, not America, represents the Edenic paradise in the novel.

Cooke, Michael G. “Roots as Placebo.” Yale Review 67 (Autumn, 1977): 144-146. Criticizes Haley’s writing as adolescent, neither subtle nor complex. Asserts that its magic comes from sentimentality, from promising more than it delivers, and from a placebo effect: It pretends to deal with U.S. disease and a strong cure, but is too mild to heal.

Courlander, Harold. “Kunta Kinte’s Struggle to Be African.” Phylon: The Atlanta University of Race and Culture 47 (December, 1986): 294-302. Questions Haley’s scholarship. Asserts that Kinte, although unbelievable, is “an unreconstructed African.”

Gerber, David. “Haley’s Roots and Our Own: An Inquiry into the Nature of Popular Phenomenon.” Journal of Ethnic Studies 5 (Fall, 1977): 87–111. A review essay that analyzes the popular cultural phenomenon generated by the novel and the subsequent airing of the television miniseries. Analyzes Haley’s treatment of historical material in general and his treatment of slavery in particular.

Marsh, Carol P. “The Plastic Arts Motif in Roots.” College Language Association Journal 26 (March, 1983): 325–333. Discusses how the characters master the plastic arts of carving, weaving, and forging, all of which enable the Kinte clan to become successful within the context of the Protestant work ethic.

Miller, R. Baxter. “Kneeling at the Fireplace: Black Vulcan—Roots and the Double Artificer.” MELUS 9 (Spring, 1982): 73–84. Analyzes Haley’s attempt to celebrate the artisan within the novel. The use of the figures of painters, blacksmiths, and fireworkers subtly alludes to the Hephaestus/Vulcan story of ancient mythology.

Othow, Helen Chavis. “Roots and the Heroic Search for Identity.” College Language Association Journal 26 (March, 1983): 311–324. Offers a discussion of the organic unity of the novel. Cites as problematic the shifting of protagonists, abrupt endings of generational episodes, and authorial intrusion. The work is viewed as an epic in a tradition found in Greek classical literature.

Pinsker, Sanford. “Magic Realism, Historical Truth, and the Quest for a Liberating Identity: Reflections on Alex Haley’s Roots and Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.” In Black American Prose Theory, edited by Joe Weixlmann and Chester J. Fontenot. Vol. 1 in Studies in Black American Literature. Greenwood, Fla.: Penkevill, 1984. Examines the role of the storyteller in conjunction with African American identity in Roots and in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon (1977).

Stein, Howard F. “In Search of Roots: An Epic of Origins and Destiny.” Journal of Popular Culture XI (Summer, 1977): 11-17. Asserts that discussing Roots would help race relations in the United States; therefore, it is not just about the past but also for the future. Says that Kunta Kinte learned “other ways of fighting slavery than fleeing it,” but also thinks that Haley stereotyped black people as strong and white people as evil.

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Juffure

*Juffure (jew-FUR-ee). Village on West Africa’s Gambia River in which Haley’s ancestor Kunta Kinte was born and raised. Two centuries after Kunta was forcibly taken from this village, Haley visited Juffure and met many of his African cousins, descendants of Kunta’s brothers. Drawing on his experiences in modern Juffure and his historical research, Haley produced a fascinating literary re-creation of the village as it was around 1750, as Kunta Kinte was growing up.

Through the eyes of young Kunta, readers see a village of round thatched huts surrounded by enclosing walls, pierced by the village gates, as well as the traveler’s tree, at which travelers are greeted by village children; fields on which men grow groundnuts and women grow rice; and the forest in which boys take goats to browse. Well removed from the main village of Juffure is the manhood-training village to which the boys on the threshold of manhood are taken to learn the skills and secrets of men.

In Haley’s novel, Juffure is a place rich in the history of a culture that knows its heritage and has reason to be proud of it. It is a place where each person is known to everyone else, where every action is rich with meaning and tradition, a place where Kunta belongs. However, Kunta does not remain there long, as one day he is ambushed while chopping wood in the forest and sold to slavers.

*Lord Ligonier

*Lord Ligonier. Slave ship on which Kunta Kinte is transported to North America. In an effort to understand what Kunta and the other transportees suffered, Haley booked passage on a modern freighter and slept on a bare plank shelf in the hold each night of the journey. However, his experience only approximated the horrifying conditions experienced by enslaved Africans, chained amid their own filth in the hold of a wooden sailing ship.

