The Bean Trees

Barbara Kingsolver

Chapters Eight–Nine

Summary Chapters Eight–Nine

Estevan talks about torture techniques used in Guatemala. He tells Taylor that the police use telephones to shock sensitive body parts with electricity. Estevan implies that Taylor has chosen to ignore these horrors, and she defends herself, saying she does not approve of America’s policies and often feels like a foreigner in Tucson, coming as she does from a place were “they use dirt for decoration and the national pastime is having babies.” Estevan tells her she does not know what Esperanza has lived through. He tells Taylor that he and Esperanza had a daughter named Ismene, who was taken in a raid on their old neighborhood. Estevan’s and Esperanza’s membership in the teacher’s union made them targets, because they knew twenty people in the union and the government wanted the names of those people. The government wanted to keep them alive since they had valuable information, so it took Ismene to bait Esperanza and Estevan into handing over the names. Esperanza and Estevan chose saving their fellow union members’ lives over getting their daughter back, and they fled to the United States. Estevan says that captured children such as Ismene get adopted by families who can afford to care for them—military or government couples. Taylor cries.

Turtle wakes up and joins them. Taylor sees herself, Turtle, Estevan, and the cat, and thinks about a family of paper dolls she had when she was little. She says she longed for the family the dolls had, which was so far beyond her grasp. She thinks that if the world were different, the four of them on the sofa could be the perfect Family of Dolls. Turtle goes back to bed, and Taylor and Estevan sleep on the couch. Estevan and Taylor curl up together in their sleep, but when Taylor wakes and thinks of all Esperanza has suffered, she kisses Estevan’s hand and goes to her own bed alone.

Analysis—Chapters Eight–Nine

In Chapter Eight, the motif of beauty springing from ugly places recurs. The chapter title, “The Miracle of Dog Doo Park,” refers to the blooming wisteria, which appears dead but one day sprouts beautiful flowers. Taylor remarks that the miracle satisfies her even more than the biblical story about water springing from a rock. The story she refers to takes place in the desert when God enables Moses to draw water from a rock to save the Israelites. Taylor and Lou Ann, like the Israelites, find themselves in the desert. Their miracle provides them not with the physical sustenance of water, however, but with the spiritual sustenance of beauty.

Lou Ann and Taylor continue to think of men in different ways. Lou Ann accuses Taylor of thinking “man was only put on this earth to keep urinals from going to waste,” and Taylor cannot come up with a man she respects other than Estevan. In contrast, Lou Ann demonstrates her traditional mindset about men and marriage. She flutters with excitement at the thought of Taylor’s mother’s impending marriage, and when asked if she would take Angel back, responds, “What else could I do? He’s my husband, isn’t he?”

In several ways, Taylor grows up in Chapter Nine. She finds out about the horror of Esperanza and Estevan’s past; she admits to herself her feelings for Estevan; she begins to think about men more objectively; she understands that compared to Esperanza, who has been through so much with her husband, she has no claim on Estevan.

Hearing the horrors of Estevan’s past creates a crisis for Taylor. For the first time, she truly comprehends the capacity for cruelty in the world. It seems as if we are meant to agree at least partially with Estevan’s idea that Taylor has chosen not to understand the horrors in other countries. We have seen in previous chapters that Taylor can ignore what it might pain her to understand. At the same time, her spirited self-defense rings true. She might be ignorant, but she has a good heart and can identify with the refugees’ feeling of being lost.