Study Guide

Bell in Roots: The Saga of an American Family

By Alex Haley


When Mick Jagger sang, "You can't always get what you want/ but if you try sometimes/ you just might find/ you get what you need " we're pretty sure he was talking about the romance between Bell and Kunta.

Bell might not be the woman Kunta expected to marry, but we think she's exactly who he ended up needing. Ain't love grand?

The Oddest Couple

Although Kunta's skeptical of Bell at first, his interest in her grows as her notices her doing things that remind him of Africa. The first time this happens is when she applies a poultice to his chest that "was like Binta's medicines from his childhood, the herbs of Allah's earth passed down from the ancestors" (50.14).

That's some high-falutin' talk, but you get the point—she reminds him of home.

Of course, Bell is very not African in many ways, most of which drive Kunta up the wall. This usually takes the form of her either challenging his authority as head of the household, or being too direct about things for his stoic liking. It's some amazing odd couple shtick— just take a look at this moment from their wedding night:

[A]s Bell wove unsteadily toward him, she said softly in a slurred voice, "Now you done bought de cow, you gits all de milk you wants!" He was horrified to hear her talk so. (65.8)

We're dying. And probably using that line in the near future.

Peeling Back Layers

As we get to know Bell, however, we learn that she's endured some serious struggles. She reveals to Kunta that she's already had two kids, but was sold away from them some time back. We also learn that her mother was born in Africa, which might explain her enduring affection for the uber-African Kunta Kinte. She never got to know her father, however, and we can tell that this weighs heavily on her.

Unfortunately, we don't get to see the end of Bell's story after Kizzy is sold, much like we don't see the end of Kunta's. Still, we think she'd be proud of what Kizzy built for her children and grandchildren. All she ever wanted was for her family to make better lives for themselves, so she's probably out of her mind with joy seeing the heights that her descendants have reached.