*Spotsylvania

*Spotsylvania. Virginia county that is the location of the two plantations on which Kunta Kinte is held as a slave after his arrival in America. On the first, owned by John Waller, the regimen is brutish and conditions harsh. Its slaves live in tumbledown shacks, barely sufficient to shelter them from the elements. Beatings are regular and violent. Kunta repeatedly tries to escape, but each time is tracked down and subjected to even harsher treatment. The plantation of Dr. William Waller, a relative of John, is somewhat more humane, although the physician still regards his slaves as tools of production, not as persons. The slaves live in clean, whitewashed cabins and are treated with gentle firmness instead of violence, but Waller is always ready to sell troublemakers to plantations with harsher conditions and tells his slaves this to keep them in line.

*Caswell

*Caswell. North Carolina county that is home of the gamecock-fighter to whom Kunta’s daughter Kizzy is sold. After the high-class respectability of Dr. Waller’s plantation, the poor-white brutality of Tom Lea comes as a shock. His fortune is based upon gambling on cockfights, and he retains the crude habits of his impoverished upbringing. He forces himself upon Kizzy, and as a result she bears a son, whom Massa Tom names George. The lad proves to have such talent with the fighting birds that he gains the sobriquet of “Chicken George” and is ultimately given his freedom. That grant does not extend to his wife and children, who remain in bondage until the Emancipation Proclamation during the American Civil War.

*Henning

*Henning. Tennessee town in which George and his family settle as free blacks after the Civil War. It is a community strictly divided by race, where the former masters of one branch of the family are shunned by the other white people for being too friendly to their former property. Nevertheless, it is a place where George’s family can establish a footing as tradesmen and even own a lumber business. It is also the place in which author Alex Haley would be born, where he would hear the stories about his family’s past that would ultimately lead him to search for the truth behind the fragmented oral traditions.

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

The first portion of Roots: The Saga of an American Family deals with Kunta Kinte’s capture, enslavement, and struggle to maintain his identity. From the time that he is dragged from his Gambian home in 1750, Kunta fights to retain his memories and his family identity. Throughout his passage to America in the hold of a slave ship, Kunta attempts to understand what has happened to him, why he was taken from his home.

The narrative intensity grows after Kunta arrives in America and is bought by a plantation owner. The first thing that an owner does is to remove any sense of identity from his slaves—in Kunta’s case, by making him accept a slave name, Toby. Kunta refuses and endures severe physical punishment to force him to say his slave name. When the pain becomes too great, he repeats the name Toby in order to stop the torture, but Kunta keeps his identity inwardly and remembers his heritage.

Kunta’s desire to maintain his identity is matched by his constant attempts to regain his freedom. Finally, after Kunta’s fourth attempt at escaping, his owner cuts off one of his feet. Kunta is hobbled and unable to make any further serious attempts to escape, but his spirit is not broken. He continues to tell stories of his family’s background so that his descendants will not forget who they are. Because of the stories that he tells and the stories that are told about him, Kunta Kinte will remain an inspiration for succeeding generations.

The second major portion of Roots centers on Kunta’s grandson, Chicken George, who is reared by his white owner and father. After George shows a strong talent for working with animals, his owner turns him into an master trainer of gamecocks. Although his abilities create an identity for George, it is an identity tied to his role as a slave, as trainer of his master’s fighting chickens. His life is less traumatic than that of his grandfather, but George never maintains an identity of his own as Kunta had done. He eventually marries Mathilda and fathers eight children. Because of his services to his master, George and his family are not separated. During his successes as a chicken trainer, family stories are still being handed down through oral tradition in the practice begun by Kunta. The family’s history continues to be told.

George and Mathilda’s fourth son, Tom, represents the next generation to be profiled in Roots. Like all slaves, he is taught the trade that will serve his master best. In Tom’s case, he is trained to become a blacksmith. When he reaches adulthood, Tom is sold to a tobacco grower from Alamance County, North Carolina. There, Tom meets a young half-Indian woman, Irene, whom he marries and with whom he has eight children. Tom continues the oral history tradition by telling stories of his grandfather’s bravery and his father’s slyness.

