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The Bean Trees

Barbara Kingsolver

Chapter Four: Tug Fork Water

Chapters Two–Three

Chapters Five–Six

Summary

Lou Ann’s paternal Grandmother Logan and mother, Ivy, have come from Kentucky to visit Lou Ann and her new baby, Dwayne Ray, who was born on the first of January. Angel has agreed to move back in until the mother and grandmother leave in order to keep up an appearance of marital happiness. Granny Logan keeps the curtains shut all the time, saying that hot weather in January will harm the baby. Lou Ann asks her mother if Granny Logan always lived with Lou Ann’s mother and father. Her mother tells her that Granny Logan didn’t live with them, they lived with her. Lou Ann’s mother says she never wanted to move out and get a place alone with her husband, because she would have been frightened being alone.

Granny Logan complains about the heat in Tucson and accuses Lou Ann of putting on airs. From her purse, she pulls a Coke bottle filled with cloudy water. It is water from the Tug Fork River, where Lou Ann was baptized, and Granny instructs Lou Ann to baptize Dwayne Ray with it. The two older women depart for Kentucky, and Lou Ann imagines going back to Kentucky with them, sitting on the bus between the two constantly feuding women. On the way home from the bus stop, Lou Ann stops to buy some tomatoes from Bobby Bingo. Lou Ann surprises herself by telling him Angel has left her. She thinks about how she kept up a false appearance all week for her mother and grandmother and finds it hard to believe she divulged her secret to a man she hardly knows. At home again, Lou Ann nurses Dwayne Ray and tries to remember her own baptism. Angel comes home, and when Lou Ann smells beer on his breath, she thinks of all the places he frequents of which she knows nothing. He picks up a few of his things. When he sees the bottle of Tug Fork water in the bathroom, Angel asks Lou Ann what it is and then pours it down the drain after hearing that it is Kentucky water for Dwayne Ray’s baptism.

Analysis

Chapter Four dramatizes Lou Ann’s desire to both live in familiar surroundings with her family and to live with the absent Angel. Lou Ann’s mother and grandmother annoy her, but she feels sad to see them go. Angel has left her, and she feels tempted to fall back on her provincial, comfortable childhood. Still, she recognizes that she has become more sophisticated than her relatives, who call Angel a heathen because he is Mexican and express no interest in seeing Arizona. Although the presence of Granny Logan and Ivy comforts Lou Ann, she realizes that she cannot live with them again. She decides to stay in Tucson, and this choice represents a commitment to experiencing the world and living independently. Her decision to stay in Tucson represents one of many similarities Lou Ann shares with Taylor. Like Taylor, Lou Ann finds herself suddenly alone with a child, committed to staying out of Kentucky and sentimental about the mother she loves and honors.

In this chapter, Kingsolver underscores the solidity of the bonds between women. Lou Ann’s grandmother and mother annoy, nag, and criticize her, but they are a more reliable presence in her life than Angel is. When Angel returns to the house, the narrator says, “it struck her that his presence was different from the feeling of a woman filling up the house. He could be there, or not, and it hardly made any difference.” This indifference about a man’s presence echoes Ivy’s words; Ivy tells Lou Ann that she would have felt all alone had she moved out of her mother-in-law’s house. When Lou Ann points out that she wouldn’t have been alone, but with her husband, Ivy reacts as if she had never thought of her husband as company. To Ivy, the companionship of a quarrelsome, grumpy mother-in-law means more than the companionship of a man.

The Tug Fork water becomes associated with Lou Ann, symbolizing her connection to her family. When Granny Logan pulls it out of her bag, she conjures up an image of Lou Ann’s baptism. Baptism implies an initiation into a community, a sign that one belongs to a family of people. The presence of the baptismal water and Lou Ann’s recollection of her baptism suggest a symbolic renewal of her membership into a community of women.

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