The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver Book Review
Barbara Kingsolver's book, The Bean Tree, follows Taylor Greer through her journey away from Kentucky. Taylor grew up in a small town in Kentucky and escaped the standards, which were the typical girl Taylors age would get pregnant and marry off, and she did not want that. She graduated college and continued working and saved up, and bought a car. Taylor then leaves her mom behind and sets on her way to find something better. Taylor then gets stuck with a Native American child, later naming her Turtle; she feels a sense of responsibility after finding out that the child had been abused. Taylor then continues and makes it to Oklahoma, where she ends up living with Lou Ann, who is also a single mom. She also meets a woman named Mattie, who owns a tire shop, and meets her when she was having car trouble. She then begins working for her and learns more about Mattie; she is a part of the sanctuary movement and is housing two refugees. Esperanza and Estevan have escaped from Guatemala. By the end of the book, Taylor accepted motherhood and goes to the Cherokee nation to try and find any family members left of Turtles. Taylor and Turtle go to the Cherokee nation to try and find any relatives of Turtles so she can legally adopt her. Esperanza and Estevan join Taylor and Turtle to go to a church group to move to a safer place to live and where they will blend in easier. Estevan and Esperanza find a safe place to live, and Tayor gets to adopt Turtle. Barbara Kingsolver did an excellent job breaking down severe and complex issues for a mainstream audience to understand. Immigration, women's identity, what makes a family, and abuse are the subjects she brought to life in The Bean Tree the way she develops characters makes the audience care.
Immigration is a focused subject that is displayed in Kingsolver's work, The Bean Tree. After Taylor leaves her hometown, she realizes the problems going on in the world around her; Immigrants are staying in the U.S. to escape bad situations in their home country. Taylor meets Estevan and Esperanza through Mattie, who is housing them until they find a safer place to live. "Those activities included bringing refugees to her facilities, giving them shelter, feeding and clothing them, and trying to help them recover from the emotional as well as the physical results of the horror they have undergone in Central America." (DeMarr). Since they do not have citizenship documentation, Estevan and Esperanza stay with Mattie and have jobs under the radar. Estevan and Esperanza escaped Guatemala after Esperanza's brother was killed, and their child, Isme, was taken by the people after the seventeen names of the Teacher Union they were a part of. All of the pain in Guatemala affected Esperanza and Estevan; Esperanza lost her brother and daughter. "The trauma of torture and the suffering caused by the loss of her child is so great that Esperanza eventually tries to kill herself. Taylor, not yet knowing what Esperanza has experienced, sees the act as a selfish one." (Bolton). The immigrants who have taken refuge in America are escaping these terrible events, and the audience is given an example through Estevan and Esperanza's story. This furthers the attention on the poorly and overworked immigrant system, these refugees risking more being in more trouble to escape these terrible situations going on in their home countries. "This is what I'm saying: in Guatemala, you are careful. If you want to change something, you can find yourself dead." (Kingsolver 143). There is nothing for refugees to do but flee their homes and hope they can find a safer place to live. Kingsolver shows the audience through Esperanza and Estevan's story that the immigration system in America needs to be fixed and needs awareness.
Kingsolver redefines the idea of family in, The Bean Tree by making the main characters find a family with one another through the community. Taylor first moves in with Lou Ann, and they seem to get along very well. After a while of living together, they become like a family. Lou Ann would stay home with the kids while Taylor would go to work. "By this time, Taylor and Lou Ann have begun to become a family, not just good friends who happen to live together and share the experience of rearing small children." (DeMarr) Lou Ann and Taylor get to share motherhood together, and since they have no men in their life, they have each other to help. Lou Ann begins to act like her surrogate sister, and they grew extremely close. "She gathers about her a circle of friends who will serve as a surrogate family for Turtle: her roommate, Lou Ann; her employer, Mattie; and Estevan and Esperanza, two of the illegal immigrants whom Mattie shelters." (Bolton). Mattie, the woman she works for to Taylor's, is her surrogate mother, always given her advice and even gave her a job. Kingsolver wants to show the audience that a family is a community, not just someone you are blood-related to. Without realizing Taylor had created her own family in Oklahoma and has people who care about her. Back in Kentucky, she had her mother, but that is the only person, she never had a group of friends, so this is new to her. She created a family with Lou Ann. "Somebody at work said, 'Do you have a family at home?' And I said, 'Sure,' without even thinking. I meant you all. Mainly I guess because we've been through hell and high water together." (Kingsolver 244) Kingsolver rewrites the definition of family through The Bean Tree and through Taylors newfound surrogate family shows the audience.
Kingsolver displays physical abuse and the long-term effects of it through one of the main characters. Her doing this brings greater attention to the audience who is building a connection with Turtle. Kingsolver includes the effects of the abuse on Turtle and the challenges she went through because of what happened to her. It shows a solid point for the audience to understand the subject of abuse. “The physical and sexual abuse Turtle had suffered, along with a generally unloving and neglectful environment, had led to her physical inability to grow and develop as well as to her delayed development and acquisition of other skills.” (DeMarr) Turtle was underdeveloped, making everyone think she was younger than she actually is. Also, from the abuse, her vocabulary and speech is underdeveloped. Kingsolver did an excellent job showing the audience the long-term effects on a child if they are abused. Turtle does begin to improve her speech and grow, but an event happens that sets her back. “Turtle hadn’t spoken once in the days since the incident and was back to her old ways. (Kingsolver 177)
Kingsolver adding that Turtle was set back brings the reality to what had happened to Turtle. Turtle does start talking again, and her vocabulary has improved tremendously from when the audience first meets Turtle. “Turtle reenacts the loss of her first mother by burying her doll, as Taylor grieves with her. Then Esperanza reenacts the loss of her.” (Novy) Turtle improved enough to tell Taylor what had happened to her mom. Turtles mom had died, and she watched the funeral and her getting married. Kingsolver touched on abuse in a great way, and by her making one of the main characters have this tragic story allows the audience to grow attachment and feel sadness.
Barbara Kingsolver did an excellent job breaking down severe and complex issues for a mainstream audience to understand. Immigration, women's identity, what makes a family, and abuse are the subjects she brought to life in The Bean Tree the way she develops characters makes the audience care. The way she used the main characters to show the problems she was addressing was a brilliant idea. This allowed the audience to become more attached with the characters, which make them care about the things that had happened to them. She easily could have talked about immagration as what was happened in that time period but she created characters and told a story. She did a excellent job using complex issues and breaking them down for the main stream audience.