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The Issue of Equal Rights in Alex Haley’s Novel Roots

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In Alex Haley’s novel Roots, he expresses the struggles and challenges of African American men and women. He turns bad situations into a beautiful thing by including the love that everyone in the book had for their families. The challenges faced were of gaining power and freedom. Haley compares the challenges his ancestors faced to Kunta Kinte’s challenges. It also tells about the things women and children had to do to gain respect and freedom. Men were being recognized more than women. African American women had to go through being beaten, raped and their children being taken away at birth. Children were forced to watch their parents being beaten. It affected them mentally and physically as they got older. Men and women both had to go through things in the past so we can have our freedom today. Haley wrote this book to express to people that honoring the men and women who fought for our freedom is very important. He wanted to catch the reader’s attention by explaining the challenges that slaves had to face and how they were forced to leave their families. In his novel he tells about Kunta Kinte and how he tries to escape. Kunta Kinte’s suffering was all for his family’s well-being. He did not want children to suffer and go through what he did just to be fed or wanting to be clean. Family was very important in this novel. It shows how far a parent or family member would go to protect their loved ones.

How you were treated depended on your skin tone. Kunta Kinte being a darker complexion he was treated differently. African Americans were forced to work in cotton fields. About 179,000 men went to fight in the war. Almost 40,000 died during and others died from diseases. If they were a lighter skin color they worked in the house as maids. During wars, they were wounded and given poor treatment. Caucasian people received better treatment than African Americans. Nurses felt that Caucasian people lives were more important. African American men, women and Indians did not have the same rights as Caucasians. When the slaves were traveling on the ship to different places, they did not receive any medical treatment. Most slaves died during the journey because of sickness. They were prone to Infections due to injuries and open wounds. It is a huge difference between how African American were treated today compared to how they were treated in the past. African American men and women were confused, frustrated, and hurt. They did not understand why they were being treated differently just because of the color of their skin. According to Haley “Through this flesh, which is us, we are you, and you are us!” He says this to show the readers that Kunta Kinte was expressing that there was no difference between his people and Caucasians.

Many slaves suffered. They were mainly treated like animals. Beaten when they were hungry or tired. Kids were forced to work in cotton fields at a young age. Most of the kids that grew up and fought in wars died from starvation and diseases. Kunta Kinte were similar to those kids he didn’t have to fight in wars, but fighting for his freedom was war. He went through so much to protect his family. His family was sold by slave owners at auctions, so he had to fight on his own. It was difficult for his sisters and mother because growing up women was different. Men was supposedly stronger than women back then. Women became stronger by coming together and working as one. According to Haley by quoting “Men are Mortal”. He is trying to help the reader understand that slaves were being treated like a piece of property.

Women were treated differently from men. In New England, women were sold to slave owners and given to their wives as Christmas and occasional gifts. The population female slaves grew because of children being born and slave trades. They had most women in the house depending on if you were a lighter shade, and women who were a darker shade were in cotton fields. Most women took care of the elderly people such as the slave owners’ grandparents. They made sure they were clean, shaved, and fed. Other slaves helped during the revolutionary war. Many helped in camps as camper followers. Women worked on building roads, constructing fortifications, and laundering uniforms. Women had to do mainly everything men were doing because men had to help the other soldiers in different wars. Most women were strong they just were too afraid to standup to the owners by themselves. When other women joined in they were stronger. They felt that they had somebody to pick them up and encourage them to keep going and fighting for their freedom if they fail. Together a group of women is stronger than one. Not only did the women fight for freedom they also fought for their rights. This quote explains that a women is more than what people see them as “We are all born sexual creatures, thank God, but it’s a pity so many people despise and crush this natural gift.”

Religion was very important during slavery. Some slaves were treated different from other slaves because of their religion. Slaves that were in Judaism were given treatments and protection. They were treated like extended family and given privileges. They could also be freed. Religion also helped slaves all over the world. In Christianity, their faith got them through hard times. Some slaves would sneak in bibles to teach their children and other slaves how to read and understand the bible. They would sing old slave hymns to God putting their faith in Him and trust that life would get better. Slave owners did not allow slaves to read the bible, there was other choice but to sneak. According to Alex Haley” If you think about it, there’s not a religious group, there’s not a nationalistic group, there’s not a tribe, there is no grouping of people to my knowledge, of any consequence, who have not, at one or another time, been the object of hatred, racism, or who has not had people against them just because they were them.”

Haley was inspired by stories he heard from his grandmother about his ancestors during slavery. He was inspired to write roots because of one particular story his grandmother told him. It was about a man they called “the African”. The name Kunta Kinte came from the story his grandmother told. Haley’s grandmother says According to family tradition, this African forebear had called himself “Kin-tay,” but the Virginia planter who purchased him renamed him “Toby.” He called him Kin-tay and that’s where Alex Haley got the name Kunta Kinte. Haley’s main reason for his novel Roots was to catch the reader’s attention by explaining and creating a character and comparing him to the slaves in the past. Mostly all of Haley’s novels were based on his ancestors and then later on formed into characters. Even though Roots was an historical fiction and still explained certain things that occurred during slavery. The author takes a bad situation and brings the beauty out of it. That’s what draws the readers in and catches their attention. He wanted to explain how all life is precious and everyone should be treated the same. Slavery was legal years ago and even in today’s society racism is still evident today. The difference between then and now is that it is no longer legal and the African American community now has a voice and can take a rightful stand for the freedom that their ancestors fought for and deserved. There are different organizations that speak on freedom and rights till this day. Haley writes his novels to bring positivity to every negative situation to show how time with family is important. His novels are different but in the end they all have the same meaning.

Works Cited

  • Haley, Alex. Roots: The Saga of an American Family.

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