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The Bean Trees

Barbara Kingsolver

Chapters Two–Three

Chapter One: The One to Get Away

Chapter Four: Tug Fork Water

Summary—Chapter Two: New Year’s Pig

The narrative voice shifts from Taylor to that of an anonymous, omniscient narrator who introduces us to Lou Ann Ruiz, a Kentuckian living in Tucson, Arizona. Lou Ann is pregnant, and as the chapter opens, her husband, Angel, has just left her. Three years earlier, Angel lost the lower half of his leg in a car accident. When Lou Ann got pregnant, she stopped having sex with him. Convinced that his amputation repulsed Lou Ann, Angel accused her of wanting to sleep with other people. Lou Ann feels that Angel no longer likes her or anyone else.

The narrator describes Halloween, the day on which Angel leaves Lou Ann. Lou Ann goes to the doctor and, while in the waiting room, hopes that her child will not be born on Christmas. She has negative associations with the day, since Angel lost his leg on Christmas. Moreover, she does not want her baby to feel robbed of his own special birthday, which he might if it fell on a holiday. The doctor informs Lou Ann that she must lose weight. She takes the bus home, enjoying the novelty of personal space. Because of her pregnancy, men no longer make suggestive remarks or brush up against her. She gets off the bus and walks past Jesus Is Lord Used Tires, a store featuring a large painted mural of Jesus with a tire dangling below him. Next to the tire store is Fanny Heaven, a nightclub and pornography shop. Lou Ann stops at Lee Sing Market to buy diet food. Lee Sing, the owner, predicts Lou Ann will have a girl. Lee Sing says having a girl is like feeding the neighbor’s New Year pig—all your care goes into something that will end up with another family. Offended, Lou Ann thinks that even though she proved Lee Sing right by leaving her native Kentucky, her brother also left.

At home, Lou Ann realizes that Angel has left her. She observes what he left behind and what he took with him, and she thinks that his choices reveal more about him than she learned in nearly five years of marriage. He took beer mugs, a picture of himself at the rodeo, and the television, but he left behind all the kitchen things and sheets and blankets. Children come to her door and for a moment frighten her until she remembers it is Halloween. When Lou Ann goes to bed, her feet are so swollen she cannot get her shoes off. She weeps.

Summary—Chapter Three: Jesus Is Lord Used Tires

Taylor stays through Christmas at the hotel in Oklahoma, helping Mrs. Hoge with the chores and earning a little money. She has named the baby Turtle because of its firm grip. Around New Year’s Day, Taylor and Turtle leave the hotel and start driving. When they reach Arizona, the topography and sky seem so surreal to Taylor that she decides to stay there. It begins to hail, and Taylor pulls off the highway in Tucson. A man points out that she has two flat tires. A few blocks down the road, Taylor finds Jesus Is Lord Used Tires. There she meets Mattie, the kind older woman who runs the place. Mattie tells Taylor that Taylor’s two back tires are shot. Taylor cannot afford new ones. To cheer up Taylor, Mattie invites her and Turtle inside and gives Taylor coffee and Turtle apple juice and crackers. Mattie drinks from a mug decorated with pictures of rabbits having sex, and Taylor puzzles over this lack of prudery in someone who owns a shop called Jesus Is Lord Used Tires. Mattie explains that she and her late husband opened the place and that he was a fanatical Christian. A priest stops by. An Indian family sits in his station wagon. He seems nervous and leaves quickly.

Taylor marvels at Mattie, this woman who understands cars and runs her own business, and thinks that in her hometown such a woman would be scorned and ignored. Mattie takes Taylor and Turtle out to the back of the house, where they see her amazing and unusual garden, which is filled with flowers, vegetables, and car parts, including an entire Thunderbird minus the wheels. Mattie shows Taylor her purple beans, the seeds of which she received from the Chinese woman next door, who vows they are descendants of seeds she brought from China in 1907.

Tucson feels like a foreign country to Taylor, and the city seems years ahead of Kentucky. She and Turtle stay in the cheap Hotel Republic downtown. One day she ventures into a museum filled with modern, nonrepresentational sculptures made of sand. Another day, she asks about a job at the hospital, but she is turned away. She meets a friendly woman named Sandi who works at Burger Derby and has a baby boy. Sandi loves the Kentucky Derby, and it thrills her that Taylor comes from Kentucky.

Analysis—Chapters Two–Three

In Chapter Two, the narrator allows us a glimpse into the thoughts of one character, Lou Ann, but does not reveal the thoughts of any other characters. This type of narration can be labeled either limited omniscient or subjective. The chapter begins with the narrator informing us that Lou Ann comes from Kentucky. This fact gives us an immediate reason to identify Lou Ann with Taylor, who also comes from Kentucky. As the chapter continues, however, the narrator’s presentation of Lou Ann’s character reveals that Lou Ann differs markedly from Taylor. Unlike Taylor, Lou Ann worries incessantly. She worries about Angel, she worries that her baby will be born on Christmas day, and she worries about the truth of Lee Sing’s axiom about girls.

The narrator presents Angel as a wounded, proud man, asking us to simultaneously understand his insecurity about his leg and hurt pride over Lou Ann’s refusal to sleep with him, and to condemn his abandonment of the pregnant Lou Ann. Angel weakens Lou Ann. When she argues with him, she feels “her bones were made of . . . the rubber in a Gumby doll.” Still, Lou Ann emerges from this chapter as a character with some backbone. In fact, her greatest moment of power comes when she ventures out by herself. She enjoys the fact that men leave her in peace because of her pregnancy. On the bus, she relaxes, feeling as if she has a “magic circle” around her that no one can penetrate.

Taylor’s reaction to Tucson demonstrates her unique way of perceiving the world. To Taylor, a Kentuckian who has left her home county for the first time, Arizona seems so surreal that it makes her laugh aloud. The similes that Taylor uses to describe the land and sky make the images clear, but they also communicate the unique way Taylor takes in her surroundings. She describes the pink clouds as “hippo ballerinas in a Disney movie” and compares the rock structures to mating potato bugs and dinosaur droppings. Taylor’s reaction to this place allows us to see a different side of her character. The novel has already established her grit and sense of humor, and here it establishes her sense of adventure. It becomes clear that Taylor heads west not to find beauty, but to find something strange and interesting.

Taylor gently pokes fun at religion. The names Jesus Is Lord Used Tires and 1-800-THE-LORD tickle Taylor because they use God to sell commercial products. Another mild subversion of religion is Mattie’s garden, reminiscent of a topsy-turvy Garden of Eden. In the biblical Garden, man, woman, and beast grew alongside one another. In Mattie’s garden, car parts, or man-made artifacts, exist alongside God’s creations, the flowers and vegetables. Mattie’s garden also reaffirms the importance of setting. Only in Tucson, Kingsolver suggests, could purple beans and tomatoes grow out of an old Thunderbird in the middle of January.

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