The Bean Trees

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Mattie Character Analysis

Taylor’s boss at the tire repair shop that Mattie owns in Tucson. Mattie is good with children and helps Taylor find confidence as a new mother. Taylor later finds out that Mattie is highly involved in the Sanctuary Movement that helped provide resources and shelter for Central American immigrants seeking asylum in the United States, including Estevan and Esperanza. Mattie, as a business owner and member of the Sanctuary Movement, is a powerful woman, and becomes a mentor and member of the women-centric community that Taylor becomes a part of.

Mattie Quotes in The Bean Trees

The The Bean Trees quotes below are all either spoken by Mattie or refer to Mattie. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the HarperTorch edition of The Bean Trees published in 1998.
Chapter 12 Quotes

I wasn’t really afraid, but there is something about seeing a snake that makes your stomach tighten, no matter how you make up your mind to feel about it. “Fair’s fair,” Mattie pointed out, as we skirted a wide path around the tree. “Everybody’s got her own mouths to feed.”

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Mattie (speaker)
Related Symbols: Birds
Page Number: 221
Explanation and Analysis:

Taylor and Mattie are walking back from watching the first rain of summer come in when they hear a rattlesnake in a tree. Mattie tells Taylor that the snake is probably climbing to get birds’ eggs to eat. Taylor attempts to stay as calm as Mattie, but can’t help feeling scared of the snake. The novel certainly celebrates nature, but it does not shy away from the harsh stakes of the natural world. Throughout the novel, birds have been a symbol of the vulnerable parts of nature that need protection. Taylor wants the natural world to be fair according to her desires, helping the underdog live and giving a break to the weaker animals. But Mattie knows that the animals that eat birds’ eggs deserve to live too. It is easy to try to paint the snake as a villain because it is a scary animal, but humans who truly care for nature have to remember that the snake is simply trying to feed its own babies and is not truly acting maliciously. In the natural world, things that seem unjust according to human sensibilities are actually the truly “natural” outcome. It is the human responsibility to protect all facets of nature and not interfere with the aspects that seem wrong to us.

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Chapter 13 Quotes

“You're asking yourself, Can I give this child the best possible upbringing and keep her out of harm's way her whole life long? The answer is no, you can't. But nobody else can either… Nobody can protect a child from the world. That's why it's the wrong thing to ask, if you're really trying to make a decision.”
“So what's the right thing to ask?”
“Do I want to try? Do I think it would be interesting, maybe even enjoyable in the long run, to share my life with this kid and give her my best effort and maybe, when all's said and done, end up with a good friend.”

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Mattie (speaker), Turtle (April)
Page Number: 239
Explanation and Analysis:

After Turtle is assaulted in the park, Taylor begins to question whether she is even fit to be Turtle’s adoptive mother. Taylor goes to Mattie for advice on whether she should fight to keep Turtle or give Turtle up to be brought up by the state. Mattie reinforces the idea that no mother is perfect, telling Taylor that these bad things that have happened to Turtle are not her fault or her responsibility. The important thing that Taylor can give is her “best effort” in sharing her life with Turtle. This view of motherhood deals with both mother and child as individuals, and suggests that each has just as much to offer the other. Approaching Turtle as a “friend” means that Taylor can learn from Turtle how to be a good mother, rather than worrying about protecting Turtle from the world or becoming the perfect mother for Turtle overnight.

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Mattie Character Timeline in The Bean Trees

