The Bean Trees

Pdf fan Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

The Bean Trees Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The novel returns to Taylor’s perspective while she and Turtle are still living in the Republic Hotel in downtown Tucson. The hotel is near the railroad station, which Taylor describes as an artery delivering blood to the city that has hardened, and a train wakes Taylor up every morning at 6:15. On the days that it doesn’t wake her up, Taylor waits for it to whistle before she gets out of bed.
Taylor’s description of the train tracks as arteries helps make the urban city into a living organism. Taylor, living in the city, becomes a part of this organism, acting as if the 6:15 is delivering necessary blood to her as well. Separated from her hometown, Taylor has to find ways to integrate herself into this new place.
Themes
Nature Theme Icon
Belonging and Homeland Theme Icon
Taylor has quit her job at the Berger Derby, and she misses working with Sandi. Sandi’s life post-pregnancy has been difficult, as the baby’s father left and Sandi’s family resent the fact that Sandi’s son is illegitimate. Yet Taylor respects the way that Sandi seems to know all the tricks to raising a child on a budget in Tucson. Taylor and Sandi go together to pick their kids up from the Kid Central Station at the mall, playacting that they have been shopping this whole time instead of working.
Sandi is approaching motherhood all on her own, which Kingsolver acknowledges is difficult. Yet even though Sandi’s tips and tricks for childcare might not be the most conventionally responsible, Taylor’s admiration shows that Sandi is still a good mother to her son. Kingsolver treats Sandi with sympathy rather than judgement.
Themes
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Feminism and Solidarity Among Women Theme Icon
Turtle still does not speak or engage with anyone, and stares cat-like into empty space the whole time she is at the Kid Central Station daycare. Taylor knows this isn’t healthy, but doesn’t know what else to do with Turtle while she is at work. Her worries bleed into her time on shift, and Taylor soon can’t stand the Burger Derby work policies any longer. When the manager tells her that she is supposed to dry clean her own uniform, Taylor throws her hat in the trash and quits. Even though she is glad to be rid of the toxic environment of the fast food restaurant, Taylor regrets that she doesn’t see Sandi any more and that she has no other ideas for a reliable source of income.
Kingsolver starts to connect Turtle to cats, an image that will have a deeper meaning later in the chapter. For now, it simply reinforces that Turtle is not ready to join human society and still needs the solace of the natural world. Taylor too is struggling with the artificial world of a fast food restaurant. Like Bobby Bingo complained in the previous chapter, many city-dwellers don’t eat “real food” and rely on fake fast food chains instead. The manager also does not treat Taylor with human respect, simply regarding her as another piece of the machine in his business.
Themes
Nature Theme Icon
Now that Taylor can no longer go to Burger Derby for breakfast, she hangs out at local coffee shops to read newspapers that other patrons leave behind. Taylor looks at the want ads and the For Rent articles trying to find another place to stay. The artistic population of Tucson often write strange (to Taylor’s mind) requests for roommates who are vegetarian or sensitive, but Taylor finally finds two roommate ads that seems passably normal in good locations.
Though Taylor hated the extremely fake environment of the fast food restaurant, the other extreme of vegetarian artists is also distasteful to her. Kingsolver comments on the lengths that people go to be close to nature, when they are actually creating strange human versions of being close to nature. Taylor’s down-to-earth practicality is much better in Kingsolver’s view.
Themes
Nature Theme Icon
Get the entire The Bean Trees LitChart as a printable PDF.
The bean trees.pdf.medium
Taylor goes to the first address on her roommate search, wearing the cleanest clothes she can find and dressing Turtle in her lucky red and turquoise shirt. The house is a ramshackle bungalow with wind chimes on the front porch. A woman in bohemian clothing answers the door and invites Taylor and Turtle into a room decorated with rugs and pillows but no furniture. The woman introduces herself as Fay (spelled Fei) and the two other inhabitants as La-Isha and Timothy. Taylor finds them both exotic and puzzling, with their brightly colored clothing and concerns about caffeine.
Taylor’s care with her and Turtle’s appearances suggest that Taylor is faking her confidence, a sure sign that this house is not the right fit for Taylor and Turtle. The three potential roommates are also performing false identities, as Kingsolver hints by misspelling Fei’s name the first time that Taylor hears it and making Fei specify the spelling of her name even though they are all just talking aloud with no need to write it down. Fei’s fake care is not what Taylor and Turtle need.
Themes
Nature Theme Icon
Belonging and Homeland Theme Icon
Taylor introduces Turtle to the housing collective. Fei welcomes Turtle as a “small person,” but the housing interview begins to fall apart when Taylor says that Turtle ate a hot dog for lunch. Fei, La-Isha, and Timothy are devoutly vegan and expect any potential roommate to assist in their soy-milk collective. La-Isha is clearly having doubts about Taylor and Turtle’s suitability for the house, which only worsens when Taylor shares that she used to work at Burger Derby. Timothy attempts to play with Turtle, but she stays non-responsive as usual. Fei inquires about Turtle’s Native American ancestry, to which Taylor lies that Turtle got her Cherokee from her grandfather, as Cherokee blood “skips a generation.”
