Roots Summary

Alex Haley


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Roots Summary

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Alex Haley’s 1976 work, Roots: The Saga of an American Family, may have served to blur the line between fiction and nonfiction, becoming a highly significant text on numerous levels. It was originally dubbed “faction,” a term that suggests perhaps a bit more adherence to facts than the more widely known “creative nonfiction” and was marketed alongside pure works of nonfiction. How closely Haley remained true to the facts as he found them, as he admittedly created dialogue and events to provide a cohesive storyline, is open to debate. In subsequent years, Roots has been classified as a novel more often than as a work of nonfiction. Regardless of the terminology used, it is generally credited with widely expanding the public fascination with genealogy and with advancing the interest in, and appreciation for, the history of African Americans.

At the age of seventeen, Kunta Kinte is taken from the Gambia, a region in West Africa, and sold as a slave. Roots is the tale of Kunta Kinte and seven generations that follow him in the United States. He lived a difficult but not unusual childhood in the farming village of Juffure. In the village, the people are aware of the new white skinned arrivals to the area referred to as toubob. Kunta is an explorer at heart, but his father Omoro refuses to let him see any more of the world than their village. When he sees hooded men taking children away, he does not know what is happening, but is happy when his father takes him outside of the village. On their journey, they learn about the area, and upon returning home, Kunta shares what he has seen with others, but at the same time neglects his responsibilities.

As Kunta gets older, he experiences training rituals and learns about the Gambia. He also becomes more aware of the slave trade, which is making its way closer to the village. After completing his manhood training, Kunta learns about the justice system in Juffure. He sees a case in which a kidnapped young girl returned from the toubob pregnant and has a child of mixed race. Later, while chopping wood, Kunta is attacked by black slave traders, or slatees, and rendered unconscious. When he comes to, he finds himself on a ship bound and naked. He undergoes a terrifying Atlantic crossing aboard what turns out to be a British slave ship called Lord Ligonier. The ship lands in Maryland, a British colony. Kunta is purchased at auction by John Waller of Virginia and renamed Toby. Kunta tries to escape four times but is unsuccessful. During his final attempt to flee, part of his right foot is cut off by slave hunters.

Kunta is sold again, this time to Dr. William Waller, the brother of his previous owner. Under Dr. Waller, Kunta is made a gardener and the driver of Waller’s buggy. He develops a friendship with a slave musician named Fiddler, and in the years following the American Revolution, marries his master’s cook, Bell, with whom he has a daughter named Kizzy. Kunta and Bell try to provide a happy childhood for their daughter within the existence that has been forced upon them. Kizzy befriends (Missy) Anne, the daughter of John Waller, and is treated relatively well. Kizzy’s life takes a turn for the worse, however, when at age sixteen, she is caught having forged a traveling pass for Noah, her romantic interest, and is sold and separated from her family.