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The Bean Trees

Barbara Kingsolver

Chapters Ten–Eleven

Chapters Eight–Nine

Chapters Twelve–Thirteen

Summary—Chapter Ten: The Bean Trees

Turtle shook her head. “Bean trees,” she said, as plainly as if she had been thinking about it all day. . . . It was another miracle. The flower trees were turning into bean trees.

(See Important Quotations Explained)

The morning after Esperanza’s suicide attempt, Taylor feels more optimistic. She hears birds singing and talks with Lou Ann about their calls. The house where she and Lou Ann live is becoming more like a household composed of two women and their children and less like a space Angel left behind. Lou Ann returns from a reunion with the Ruizes, Angel’s family. She happily recounts that Angel’s entire family, including his mother, thinks him the meanest of the bunch. It seems they still consider Lou Ann part of their family. Lou Ann and Taylor take the children to Roosevelt Park. They sit under the wisteria arbor. Turtle looks up at the vines and says, “bean trees.” Taylor follows her eyes to see that the flowers on the wisteria vine have gone to seed, producing green pods that look just like beans. Taylor considers it another miracle that these flowers have turned to beans.

After the trip to the park, Taylor goes into Lee Sing’s grocery, where Edna Poppy is shopping. Edna, who is holding a white cane, asks Taylor to tell her if she is holding lemons or limes. With a start, Taylor realizes that Edna is blind. A number of odd facts suddenly make sense to Taylor. Edna always wears red because it makes dressing easier, Virgie Parsons always announces everyone’s name when the two walk into a room so Edna will know who is present, and Edna looks over people’s heads when she talks to them because she can only look in the general direction of their voices.

Taylor goes to visit Esperanza, who is staying at Mattie’s house. During the visit, Esperanza stays quiet, and Taylor chatters, trying to say the right thing. She tells Esperanza she loves her name, which means both hope and wait, and that Esperanza reminds her of Turtle because both understand everything people say even though people forget they are listening. Taylor tells her she is sorry for Esperanza’s lost child and that she hopes Esperanza will never give up hope. Toward the end of the conversation, Esperanza begins to cry, and Taylor feels that tears are better than the emptiness that filled Esperanza’s eyes when Taylor first arrived. On the way home, Taylor runs into Lou Ann, who has been out looking for jobs. Lou Ann tells her about an interview for a job at a convenience store, where the man called her “sweetheart” and stared at her breasts. As they walk home, they pass by Fanny Heaven, and Lou Ann expresses her disgust at the strip joint, especially the door handle that pushes into a painting of a woman’s crotch. Taylor tells her to stop ignoring the door and “talk back to it.”

Chapter Eleven: Dream Angels

Lou Ann gets a job at the Red Hot Mama’s salsa factory, where she puts her heart and soul into her work. Although the factory reminds Taylor of a sweatshop, Lou Ann loves her job and brings home all kinds of salsa and new recipes. Lou Ann stops making disparaging remarks about her own body. She works an evening shift, so Taylor usually puts the children to bed, and then the two women eat a late supper together when Lou Ann gets home. One evening, they talk about Lou Ann’s tendency to worry. Lou Ann tells Taylor that she had a dream right after Dwayne Ray was born. In the dream, an angel came to her and told her that Dwayne Ray would not live to see the year 2000. According to Lou Ann, her own and Dwayne Ray’s horoscopes supported this premonition. Since then, Lou Ann has been terrified that Dwayne Ray will die. Since girlhood, Lou Ann has feared death. As a child, she and her brother played a game in which they imagined themselves older, but she refused to dream past her teenage years, scared that she would imagine herself dead. Lou Ann recognizes her thoughts as irrational and berates herself, but Taylor tells her that her tendency to worry also makes her a caring, careful person and mother.

Angel sends a box of presents: a hair clip for Lou Ann and a pair of boots for Dwayne Ray. He also sends a letter saying he misses Lou Ann and wants her and Dwayne Ray to come live in his yurt (domed tent) with him. Lou Ann debates what to do. She feels flattered that he misses her, but she cares about her new responsibilities at the factory, where she has been promoted to floor manager. Taylor fears that Lou Ann will go live with Angel. Lou Ann’s possible departure and Esperanza and Estevan’s troubles upset Taylor. Mattie is worried that Estevan and Esperanza will be deported. In Guatemala, the government would almost certainly assassinate them. They could stay in the U.S. if they could prove their lives were in danger when they left Central America, but they do not have any documents to prove their case.

Analysis—Chapters Ten–Eleven

Again, Kingsolver returns to the idea that beauty springs from barren places. When Turtle sees the wisteria flower gone to seed and the long pods falling from the branches, she calls the wisteria “bean trees.” The metamorphosis of flowers into beans is nothing less than a miracle to Taylor. New life seems to burgeon in Lou Ann, too. When she and Taylor talk about the birdcalls, Lou Ann insists, over Taylor’s objections, that the birdcall sounds like “who cooks for who.” Pleased, Taylor thinks that this marks the first time Lou Ann has stuck to her own opinion. As small as this moment seems, it represents the beginnings of change in Lou Ann. She feels more confident and less inclined to bow to the opinions of others. This confidence mounts at the end of the chapter, when she and Taylor pass by Fanny Heaven. The strip club always disgusted Lou Ann, but for the first time she voices her opinions aloud. She also tells Taylor about her annoyance at the leering man who interviewed her while staring at her breasts. For the first time, Lou Ann has an encouraging, spunky woman to listen to her, and in response she begins to speak up.

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.”

(See Important Quotations Explained)

In Chapter Eleven, Lou Ann fully comprehends that Angel has left for good and that she must go on without him and support her family. The fact that she loves the factory where she works despite its unpleasantness suggests that earning money gives Lou Ann a needed sense of purpose. Because of her new job, Lou Ann stops reading disaster stories and criticizing herself. As Taylor says, the job seems to iron out some of Lou Ann’s “wrinkled edges.” Just as Lou Ann begins to gain self-confidence and self-reliance, however, Angel sends word that he misses her and wants to be with her again. The package he sends indicates his unfamiliarity with his family: the boots are far too big for Dwayne Ray, and Lou Ann’s hair is too short for clips.

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