The Bean Trees

Barbara Kingsolver
Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title  The Bean Trees

author  Barbara Kingsolver

type of work  Novel

genre  Journey or quest novel

language  English

time and place written  Tucson, Arizona; 19861987

date of first publication  1988

publisher  HarperCollins

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.