Tom’s daughter Cynthia is taken to Henning, Tennessee, when she is only a child as part of a wagon train of freed slaves. Cynthia meets and marries Will Palmer and gives birth to Bertha, who eventually marries Simon Haley and becomes the mother of the novel’s author, Alex Haley.

Throughout his formative years, Alex Haley sits and listens as his elders tell stories of their family’s experiences, especially of the mysterious figure of Kunta Kinte. As he grows older, Haley wants to know more about this interesting individual, but it is not until he retires from the U.S. Coast Guard that Haley is able to investigate his family fully. The result is the narrative presented in Roots.

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Roots

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 19)

The appearance of Alex Haley’s Roots in 1976 was an event evocative of the publication of Mrs. Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin over a century ago. Both were novels describing the black experience in America and both quickly attained a level of public notice far beyond that warranted by their literary value. Both Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Roots were avidly read, debated, and dramatized, one on the stage, one on television. Each shaped the mind of white America, but Roots also carried a particular message to blacks.

The timeliness of Haley’s Roots, like Mrs. Stowe’s “little book that caused the great war,” has been central to its popular success. Issued at the end of the modern Civil Rights Movement at a time of strong black consciousness, Roots has become a symbol of the search for a black identity. It reminds the nation of the continuing struggle for equality, but it also signals the entrance of many black Americans into bourgeois affluence. It has inaugurated a popular pursuit of black genealogy that has directed the nation’s librarians and archivists toward neglected plantation journals and musty county records.

Alex Haley, patiently telling and retelling his story to a hundred media interviewers, has been transformed into an American griot. This patently decent man learned the writer’s craft during a career in the Coast Guard, and following his retirement, became a successful journalist. He wrote numerous magazine interviews and articles, and his powerful Autobiography of Malcolm X enriched black literature. The income from these activities and a Reader’s Digest condensation of Roots, with other support from publishers, enabled Haley to spend over a decade writing his masterwork. Frequent travels to African and American ancestral homes consumed much time and money, but the results justified the effort. Alex Haley is now popularly regarded as a major custodian of the Afro-American heritage, and Roots is considered a highly evocative epitome of the black experience, viewed from the microcosm of one family.

Haley’s ancestral chronology begins with the birth of his primary character, Kunta Kinte, “the African.” The details of eighteenth century life along the Gambia River, the “Kamby Bolongo” of the Haley family oral tradition, are presented with accuracy and understanding. Haley draws an attractive picture of the molding of Kunta from birth to young manhood; the reader is fascinated by the customs and rituals of the Mandinka of Juffure. In dramatizing the interaction of boy and culture, Haley clarifies our understanding of African ways. Reality has finally reached a generation of Americans nurtured on Hollywood backlot jungles populated with childish Africans dependent on the white misfit Tarzan. A popular look at traditional Africa, a land of family, honor, and duty, is long overdue. Black Americans in particular, who have pondered their African roots, are captivated by Haley’s picture of tribal life in a riverside village.

Haley’s graphic descriptions of the ugliness of slavecatching and the coffled march to the African coast are shocking, but pale before his pictures of the brutality of the barracoon and the middle passage. Haley memorably describes life aboard a slave ship, alternately becalmed and storm-wracked and transformed into a floating hell of suppressed fury and rampant disease. How can humans so mistreat one another, asks our era, the parent of Buchenwald, the Vietnamese war, and the present government of Uganda? Haley answers this in some of his best passages, contrasting the misery and rage of hundreds of chained Africans against a callous white crew, riddled with lust, hatred, and fear.

The less revolting but infinitely more terrible process of enslavement in America is unveiled as Kunta Kinte is “broken,” not so much by force—though beatings and worse are frequent—as by his awful lack of alternatives. Shorn even of his name, the African becomes “Toby” at his master’s whim. Discovering that his culture is so thoroughly suppressed by whites that even blacks fear his ways and words, Toby grudgingly accepts the loss of his home, family, and freedom, and is given in exchange a travesty of American language and culture. He learns the few hundred English words issued by slaveowners, revolving about obedience, labor, and existence, and becomes, finally, “Massa’s” obedient donkey. Only after the completion of this grand theft does Toby marry and found an American family that will pass through generations before its cultural and educational level will equal that stolen from Kunta Kinte.

