The Bean Trees

by: Barbara Kingsolver

Chapter Seven: How They Eat in Heaven

Summary Chapter Seven: How They Eat in Heaven

Chapter Seven makes explicit Mattie’s role as an activist for illegal immigrants and refugees. Clues from previous chapters hinted at her work: Spanish-speaking people constantly staying in her house, a hurried priest with an Indian family waiting in his car, Mattie’s explanation to Taylor that she operates a human sanctuary. It now becomes clear to us that Mattie not only works for immigrants’ rights, she hides illegal immigrants in her house. The novel takes a political stance, portraying Mattie’s work as good and heroic. Edna and Virgie do not understand Mattie’s remarks, perhaps deliberately: Virgie harbors very conservative views on immigrants and twists Mattie’s ideas in order to hear what she wants to hear. Neither does Taylor fully comprehend what Mattie says, a failure that Kingsolver does not excuse. Because Kingsolver makes the nature and nobility of Mattie’s work clear to the reader, Taylor’s failure to grasp it seems perplexing and possibly willful. Kingsolver lets us wonder if Taylor decides not to understand because the topic scares or upsets her. Estevan’s story of heaven and hell continues this political commentary. As he tells the story, he glowers at Virgie, conveying his disapproval of her views on immigrants. She thinks immigrants should fend for themselves and Americans should not help them, just as the hell-dwellers in Estevan’s story think only of helping themselves.