Taylor, Turtle, Esperanza, and Estevan leave from Mattie’s. Mattie reassures Taylor but seems nervous. She implies that Taylor is a hero for risking her own safety, and she looks at Taylor as Alice, Taylor’s mother, used to. Once on the road, they pass a dead blackbird. Taylor thinks to brake but realizes that stopping for a dead bird does not do any good.
Kingsolver links the beauty of the land to Native American values, suggesting that Native Americans have an admirable appreciation for the natural world. The characters pay homage to Native American tradition when they experience the magical first rain. Taylor’s growing knowledge of the land and the natural world reflects her growing understanding of Native American identity. Her delight at the rain also reflects the novel’s major theme: joy results from finding beauty in the midst of ugliness. In Chapter Twelve, the rain explodes onto the barren desert, thrilling the onlookers.
The two stories in Chapter Twelve, the story of the rain and the story of Turtle’s attack, are linked by the snake. After the rain ends, the group sees a snake trying to find birds’ eggs. This encounter foreshadows their discovery that Turtle, who is often associated with birds, has been attacked by an evil man, represented by the snake. The literal snake-and-bird encounter becomes metaphoric, as a silent assailant attacks the birdlike Turtle. Kingsolver employs more bird symbolism at the end of the chapter, when a bird gets caught inside the house. The plight of the panicky, trapped bird symbolizes Turtle’s trauma. Taylor stresses the connection between the bird and Turtle when she confuses the two situations, thinking that the terrible event everyone is talking about concerns the trapped bird, when they are actually talking about Turtle. The fact that the bird appears dead echoes Turtle’s reversion into a nearly catatonic state. Simultaneously, however, the nearly dead appearance of the bird is hopeful, since the bird survives and goes back into the “terrible night.” Taylor demonstrates both the depth of her love for Turtle and the persistence of her immaturity. The attack on Turtle clearly disturbs her—she sinks into a depression because of it—but she also pulls away from Turtle in Turtle’s hour of need. She is inexperienced, feeling that because she cannot prevent bad things from happening to Turtle, she is not a good mother.
In these chapters, the usually feisty Taylor becomes depressed, and the usually meek Lou Ann becomes bold. As Taylor learns more about mothering and the injustices of the world, she becomes less sure of herself and more disillusioned with the world. When she remembers her show of bravery in front of Mattie, she realizes she feels too tired and old to feign bravery anymore. Taylor’s grit seems to have rubbed off on Lou Ann, however, so that when Taylor has to face hardship, Lou Ann toughens her up, fighting on Turtle’s behalf and scolding Taylor for her lassitude. Kingsolver creates a community of women characters who continually bolster each other. When Lou Ann and Taylor support one another in the midst of their role reversal, they illustrate the usefulness of female friendship. Mattie supports Taylor too; talking to Mattie is what begins to pull Taylor out of her depression. Taylor has felt like a failed mother, but Mattie comforts her by explaining that no parent can hope to protect her child from the world. This assurance heartens Taylor, and she regains her energy, deciding to go to Oklahoma to save Estevan and Esperanza and do all she can to keep Turtle.