The birth to Toby and his wife Bell of Kizzy Waller, an American with a surreptitiously African “Christian” name, launches the family into decades of profitless toil, good and bad masters, sales and separations. Haley convincingly describes birth, life, and death under the Damoclean sword of slavery and the daily horror of existence under the will of an uncontrollable “Massa.” Yet in this adversity and misery in the concentration camp called slavery, the family not only survives, but grows strong. The desire for liberty, nurtured by the American Revolution, grows into a demand from stronger men and women. Their aspirations are bared in the blighted attempts of the Fiddler to purchase his freedom, Bell’s furtive newspaper reading, the trials and eventual seizure of freedom by the unforgettable Chicken George, and the wisdom and strength of Tom Murray, who practices the traditional metalcraft of the Kinte men. The postwar migration of the family under its black Moses, Chicken George, to the promised land in Tennessee has a clear symbolism for a race of Bible readers, and their settlement in Henning, a new, hardscrabble settlement, promises a bright future. Tom, warned by local whites that he cannot open a shop except as an employee of a white, successfully circumvents their will with a portable smithy, but learns that freedom has not replaced slavery. A new order of racist white supremacy has emerged, and the pilgrimage continues.

Roots’ strengths are real: it is essentially an American success story. Its humanized chronology of black America from Africa to the present provides a synopsis of the rise from kidnaping and deculturization toward American respectability and comfort. Read in conjunction with the works of Kenneth Stampp, John Hope Franklin, or other recent scholars, and the narratives and autobiographies of slaves and ex-slaves, Roots offers clear insights into the black experience. It amplifies a growing American interest in the nation’s history, and reinforces the Afro-American’s parallel quest for identity through his cultural, geographical, and family origins.

Roots is not perfect. The reader’s interest is maintained through extensive and taut dialogue, but overwritten passages are not infrequent. Historical errors abound (including antebellum pillared mansions and vast cotton fields in pre-Revolutionery Virginia, and references to states not yet founded). Its cursory sweep through recent history indicates that Haley’s more recent forebears, busily smithing, farming, learning, and teaching, are simply less interesting. They were neither Africans nor slaves, but “us,” and several factual and interesting but perfunctory chapters, tracing the story from Reconstruction to the present, confirm the fact that Roots’ dramatic unity ends with the family’s arrival in Tennessee.

Critics have attacked both the accuracy of the Haley family recollections and the author’s historical reconstructions. Was Juffure really an unspoiled African village or a busy trading station, frequented by the coastal business community? Did the griot of Juffure tell Haley only what he wished to hear? Did Haley merely magnify shadowy family legends into a pseudohistory of black America for the millions? These frequently posed questions are irrelevant: Roots is a novel, and Haley was perfectly free to tell his tale as he wished. Roots is a brilliantly creative infusion of family lore with studies of Africa and antebellum America that may not approach the detailed historicity of Kenneth Roberts, but certainly transcends the believability of some “Bicentennial” effusions.

The television version of Roots—and its subsequent sale to the schools and libraries of America as an educational film—is a matter that cannot be ignored here. Broadcast to tens of millions in a weeklong production during early 1977, Roots touched the national mind and conscience. Unfortunately the staging of Roots suffered from the evils that afflicted Uncle Tom’s Cabin; an overly melodramatic approach, casting that replaced negative black stereotypes with equally unreal white ones, historical anomalies, and a marketing approach that suggested that Roots was “social studies.” The message is clear: Roots is a novel and the play is drama. The reader should evaluate Roots on its literary, not its teledramatic, merits.

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

The inspiration for Roots came from a series of stories which the author, Alex Haley, heard from his grandmother during his childhood in Tennessee. These stories concerned the life of Kunta Kinte, an African born in the Gambia River region of West Africa. The stories relate that Kunta Kinte, when only a young man, fell victim to a slave-raiding party. Placed aboard a ship bound for Annapolis, Maryland, he entered a life of permanent servitude. According to the genealogies included in his grandmother’s stories, Haley, a Coast Guard veteran and free-lance writer, was a direct descendant of Kunta Kinte.

