Roots by Alex Haley

Seminar Paper 2000 12 Pages

American Studies - Literature



1) Introduction

2) Alex Haley – short Information about the Author himself

3) Fictionality in Dialogues of the Book Roots

4) Summary

5) Index of Literature

1) Introduction

In this work about the book Roots by Alex Haley the author will show that the book Roots is not non-fictional, like it is said on the cover of the book (chapter 3). The analysis of dialogues and characteristics of persons in the book will prove it. For the task was to prove the fictionality of the book in comparison to the representation of the characters in the film, these two means of style of fictionality were chosen: dialogue and representation of characters. The author did actually not compare with the film because it was not clearly visible if the directors of the film were black or white, and so the analysis could have led in a wrong way. About the importance of the race will be said more in the analysis.

One important point for proving the fictionality comes from Alex Haley himself in chapter 120: "In the years of the writing, I have also spoken before many audiences of how Roots came to be, naturally now and then someone asks, 'How much of Roots is fact and how much is fiction?' To the best of my knowledge and of my effort, every lineage statement within Roots is from either my African or my American families carefully preserved oral history, much of which I have been conventionally to corroborate with documents.(...) Since I wasn't yet around when most of the story occurred, by far most of the dialogue and most of the incidents are of necessity a novelized amalgam of what I know took place together with what my researching led me to plausibly feel took place."[1]

Further on, the work will tell about Alex Haley himself (chapter 1). For this part the Microsoft Encarta of the year 1996 was used.

Further, the "Einführung in die Anglistik" from Sammlung Metzler[2], the "Arbeitsbuch Literaturwissenschaft" from UTB[3] and the "Einführung in die Literaturinterpretation"[4] build the scientific basis for this work.

2) Alex Haley – short Information about the Author himself

Alex Haley (1921-1992) was an African-American author, whose contributions to American letters led to the popularization of Black history and helped to promote racial understanding. Haley was born in Ithaca, New York. Although not academically outstanding, either at school or at university, Haley was determined to become a writer. He practiced and perfected his craft during his early years in the Coast Guard. After retiring from the Coast Guard at the age of 37, he moved to New York to actively pursue a career as a writer. He had no immediate success until he interviewed jazz trumpeter Miles Davis and, later, political activist Malcolm X for Playboy magazine. The meeting with Malcolm X led to his co-authoring The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965). This became an important text for Black nationalists involved in the struggles of the 1960s. It also received much critical acclaim, and was widely adopted as required reading for students of literature and history classrooms. Immediately after the success of the Autobiography, Haley began work on the family saga, Roots (1976), which subsequently received dozens of awards, including citations by the Pulitzer and National Book Award committees. Almost 9 million copies were sold, and it has been translated into 26 languages. The screening of a television adaptation in 1977 increased its impact on American culture. It is estimated that 130 million Americans saw at least one episode of the eight-part series. Roots recounted the story of Haley's search for his ancestors and triumphantly recorded his tracing of his lineage back to a West African village. Haley used his imagination to fill in the details of the family story and created a series of portraits, which moved many Americans of all racial backgrounds to take up an interest in genealogy.[5]

3) Fictionality in Dialogues and Characters of the Book Roots

For proving the fictionality in the dialogues, of course not all dialogues could have been analyzed. So some important dialogues were chosen, which are characterizing persons of the book. In the analysis, the dialogues are wearing short names: the slave-dialogue, the Kizzy-dialogue, and the Lea-dialogue. They all include characteristics of persons in the book, or important information for the reader.

Before starting to analyze, the word "fictionality" should be explained, as it is used for this analysis:

1. Literature that refers explicit to parts of the reality of experiences is always also imagined and creative. Literature creates reality that is not necessarily provable. The reference to reality that lies out of literature may be important for some forms of literature, like historical novels, but also here the poetic freedom does not make the text a lie or a fake. As parts of literary texts also provable facts are part of a fictional reality.[6]
2. "You can define it (the literature) as 'imaginative' writing in the sense of 'fiction' – as a writing, that is not true in the verbatim sense." (Eagleton, 1992, 1)[7]. The representation of empirical facts within fictional texts makes – after Stierle – always only ideal equivalences of such reference points of the text visible, which non-fictional texts in their representation refer to. Fictional texts give a view on reality within a specific situation of communication.[8]

Fictionality always has a function. As Haley says himself, he wrote down what he feels could have happened. So he creates the characters in the book like he feels they could have been.

In the whole book, there are not really a lot of dialogues at all. Haley prefers to use the inner monologue rather than dialogues between persons. He describes the emotions and intentions of the characters. At least, there are, of course, dialogues, from which the already mentioned three were chosen.


[1] Haley, A.: Roots. Dell Publishing, New York 1974. p.726-727.

[2] Korte, B./ K. P. Müller/ J. Schmied: Einführung in die Anglistik. Verlag J. B. Metzler, Stuttgart/Weimar 1997.

[3] Eicher, T./ V. Wiemann (Hrsg.): Arbeitsbuch: Literaturwissenschaft. UTB Paderborn/ München/ Wien/ Zürich 1997.

[4] Schutte, Jürgen: Einführung in die Literaturinterpretation. Verlag J. B. Metzler, Stuttgart/Weimar, 3. Auflage 1993.

[5] "Haley, Alex,"Microsoft® Encarta® 96 Encyclopedia. © 1993-1995 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

[6] Korte, B./K. P. Müller/ J. Schmied: ibid., p. 81-83.

[7] Eicher, T./ V. Wiemann: ibid., p. 14.

[8] Eicher, T./ V. Wiemann: ibid., p. 81.


ISBN (eBook)
File size
486 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald – Anglistics/ American Studies
2 (B)
Roots Alex Haley Voyage Through Death Representing Slave Trade




Title: Roots by Alex Haley