69 pages 2 hours read

Alex Haley

Roots: The Saga of an American Family

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1976

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Symbols & Motifs


Content Warning: This section contains graphic depictions of enslavement, including violence, sexual assault, and death associated with slavery. The source material contains frequent use of racial slurs and racist language, which are reproduced in this guide only through quoted material.

Rebellion is a constant topic in Roots, forming a motif representing the intolerable nature of oppression. In Juffure, the Mandinka speak frequently of Sundiata, a formerly enslaved African man who became a general, overthrowing an oppressive king. The narrative of Sundiata is repeated in different forms across the novel, as the American colonists, led by George Washington, overthrow British rule, and Toussaint, in Haiti, overthrows French colonialism. In each case, the narrative is one of an unlikely success, with George Washington facing an army much larger than his own, Toussaint rallying the Black people of Haiti against their rulers, and Sundiata unifying the region against a tyrant. However, this motif of rebellion includes the multiple failed rebels, like Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner, whose efforts, though unsuccessful, carry the same message of resistance to oppression and hope in dire circumstances.

Discussions of overthrowing, rebelling, and liberating convey a running idea of freedom at any cost. Critically, the leaders of many of the Black revolts in America are free Black men, who put their lives at risk to help their enslaved community.

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By Alex Haley

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