Among the information passed on by Haley’s grandmother was a smattering of terms from an unknown African language. Upon discovering that many of the characters in his grandmother’s stories in fact were listed in census records in the United States National Archives, Haley became interested in discovering the birthplace of his ancestor. Questioning every colleague and resident African in the United States he could find, Haley eventually found his way to Jan Vansina, a noted African historian at the University of Wisconsin and an authority on oral tradition. Vansina tentatively identified the language of Haley’s terms as Mandinka, which is spoken in Gambia and Senegal.

Haley’s quest now took on the character of an obsession. He flew to Gambia and combed its villages in search of people who might know of the Kunta Kinte story. At length he discovered a griot, an elderly, prestigious bearer of oral history, who could recount the history of upriver Gambia in enormous detail. In the midst of the griot’s narrative came the tale of Kunta Kinte, his youth and his abduction, almost exactly as Haley’s grandmother had told him as a child in the 1930’s. Nearly overwhelmed by this discovery, Haley rushed home to compose Roots, six hundred pages that created a literary and public sensation.

The biography of Kunta Kinte comprises nearly two-thirds of Roots. The detail is as rich as if Haley had consulted archives and memoirs rather than the keepers of oral tradition. Kunta Kinte was born around 1750 to a Muslim family living in what is now Gambia. He went through the usual rites of passage for young men.

Already in their early years, Kunta Kinte and his friends heard from their parents of the dangers of toubob, white slavers who prowled the countryside in search of victims, and the nefarious slatee, Africans who abetted the slavers in their enterprises. (Roots also informs readers of the widespread practice of slavery within West Africa itself, as Kunta Kinte endeavors to learn from elders about the nature of slavery and servitude.)

Shortly after his initiation into manhood, Kunta Kinte himself stumbled into a toubob trap and was captured. According to Haley’s archival research, Kunta Kinte and about 140 other enslaved Africans departed Africa aboard the American vessel Lord Ligonier in the summer of 1767.

Haley’s account of the horrors of the Atlantic crossing almost defies belief. Crowded in chains into deck platforms so cramped that they could not sit up, racked by pain from whippings and body sores, forced to lie for days in their own body wastes, fed with indifferent slop, allowed only a few hours of exercise a week, weakened by contagious diseases, more than one-third of the slaves died during the crossing (along with a similar proportion of the white crew).

Even more than the physical suffering, the dread of the unknown was a source of anguish for the newly enslaved. Few had ever seen the ocean or a large ship; many thought that they were being taken to cannibals. Although the urge to fight back was strong among the slaves, before the crossing ended they had given in to despair.

Kunta Kinte, who refused to adapt to slavery despite repeated whippings, was the sole exception. Once in America, he escaped several times from his original owners, but on each occasion the unknown environment and the bloodhounds defeated him. Finally, to ensure that there would be no more escapes, Kunta Kinte’s owners cut off the front part of one of his feet, leaving him a crippled domestic servant for the rest of his life.

Through the rest of Kunta Kinte’s life, he underwent a slow transformation into the stereotype of a Southern slave. Although he became his master’s carriage driver, was married, and had children, the indignity of slavery was never far away. The final humiliation—and his disappearance from the narrative—came when the master sold Kunta Kinte’s daughter, Kizzy, to another owner. His spirit crushed, Kunta Kinte committed a symbolic suicide by destroying the gourd of stones which he had used for so many years to count lunar months and keep track of his age and the festivals of Islam.

The remainder of Roots sketches the lives of Kunta Kinte’s descendants through Kizzy’s line. Based on family recollections, the reconstruction moves rapidly through seven generations, covering the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including characters both slave and free, until it reaches Haley himself. Throughout these generations, the few terms from Mandinka which Kunta Kinte had passed on to his daughter were carefully preserved and transmitted, so that Haley would hear them as a child from his grandmother.

The final three of the 120 short chapters in Roots contain Haley’s personal narrative of his exposure to the Kunta Kinte story and of his life as a youngster, as a member of the Coast Guard, and later as a free-lance author. They relate his personal quest to confirm the story and the dramatic moments in which his archival research and his conference with the griot revealed the ancestral link to Africa.

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Historical Context

Slave family in 1862 Published by Gale Cengage

American Slavery
Haley began writing his novels during the

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Literary Style

Narration
Roots is narrated by a third-person narrator. The device of a third-person narrator enables the text to...

