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The Bean Trees

Barbara Kingsolver

Chapters Fourteen–Fifteen

Chapters Twelve–Thirteen

Chapters Sixteen–Seventeen

Summary—Chapter Fourteen: Guardian Saints

Taylor, Esperanza, Estevan, and Turtle drive east toward Oklahoma. They must pass through a routine Immigration check in New Mexico. Because she is so nervous, Taylor hesitates when the officer asks who Turtle’s parents are. Estevan indicates that Turtle belongs to him and his wife. Taylor agrees with him that this tactic was best, but she feels a little hurt, as she does later when Turtle begins calling Esperanza “Ma.” Estevan tells Taylor that he and Esperanza are not Guatemalan but Mayan, and that their real names are Indian. Taylor marvels at the number of languages they speak. She recalls a moment when Esperanza showed her the St. Christopher medallion around her neck. St. Christopher is the guardian saint of refugees, and Taylor thinks that Stephen Foster, who wrote Kentucky’s state song, looks a little like the guardian saint.

Esperanza amuses Turtle in the backseat, singing to her while Estevan and Taylor talk in the front seat. Finally, the group arrives in Oklahoma, stopping at the Broken Arrow Motor Lodge, where Taylor stayed with Turtle. The owner, Mrs. Hoge, has died. Although Taylor offers to take Estevan and Esperanza to their new home right away, they want to stay with Taylor while she looks for Turtle’s relatives. In the car, Taylor overhears Esperanza call Turtle Ismene, and begins to worry. She misses Lou Ann. When Taylor locates the bar where the Indian woman gave Turtle to her, she finds that it has changed hands, and the current owners know nothing of Turtle’s relatives. The group eats lunch at the bar and before they leave, the girl working there tells Taylor that the Cherokee nation is not barren at all; she says most of it exists in the Ozark Mountains, which is filled with beautiful lakes. Taylor feels she owes her great grandfather an apology for misjudging the Cherokee Nation. Frustrated in her attempt to find Turtle’s relatives, Taylor begins to feel like she has come a long way for no reason. She asks Esperanza and Estevan if they’d like to go to the Lake o’ the Cherokees, a lake in the Ozarks, for a vacation, and they decide to go.

Summary—Chapter Fifteen: Lake o’ the Cherokees

As the group drives to the lake in the Cherokee Nation, Taylor, the only white person in the group, begins to feel like the odd one out. She notices marked changes in Estevan and Esperanza, who seem relaxed in this place where everyone looks like them. Taylor is happy to find she was wrong to assume that the Cherokee Nation is desolate—the place of her head rights is actually lush and mountainous. On the way to the lake, Taylor gets worried when Turtle looks out the window and shouts “Mama.” There is no woman in sight, just a gas station and a cemetery.

At the lake the group finds a cottage to stay in for a night. They spend the afternoon next to a stream, where Estevan picks flowers for Esperanza and Taylor. Taylor notes something in Esperanza “thawing”; Esperanza seems happy for the first time. In the afternoon, Estevan and Taylor rent a boat and go out on the lake. Thinking of Estevan’s imminent departure, Taylor cries. She tells him she will miss him. He does not say he will miss her, and Taylor realizes they are treading on dangerous ground. Estevan suggests that they make a wish. Instead of coins, they throw beer pop-tops into the lake, which Estevan calls “appropriate for American wishes.” Taylor makes two wishes, only one of which she can hope for. The implication is that Taylor wishes to keep Estevan and Turtle, although she can only truly hope to keep the girl.

Back at the shore, the group has a picnic lunch. Turtle buries her doll underneath a tree. Taylor begins to explain to her that while seeds grow, dolls do not. When Turtle looks at the pile of dirt and says “Mama,” Taylor understands that Taylor is remembering her biological mother’s burial and reenacting it with her doll. She tells Turtle it is terrible to lose your mother and asks Turtle if she knows her mother is gone forever. She tells Turtle she will try her best to keep Turtle forever. Turtle seems to understand. At the end of the chapter, Taylor asks Esperanza and Estevan if they will do her a favor, and they agree.

Analysis—Chapters Fourteen–Fifteen

The revelation that Esperanza and Estevan are descendants of the ancient Mayans changes the way Taylor sees their relationship with Turtle, because Turtle’s race, cultural history, and appearance make her a natural fit with Esperanza and Estevan, not with Taylor. Taylor feels hurt when she hears Esperanza singing to Turtle in Esperanza’s native language and when Estevan tells the immigration official that Turtle belongs to him. Not only does Turtle look like Estevan and Esperanza, but she also fills the hole left in their family by the disappearance of Ismene. Like them, too, Turtle can claim no permanent home. Estevan says he can no longer remember which place he misses most, for as a Mayan he has had multiple homes but does not really belong anywhere.

The St. Christopher medallion, which symbolizes hope for refugees, provides a small link between Taylor and Esperanza and Estevan. Taylor muses that the saint looks like Stephen Foster, the man who wrote the Kentucky state song, an association that suggests Taylor’s identification as a refugee. Just as Esperanza has St. Christopher, Taylor has Stephen Foster. Although her separation from home was neither forced nor severely disruptive, she nevertheless feels that she does not truly belong anywhere. She did not belong in Kentucky, and Arizona seems to be a temporary home. Everyone begins to feel more at home upon reaching the Cherokee Nation. Estevan and Esperanza feel relief at finding a place where people look like them, and Taylor seems to agree with the girl in the bar who defines the Cherokee Nation as a people, not a place. Taylor’s home has more to do with her daughter than with geography.

Turtle symbolically buries her past life when she buries her doll. Kingsolver implies that the circumstances surrounding Turtle’s mother’s death and burial were terrifying, and here Turtle reenacts the scene not with a feeling of terror, but one of calm control. She feels herself safe with Taylor, and she orchestrates a peaceful burial for her doll, a stand-in for her mother. This cathartic burial, possible only in Turtle’s homeland, suggests that she now belongs more fully to Taylor.

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