The Bean Trees

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The Bean Trees Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Turtle continues to call, “mama!” at cemeteries as they drive Estevan and Esperanza to the new Sanctuary church where they will be staying. The church is cheerful and well-kept, and the Reverend and his wife are happy to see the travelers.
Turtle references her mother at every graveyard they pass, suggesting that the first graveyard was not the actual site where her birth mother was buried. Turtle and Taylor are both finally comfortable with Turtle’s past.
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Turtle has fallen asleep, but Taylor insists that they wake her up for a last goodbye, so that Turtle knows that the couple has gone to a safe place. Turtle groggily waves and the adults also seemed dazed by the farewell. Taylor is afraid for the new life that Estevan and Esperanza will have to build, but Estevan insists that they will survive like they always have. Taylor feels that leaving them is the first true loss she has experienced, and she doesn’t like it.
Taylor wants to give Turtle as much closure as possible to make up for the instability of her early years. This goodbye is equally important for Taylor, who wants to make sure that she is leaving her “family” in safe hands. Taylor takes Estevan’s advice, approaching this first loss with the grace that he has always shown even though she is falling apart inside.
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Taylor asks Estevan to write when he can, sending letters through Mattie. Estevan tells Taylor to imagine him and Esperanza in Guatemala, happy with another baby on the way. Taylor asks if Esperanza had a catharsis in the adoption office, truly believing that she had found a safe place for Ismene. Estevan just tells Taylor that they all have to build the best world they can, and he kisses Taylor once. He then walks into the church and Taylor thinks that she too has buried a loved one in Oklahoma.
Taylor hopes not to actually say goodbye to her family, asking Estevan to stay in touch. Yet Estevan reminds her that they are lucky to get to say goodbye at all. Again, it is better to hope for the best for each other rather than worrying about the bad things that might happen. Estevan may not have died, but Taylor still feels that she has said a permanent goodbye, as Esperanza said to Ismene and Turtle to her birth mother.
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Taylor calls her mother from a pay phone, the first time she’s called since Taylor found out that her mother was getting married. Taylor’s mother is happy to hear from her, and can tell that she is upset about something. Taylor confesses that she just lost someone she was in love with. Her mother reassures her that she will find another love, when she least expects it. Taylor finally tells her mother that she is happy she got married.
Now that Taylor is officially Turtle’s mother, she starts to mend the rift that had formed between her and her own mother. Their bond remains as close as ever, especially now that Taylor better understands how her mother must have felt saying goodbye to a man she loved for Taylor’s sake. Taylor finally lets her mother’s husband into their family.
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Taylor’s mother breaks more surprising news: she has retired from cleaning houses and told off all of her snobby, rich customers. Taylor laughs at the thought of her mother revealing all of these snotty women’s secrets. Taylor’s mother asks after Turtle, and comments again how much Turtle acts like Taylor’s blood daughter. Taylor’s mother says that kids will grow up into what people expect of them, just like Newt Hardbine did. In the few minutes they have left on the pay phone, Taylor tells her mother that she has officially adopted Turtle, and her mother promises that she and her new husband will come visit Arizona soon.
Even though Taylor’s mother is taking on the traditional feminine role of a wife, she is also letting go of the domestic task of house cleaning. She still remains the independent woman that Taylor looks up to. Taylor’s mother also reinforces that Turtle belongs in their family as well, even before she hears the news of Turtle’s adoption. Taylor’s mother reminds Taylor of the great responsibility she has: to always expect the best out of Turtle so that Turtle can live up to these dreams just like Taylor did.
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Turtle and Taylor stay in Oklahoma City waiting for the adoption papers to be finished. Turtle plays with her new St. Christopher medallion and Taylor tries not to think about Estevan. She and Turtle have their second “real” conversation (the first being about Turtle’s mother at the Lake of the Cherokees) about the fact that Taylor is now Turtle’s real mother in every sense of the word. Many people love Turtle, including Lou Ann, Mattie, Estevan, and Esperanza, but Taylor loves her best of all.
Turtle’s St. Christopher medallion reinforces how Turtle has finally found a permanent home that cannot be disrupted by any state organization. Taylor explicitly tells Turtle that she is her mother now, as she was always emotionally and practically Turtle’s mother but now is also Turtle’s legal mother. Turtle’s family is important, but her most important family bond is her mother.
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Taylor calls 1-800-THE-LORD on a whim from the Oklahoma City library. The phone number is simply an attempt to solicit donations to the Fountain of Faith missionary fund. Taylor feels freed once she gets off the line, and she and Turtle go to the local public library and look through all the horticulture books.
Taylor calls 1-800-THE-LORD only now that she is no longer in danger of needing drastic help. She is a survivor and she knows that she can take care of herself and Turtle through any disaster now.
Themes
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Turtle finds a picture of the wisteria vines she calls bean trees. The book says that wisteria vines actually thrive in poor soil thanks to a bug called rhizobia that helps create fertilizer for the plant. Taylor compares this arrangement to an Underground Railroad for plants, just like human communities pull together to support each other.
Turtle’s intelligence shines through now that she has a stable home to flourish in. The wisteria vines have always been a symbol for how Turtle thrived despite her poor start to life, but it now has the extra dimension of the rhizobia. Turtle’s growth depends on her family, just as every child’s does.
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At 4 pm, Taylor and Turtle go to the courthouse to get the adoption papers. They wait in a room full of typing secretaries and Taylor is nervous that the whole thing will fall through. She calls Lou Ann, and Lou Ann tells her that she has decided not to go back to Angel, on the advice of Angel’s mother. Lou Ann also tells Taylor that she finally found out that Angel made up the meteor shower that he teased her about for years. Lou Ann is now dating a Rastafarian man from the salsa factory. The new boyfriend is huge and has a huge dog, but he is very sweet with Dwayne Ray and Lou Ann is very happy.
When Taylor is nervous, she turns to Lou Ann for comfort, as a sign of how close these two women have become. Lou Ann returns that trust, finally choosing to stay in Tucson rather than running off with Angel. Lou Ann’s new relationship is a sign that Lou Ann is finally confident enough to think that she is worthy of love from someone who is not emotionally manipulative like Angel, and who treats her with respect.
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Lou Ann confesses that she told someone at work that she, Taylor, Turtle, and Dwayne Ray are a family because they’ve been through hell and high water together. Lou Ann knows that nobody can guarantee that they will stay forever, but she says that she wants to enjoy what she has while she’s got it. Finally, Taylor tells Lou Ann that she was able to legally adopt Turtle.
Lou Ann explicitly names the little group as a family. Whereas Taylor was once uncomfortable with accepting help from Lou Ann, she now knows that this family is exactly the support that she and Turtle need. Lou Ann, for her part, has finally been able to leave her worrying behind because she knows that her family can help her through anything.
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Taylor and Turtle leave Oklahoma City before sundown. Taylor lets Turtle hold the adoption certificate in the car and tells her daughter that they are going home. Turtle continues to sing all her vegetables into a soup, this time mixing in all the people of her family. Dwayne Ray, Mattie, Esperanza, Lou Ann, and everyone else are in there, but Taylor is the main ingredient.
Turtle’s vegetable speech was always a sign of her potential for growth in spite of her unassuming beginnings. It now includes all the humans who are helping her grow. Taylor and Turtle end the novel secure in their identities within their family and the new home that they have built for themselves.
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