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The Bean Trees

Barbara Kingsolver

Important Quotations Explained

Chapters Sixteen–Seventeen

Key Facts

1.
“I have always thought you had a wonderful way with words,” he said. “You don’t need to go fishing for big words in the dictionary. You are poetic, mi’ija.” . . . “Well, thank you for the compliment,” I said, “but that’s the biggest bunch of hogwash, what you said. When did I ever say anything poetic?” “Washing hogs is poetic,” he said.

These lines from Chapter Eight record a conversation between Estevan and Taylor. To emphasize the idea that immigrants should be treated with respect, Kingsolver pointedly makes Estevan, an immigrant, the character with the best command of the English language. He is better educated and more articulate than any of his friends, all of whom use slang and bad grammar. Kingsolver does not condemn those characters who use nonstandard English, as this quotation indicates; rather, she suggests that all forms of English can be considered poetic. Although Taylor wishes she could use bigger words, like Estevan does, Estevan points out that her slang and colloquial expressions are beautiful. Taylor’s “hogwash,” Esperanza’s silence, and Turtle’s vegetable songs all have their own bit of poetry.

2.
Turtle shook her head. “Bean trees,” she said, as plainly as if she had been thinking about it all day. We looked where she was pointing. Some of the wisteria flowers had gone to seed, and all these wonderful long green pods hung down from the branches. They looked as much like beans as anything you’d ever care to eat. “Will you look at that,” I said. It was another miracle. The flower trees were turning into bean trees.

These lines, which come from Chapter Ten, occur as Lou Ann, Taylor, Turtle, and Dwayne Ray sit in Roosevelt Park (commonly known as “Dog Doo Park”). The quotation points to the novel’s idea that miracles happen in modest or unlikely places. Appropriately, it is Turtle who makes the discovery that gives the novel its title. Turtle is herself a miracle in an unlikely place. Like the bean trees discovered in the ugly park, Turtle is discovered in a barren parking lot. And like the dirty, barren park, which later seems magical, Turtle at first strikes Taylor as an unwanted burden, but gradually becomes more and more important to Taylor, until the possibility of losing Turtle becomes the main conflict in the novel.

3.
Lou Ann shuddered. “That door’s what gets me. The way they made the door handle. Like a woman is something you shove on and walk right through. I try to ignore it, but it still gets me.” “Don’t ignore it, then,” I said. “Talk back to it. Say, ‘You can’t do that number on me, you shit-for-brains.’ . . . What I’m saying is you can’t just sit there, you got to get pissed off.”

In Chapter Ten, Lou Ann and Taylor discuss Fanny Heaven, the local strip joint. Lou Ann has just had her first job interview, during which her interviewer talked to her breasts instead of to her face. This quotation demonstrates Taylor’s usual feistiness and spirited support of her friend. With Taylor, Lou Ann feels comfortable articulating a disgust that until this point she kept secret. Previously, Lou Ann had tolerated the offensive strip club in silence, thinking of it as an unassailable part of her surroundings. Here, for the first time, she identifies her discomfort aloud, even identifying what particularly upsets her: the mural of a woman painted so that the door handle opens into the woman’s crotch. Kingsolver makes a point by including Fanny Heaven in her novel. The existence of the strip club suggests that the sexual violence or violent attacks suffered by women do not spring from nowhere, but are the byproduct of a society that objectifies and exploits women’s bodies.

4.
The whole Tucson Valley lay in front of us, resting in its cradle of mountains. The sloped desert plain that lay between us and the city was like a palm stretched out for a fortuneteller to read, with its mounds and hillocks, its life lines and heart lines of dry stream beds.

This description comes in Chapter Twelve, at the time of the first rain, when Mattie takes her young friends into the desert so they can see the natural world come to life. This quotation, typical of Kingsolver’s descriptions of the natural landscape, shows her consciousness of the environment. It also exemplifies Kingsolver’s use of unusual metaphors. By describing the landscape as the palm of a human hand, Kingsolver personifies the mountains and city. Her phrase “resting in its cradle of mountains” likens the valley to a baby, and the phrases “city like a palm” and “life lines and heart lines” suggest an adult. The land embodies a life lived from birth to death. Taylor falls in love with the Arizona land and sky, and her appreciation for nature in all its forms, with all its surprises, mirrors the values the novel espouses.

5.
It didn’t seem to matter to Turtle, she was happy where she was. . . . She watched the dark highway and entertained me with her vegetable-soup song, except that now there were people mixed in with the beans and potatoes: Dwayne Ray, Mattie, Esperanza, Lou Ann and all the rest. And me. I was the main ingredient.

These lines recount Taylor’s thoughts at the end of the novel, in Chapter Seventeen, as she and Turtle head back to Tucson. With this final scene, Kingsolver provides a mirror image of Taylor’s first trip to Tucson with Turtle, during which the little girl’s behavior was entirely different. On the first trip, Turtle remained so silent and motionless that Turtle wondered if she had died. On this trip, Turtle remains wide awake, happily babbling about her vegetables. Most important, Turtle now includes names of people in her vegetable-soup song. This marks a change, because in the beginning, Turtle could not connect with people or form ties to them. By adding names of people she knows to her babble, Turtle shows she has begun to recover from her history of abuse and has gained the ability to trust people. Most significant is that she identifies Taylor as the “main ingredient.” For a space of time, Turtle demonstrated her confusion about her caretakers by calling most women in her life “Ma.” Now, she identifies Taylor as her mother. The last sentence of this quotation reaffirms not only Turtle’s attachment to Taylor, but also Taylor’s happiness in hearing herself identified as the main ingredient, and her confidence in herself as a mother.

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