69 pages 2 hours read

Alex Haley

Roots: The Saga of an American Family

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1976

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The Brutality of the Slave Trade and Its Enduring Legacy

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.

Roots contains detailed, gruesome acts of violence, and the inclusion of these acts develop a theme in which the inhumanity of slavery is exposed from the direct, human perspective of enslaved Black characters. As Haley describes his search for more information on his family, he notes how, after dinner, he climbed into the “deep, dark, cold cargo hold” (726), stripping off his clothes and imagining what Kunta could “see, hear, feel, smell, taste” (726), and think. Writing from the perspective of “human cargo” allows Haley to depict the oppression and violence of the slave trade in the first-person perspective. However, the lasting legacy of slavery is the oppressive alienation of Black peoples from their own heritage and culture, which transcends violence without overshadowing it.

When Kunta arrives on John Waller’s plantation, he notes his hatred for the other Black people he sees, thinking: “These black ones had never known what it meant to sweat under the sun not for toubob masters but for themselves and their own people” (239), highlighting the critical difference between slavery and freedom.

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