(The entire section is 353 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Literary Techniques

During Haley's twelve-year search for his roots, he assembled a considerable amount of genealogical and historical facts about Africa, the...

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Social Concerns

Haley's Roots attempts to dispel two widespread and false notions about blacks: that there is no black history and that there is no...

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Compare and Contrast

  • 1760s: Thousands of enslaved Africans arrive at every port in the American colonies.

    ...

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Topics for Further Study

  • Create your own account of Kunta and Bell's time on the Waller plantation after their daughter Kizzy is sold. What do you think happened...

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Literary Precedents

Over a hundred years earlier, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) dramatized the plight of the black slave and reached...

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Related Titles

A Different Kind of Christmas (1988) is a fictional historical novel, whereas Haley's Roots is a nonfictional historical...

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Adaptations

A twelve-hour, eight segment, television version of Roots was aired on ABC Television January 23, 1977, about four months after...

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Media Adaptations

Scene from 1977 miniseries Published by Gale Cengage
  • Roots was adapted as a television miniseries in 1977, starring LeVar Burton, Ben Vereen, John Amos, Leslie Uggams

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family What Do I Read Next?

Song of Solomon (1977), Toni Morrison's lyrical novel, recounts the story of a black man searching for...

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
David Herbert Donald, in a review in Commentary, December, 1976.

Chester J. Fontenot,...

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Bibliography

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Blayney, Michael Steward. “Roots and the Noble Savage.” North Dakota Quarterly 54 (Winter, 1986): 1-17. Provides a correlation between the popularity of the novel and the American fascination with the romantic ideal of the noble savage. Sees Kunta Kinte as a character in that tradition. In addition, shows how Haley inverts the notion of the American Eden: Africa, not America, represents the Edenic paradise in the novel.

Courlander, Harold. “Kunta Kinte’s Struggle to Be African.” Phylon 47 (December, 1986): 294-302. Discusses Haley’s characterization of Kunta Kinte as a primitive being. Perceives some of the questions first raised about Roots as a result of its ambiguous generic underpinnings. Asserts that Roots should be viewed as a work of fiction, not as pure history.

Gerber, David. “Haley’s Roots and Our Own: An Inquiry into the Nature of Popular Phenomenon.” Journal of Ethnic Studies 5 (Fall, 1977): 87-111. A review essay that analyzes the popular cultural phenomenon generated by the novel and the subsequent airing of the television miniseries. Analyzes Haley’s treatment of historical material in general and his treatment of slavery in particular.

Huntzicker, William E. “Alex Haley’s Roots: The Fiction of Fact.” In Memory and Myth: The Civil War in Fiction and Film from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” to “Cold Mountain,” edited by David B. Sachsman, S. Kittrell Rushing, and Roy Morris, Jr. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 2007. Analysis of the relationship between historical reality and Haley’s narrative with a particular focus on the Civil War-era sections of the novel.

Marsh, Carol P. “The Plastic Arts Motif in Roots. ” CLA Journal 26 (March, 1983): 325-333. Discusses how the characters master the plastic arts of carving, weaving, and forging, all of which enable the Kinte clan to become successful within the context of the Protestant work ethic.

Miller, R. Baxter. “Kneeling at the Fireplace: Black VulcanRoots and the Double Artificer.” MELUS 9 (Spring, 1982): 73-84. Analyzes Haley’s attempt to celebrate the artisan within the novel. The use of the figures of painters, blacksmiths, and fireworkers subtly alludes to the Hephaestus/Vulcan story of ancient mythology.

Othow, Helen Chavis. “Roots and the Heroic Search for Identity.” CLA Journal 26 (March, 1983): 311-324. Offers a discussion of the organic unity of the novel. Cites as problematic the shifting of protagonists, abrupt endings of generational episodes, and authorial intrusion. The work is viewed as an epic in a tradition found in Greek classical literature.

Pinsker, Sanford. “Magic Realism, Historical Truth, and the Quest for a Liberating Identity: Reflections on Alex Haley’s Roots and Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. ” In Black American Prose Theory, edited by Joe Weixlmann and Chester J. Fontenot. Vol. 1 in Studies in Black American Literature. Greenwood, Fla.: Penkevill, 1984. Examines the role of the storyteller in conjunction with African American identity in Roots and in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon (1977).