full title The Bean Trees
author Barbara Kingsolver
type of work Novel
genre Journey or quest novel
time and place written Tucson, Arizona; 1986–1987
date of first publication 1988
narrator Most of the chapters are narrated by Taylor Greer, but Chapters Two and Four, which introduce Lou Ann, are narrated by an anonymous, omniscient narrator
point of view For the most part, the story is told from Taylor’s point of view, and we are privy to her thoughts and feelings. Chapters Two and Four are written from a limited omniscient perspective, from which the narrator explains Lou Ann’s thinking.
tone Folksy, poetic, humorous
tense Immediate past
setting (time) Early 1980s
setting (place) The novel opens in rural Kentucky. Taylor travels across the country to Tucson, Arizona, where she settles. At the end of the novel, she takes a trip to Oklahoma before returning to Tucson.
protagonist Taylor Greer
major conflict Taylor tries to accept the responsibility of caring for another person and to understand the plight of political refugees
rising action Taylor receives Turtle, grows close to Mattie and Lou Ann, and learns the story of Estevan and Esperanza
climax Taylor decides to fight to keep Turtle and to risk her own safety for Estevan and Esperanza
falling action Estevan and Esperanza pretend to be Turtle’s biological parents so that Taylor may adopt the little girl legally; Taylor delivers Estevan and Esperanza to their new home; Taylor and Turtle head back home to Tucson.
themes The shared burden of womanhood; the plight of illegal immigrants; respect for the environment
motifs Rebirth; motherhood
symbols Beans and bean trees; Ismene; birds
foreshadowing The postcard with two Indian women on it, which Taylor sends to her mother, foreshadows Taylor and Turtle’s relationship. The snake in the desert foreshadows the prowler that attacks Turtle. The survival of the bird that is trapped in the house foreshadows Turtle’s recovery.