Fei treats Turtle as something other than a child, making it hard for Taylor and Turtle to maintain their relationship as mother and child. This perhaps leads to Taylor’s lies about Turtle’s background—she feels as though she has to reassert how Turtle belongs to her. The housing collective’s comedic outrage over the Burger Derby and the hot dog points out that it is possible to take respect for nature too far. It is necessary to accept nature on its own terms rather than creating a pure and perfect version of nature for humanity’s comfort.
Themes
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
The second house that Taylor visits is right across the street from Jesus Is Lord Used Tires. Taylor meets the owner, Lou Ann Ruiz, and the two women bond immediately over their Kentucky backgrounds. Taylor and Lou Ann laugh about Taylor’s disastrous first roommate interview. Lou Ann then shows Taylor around the house, including the room where Taylor and Turtle will sleep and the room where Dwayne Ray is asleep.
Jesus Is Lord Used Tires is still a safe house for Taylor, perhaps adding to her feelings of comfort with Lou Ann. Lou Ann and Taylor bond over their shared backgrounds as well as their new motherhood. Each woman needs help adjusting to their new home in Tucson and new role as mothers, and they find a special kind of understanding in their female companionship.
Themes
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Feminism and Solidarity Among Women Theme Icon
Belonging and Homeland Theme Icon
Lou Ann tells Taylor that Dwayne Ray was born in January and asks how old Turtle is. Taylor fills Lou Ann in on the unconventional circumstances of Turtle’s “adoption” as Turtle clutches tight to Taylor’s braided hair. Lou Ann and Taylor commiserate over the rough start that Turtle had to life as they watch Lou Ann’s cat, Snowboots, scratch at the carpet as if it is a litter box. Lou Ann comments that she thinks that the cat went crazy because she treated it with affection while Angel, her ex-husband, couldn’t stand it. Taylor thinks that the cat is funny, but Lou Ann is ashamed at this evidence that Snowboots came from a broken home.
As Taylor explains Turtle’s broken past, the cat offers a look into Turtle’s damaged psyche. Building on the cat connection that Kingsolver stated earlier in the chapter, Snowboots’ erratic behavior symbolizes how Turtle displays unusual behavior because she was treated so poorly by her family. Yet while Taylor can find this funny due to her supportive upbringing with her own mother, Lou Ann also identifies with this insecurity. Lou Ann understands Snowboots’ ever-present guilt for things he hasn’t done because Angel also blamed Lou Ann for mistakes that weren’t actually her fault.
Themes
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Feminism and Solidarity Among Women Theme Icon
Lou Ann and Taylor continue to talk about the events that led Taylor to find Turtle. Lou Ann says to be glad that Taylor was in a car and not an airplane, a perspective that Taylor had never considered before. Lou Ann describes a horrific plane crash in a river in Washington DC that she saw once on the news, then leaves Taylor to that memory as she goes to get Dwayne Ray from his nap. Taylor remembers footage from that plane crash of a woman who was saved by a rescue helicopter. She thinks that the woman looked like Turtle while clinging to the rope from the helicopter.
Lou Ann sees disaster everywhere, even imagining a possible disaster with an airplane that could never have happened to Turtle and Taylor. Yet Taylor has a much more practical reaction to this memory of a plane crash. Taylor sees Turtle as a survivor, one who has experienced horrors yet is still able to hold on to the rope that will save her.
Themes
Disaster and Survival Theme Icon
Lou Ann brings Dwayne Ray out, fussing about his flat face, but Taylor assures her that all baby’s heads look flat for a while. Taylor then asks if she and Turtle can move in and Lou Ann says that she would love it. Lou Ann was afraid that no one would ever want to live with her and that she had wasted 4 dollars on the ad in the paper. Taylor tells her to stop being so insecure, and that she herself is just a “plain hillbilly from East Jesus Nowhere with this adopted child that…is dumb as a box of rocks.” Lou Ann hides her smile, laughing that Taylor talks just like she does.
Lou Ann may be the biological mother, but Taylor provides her with knowledge about children that she didn’t know, proving that adoptive or surrogate mothers can be just as capable as biological mothers. Meanwhile, Taylor assuages some of Lou Ann’s insecurities simply by the way she talks. Taylor’s “plain hillbilly” speech is a sign of where she grew up and where she once belonged. Lou Ann also belonged to that place once, and this shared past helps the two women create a new home where they can both belong now.
Themes
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Belonging and Homeland Theme Icon