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The Bean Trees

Barbara Kingsolver

Chapters Five–Six

Chapter Four: Tug Fork Water

Chapter Seven: How They Eat in Heaven

Summary—Chapter Five: Harmonious Space

After meeting Sandi at Burger Derby, Taylor gets a job there. While they work, Taylor and Sandi leave their children at the free baby-sitting service the mall provides for mall patrons, and they take turns checking on the kids to make it look as if they are shopping. After only six days of working at the Burger Derby, Taylor quarrels with her boss and gets fired. Worried about her dwindling funds, Taylor looks through the papers for people advertising a room for rent and finds two promising ads. The first place she visits belongs to three new-age hippies named Fei, La-Isha, and Timothy. La-Isha lectures Taylor on the dangers of hot dogs after hearing that Turtle eats them, and Fei explains that the house is a soy-milk collective and each household member must spend seven hours a week straining curd. Taylor goes to the second listing, which turns out to be Lou Ann’s house. Within minutes of meeting, the two women are laughing hysterically about the soy-milk collective crowd. They talk easily about their Kentucky origins and their children. Taylor tells Lou Ann the story of Turtle, and Lou Ann introduces Dwayne Ray. When Taylor asks if she can move in, Lou Ann is overjoyed. Lou Ann tells Taylor she worried that Taylor and Turtle were too smart and cute for her and Dwayne Ray, who just scrape by. Taylor tells Lou Ann to stop thinking that everyone is better than she is, saying, “I’m just a plain hillbilly from East Jesus Nowhere with this adopted child that everybody keeps on telling me is dumb as a box of rocks.” At this speech, Lou Ann smiles and says happily that Taylor talks just like she does.

Chapter Six: Valentine’s Day

The first frost comes to Tucson on Valentine’s Day, and Mattie’s beans freeze. Mattie wants Taylor to work at Jesus Is Lord Used Tires, and although Taylor loves Mattie, witnessing the accident that killed Newt Hardbine’s father left her with a fear of tires. Finally, she agrees to work for Mattie. As part of the deal, Mattie gives Taylor two free back tires for her car. One day, Taylor confesses her fear, and Mattie calms Taylor a little by explaining that tire explosions are relative to their size and that tractor tires explode more dramatically than the car tires her store services. Lou Ann watches Turtle and Dwayne Ray while Taylor works. Taylor learns that many Spanish-speaking people live with Mattie. Mattie likens her house to a sanctuary, and when Taylor says she has heard of bird sanctuaries, Mattie says her house is similar, but it is for people.

Taylor, in a bad mood, realizes she dislikes the idea that she and Lou Ann are acting like an old married couple—Taylor goes to work, and Lou Ann cooks and takes care of the kids. Over a beer, Taylor asks Lou Ann to stop doing her favors. The two women keep drinking and talking, and after a while Lou Ann realizes she is drunk. She tells Taylor that she never drinks for fear of doing something awful in front of her friends. Once, she and Angel and another couple went out to the desert to look at shooting stars. Lou Ann got drunk. The next day, Angel asked if she remembered the meteor shower they had seen, and she didn’t remember it. She worries that Angel left her because she got drunk that night. Taylor says that perhaps Angel was trying to trick Lou Ann and the meteor shower never existed, a possibility Lou Ann never considered. Taylor tells Lou Ann her philosophy about men, which she picked up from instructions on installing a toilet part. The instructions on the package said, “Parts are included for all installations, but no installation requires all of the parts.” Taylor does not believe a man exists who could use all the parts of her personality. Lou Ann howls with laughter. The two women stay up, laughing and talking, and Lou Ann tells Taylor that if something was bothering Angel, he would never stay up late with her just to eat and talk together.

Analysis—Chapters Five–Six

Fei, La-Isha, and Timothy strike Taylor as both ludicrous and enjoyable. Their solemnity makes her feel like a naughty child. When she hears that living in the house involves straining curd for seven hours a week, she thinks to herself, “Flaming nurd. Raining turds.” Taylor seems to come from a different world than the one these three people inhabit, a contrast that makes Taylor’s similarity to Lou Ann all the more striking and comforting. Taylor and Lou Ann inhabit precisely the same world, one of Kentucky roots and single motherhood. Taylor and Lou Ann’s meeting seems inevitable and perfect, much like an updated version of the meeting of two star-crossed lovers in traditional romantic fiction. The fact that Taylor finds Lou Ann through an ad in the newspaper implies that fate brought them together, and by alternating chapters, focusing first on Taylor and then on Lou Ann, Kingsolver has built up our expectations that eventually the two women will meet.

In Chapter Six, Mattie acts as a positive presence in Taylor’s life. The description of Mattie’s garden suggests that beauty can come from ugliness. Although frost has killed the garden, something good comes of it: Mattie picks the green tomatoes so that the frost would not get them, and she makes delicious green-tomato pies. Mattie continues to be a mother figure to Taylor. Just as Taylor’s mother, Alice Greer, pushed Taylor to work at the hospital and insisted that Taylor understand cars before leaving home, Mattie pushes Taylor to work at the tire shop and insists that Taylor understand her own fear of tires so that she can overcome it.

Whereas in Chapter Five Kingsolver emphasizes the similarities between Taylor and Lou Ann, in Chapter Six she begins to draw attention to their differences. Taylor does not worry much, but Lou Ann collects newspaper stories about freak disasters and then worries that one of them will befall her loved ones. Taylor can leave Turtle all day without fear, but Lou Ann must watch over her baby at all times. Still, their differences in some ways make them a good match, which makes Taylor’s sudden disapproval of their agreement surprising. Because Taylor has no real reason to reject the mutually beneficial relationship she has with Lou Ann, Kingsolver may be suggesting that Taylor’s real problem is a fear of attachment. She is growing close to Lou Ann, and it scares her.

The female characters continue to think badly of men. Taylor correctly assumes the worst about Angel. Regarding herself, she asserts that no man can ever fully appreciate her. Lou Ann expresses confidence in men, but Kingsolver portrays this confidence as misguided and naïve, in contrast to Taylor’s smart cynicism. After Taylor explains her theory of male inadequacy to Lou Ann, Lou Ann admits that Angel never would have stayed up late with her, talking and eating. Kingsolver portrays this willingness to value female interaction over male-female interaction as a positive step for Lou Ann.

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