Study Guide

Alex Haley in Roots: The Saga of an American Family

By Alex Haley

Alex Haley

In a Shyamalan -worthy twist, Roots reveals in its final chapters that the narrator has been Alex Haley, the great-great-great-great-grandson of Kunta Kinte, the whole time.

Whoa. That's a big "gotcha" to spring on the unsuspecting reader at the end of close to a thousand pages of Kinte fam history.

This frames the novel in a super-unique way. First, it establishes that the stories and words passed down from Kunta to Kizzy were treasured like heirlooms through the generations, supplemented with stories of other notable events over the years. These oral traditions become Alex Haley's personal Rosetta Stone: a "key that had unlocked a door into the past" (118.3).

Haley corroborates these stories with written records and other oral traditions given to him by a West African storyteller called a griot. This is another huge revelation for him, as he is finally able to find the real people behind his grandparents' stories. It feels like magic.

So here's a good question, though—why does he include this part in the novel itself? Why wouldn't he just attach it as an epilogue? Reading it, it definitely feels more like an epilogue than a part of the main story arc, so Haley is definitely making a choice by including it.

Perhaps it's because he does see it as part of the larger story: the logical conclusion to Kunta's preservation of his ancestral history. That certainly makes sense. But it also could be to show us that we can do the same thing. No matter our background, we owe it to ourselves to look into our own pasts and celebrate it in all of its tragedy and all of its beauty.