The timeline below shows where the character Mattie appears in The Bean Trees. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3: Jesus Is Lord Used Tires
Feminism and Solidarity Among Women Theme Icon
Disaster and Survival Theme Icon
...shop. The woman doesn’t bat an eye at Turtle’s unconventional name, and introduces herself as Mattie. (full context)
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Feminism and Solidarity Among Women Theme Icon
Taylor helps Mattie get the old tires off her car, and Taylor notices a wedding ring on Mattie’s... (full context)
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Nature Theme Icon
As Taylor and Mattie have coffee, Taylor laughs at the mug she is given. It is covered with cartoon... (full context)
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Feminism and Solidarity Among Women Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
Mattie welcomes Taylor to Tucson, telling her about her late husband Samuel who came from Tennessee... (full context)
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Belonging and Homeland Theme Icon
While Mattie is out getting juice for Turtle, two men stop into the tire shop. One simply... (full context)
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
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When Mattie returns, she gives Turtle a sippy cup and goes to help the other man (Roger)... (full context)
Nature Theme Icon
Belonging and Homeland Theme Icon
Mattie continues to give Taylor child care advice, warning her that dehydration is a constant danger... (full context)
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Belonging and Homeland Theme Icon
...of community she senses in this urban center. She decides to leave her car with Mattie and take Turtle to live in a hotel for the meantime. Living in this hotel... (full context)
Chapter 6: Valentine’s Day
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The first frost of winter comes on Valentine’s Day and all of Mattie’s plants start to die. Taylor is saddened by this but Mattie is unfazed. Mattie says... (full context)
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...hates because of her fear of tires, but also loves because of her friendship with Mattie. At first, Taylor tried to change the subject whenever Mattie talked about needing extra help,... (full context)
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Taylor finds out that Mattie lets many Spanish-speaking families stay in her upper room, which Mattie says is a “Sanctuary.”... (full context)
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Taylor congratulates herself for how well she is hiding her fear of tires, but Mattie notices how jumpy she is around the shop. Mattie asks her what she is afraid... (full context)
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Taylor, still wary, explains to Mattie that she once saw a man blown in to the air because of an exploding... (full context)
Feminism and Solidarity Among Women Theme Icon
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...MacDonald Had an Apartment House, because the small garden in the book reminds her of Mattie and because the pages are thick enough to withstand Turtle’s tough grip. While shopping, Taylor... (full context)
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...Lou Ann trying to find recipes that use the vegetables that Taylor brings home from Mattie’s garden and laments the fact that Lou Ann is starving herself to get rid of... (full context)
Chapter 7: How They Eat in Heaven
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Belonging and Homeland Theme Icon
...Church. Lou Ann then begs pardon for talking about Indians that way, but neither Taylor, Mattie, nor either of the refugees staying with Mattie take offense. Mattie then tries to think... (full context)
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Taylor, Lou Ann, Mattie, and the two Guatemalan refugees are talking about spelling while on a picnic in the... (full context)
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...to sink, and dives into the freezing water. Taylor and Estevan splash Lou Ann and Mattie until Mattie and Lou Ann tell them that they won’t even dream of saving them... (full context)
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The group leaves the picnic spot at dusk, with Estevan driving Mattie’s car because of Mattie’s terrible vision at night and Lou Ann, Taylor and the kids... (full context)
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Turtle speaks her first word, bean, while she and Taylor are helping Mattie in the garden. Taylor tries to explain the concept of seeds to Turtle, a process... (full context)
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Mattie suggests that Taylor take some beans home for Turtle to play with, and Taylor agrees... (full context)
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Belonging and Homeland Theme Icon
...to hear Lou Ann call herself fat, forcing Lou Ann to change the subject to Mattie’s TV appearance. Lou Ann doesn’t know exactly why Mattie will be on TV, only that... (full context)
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...and Taylor agrees that she is always afraid that she will say something scandalous to Mattie’s Catholic priest friend. Lou Ann likens this to a strange episode in high school, when... (full context)
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Belonging and Homeland Theme Icon
...red, while Virgie Mae looks like she is in her formal church wear. On TV, Mattie starts to talk about the United Nations “something-something” on human rights. The program continues to... (full context)
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As Edna and Virgie finally settle in, the TV program Mattie appeared on ends. Virgie sniffs, saying that all she caught was “some kind of trouble... (full context)
Chapter 8: The Miracle of Dog Doo Park
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Estevan and Taylor chat often, as Estevan gets ready to catch his bus from Mattie’s office to his work. Taylor adores the beautiful way that Estevan speaks English, and appreciates... (full context)
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Feeling depressed, Taylor goes to Mattie that evening to find out more history of Tucson. Mattie tells Taylor the origin of... (full context)
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Mattie sometimes leaves for a few days, with Taylor in charge of the shop and afraid... (full context)
Chapter 9: Ismene
Disaster and Survival Theme Icon
...Taylor’s house to tell Taylor that Esperanza has attempted suicide by overdosing on baby aspirin. Mattie has taken Esperanza to a clinic that doesn’t require papers, something Taylor has never considered... (full context)
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
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...bad things, has actually been incredibly lucky. Chief among these lucky events are Turtle and Mattie, though Taylor previously avoided motherhood and tires at all costs. (full context)
Chapter 10: The Bean Trees
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
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...looks black at night. True to her mother’s word, things look better in the morning. Mattie calls with good news of Esperanza, and Taylor sends Estevan home to his wife. Turtle... (full context)
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That Monday, Taylor asks Mattie if she can see Esperanza. The “sanctuary” upstairs is still full of Mattie’s late husband’s... (full context)
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Feminism and Solidarity Among Women Theme Icon
...dressed very professionally for the interview. Lou Ann complains about the pornography store next to Mattie’s tire shop and Taylor tells her to get mad about the injustice against women rather... (full context)
Chapter 11: Dream Angels
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Belonging and Homeland Theme Icon
Taylor feels as if the whole world is coming apart, as Mattie is gone more and more often on her “birdwatching” trips. The last time Mattie and... (full context)
Chapter 12: Into the Terrible Night
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One day, Mattie closes the shop early and says that she is going to take Taylor, Esperanza, and... (full context)
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A mile out of town, Mattie pulls over. The group hikes up a hill and looks down on the Tucson valley,... (full context)
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...that moment, Taylor starts to smell the rain. It is a pungent, clean odor, that Mattie explains comes from the greasewood bushes every time it rains. Taylor wants to bottle it,... (full context)
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...of spade foot toads. Taylor can’t believe that there are toads in the desert, but Mattie explains that the toads burrow under ground until the rain makes it wet enough for... (full context)
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As they follow Mattie back to the car, Esperanza suddenly grabs Taylor’s hand. A rattlesnake appears in the flashlight... (full context)
Chapter 13: Night-Blooming Cereus
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Mattie is also worried, as her plans to get Estevan and Esperanza to another sanctuary in... (full context)
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
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...a fortune teller would tell her the right answer to how to raise Turtle, but Mattie tells her that she is asking the wrong question. Rather than asking if she can... (full context)
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...asleep and goes in to work. She finishes up a car and hangs out in Mattie’s office making coffee and thinking of Estevan and Esperanza. She thinks about how women are... (full context)
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While Lou Ann worries about Turtle, Mattie is worried about what will happen to Taylor if she gets caught transporting undocumented immigrants.... (full context)
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...suitcase holds all of their possessions. A small crowd wishes Estevan and Esperanza good luck. Mattie slips Taylor a small sum of money for the couple and warns her one more... (full context)
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Mattie waves goodbye to Taylor, looking at Taylor the way that Taylor’s mother does. She then... (full context)
Chapter 14: Guardian Saints
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
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...New Mexico border, Taylor, Turtle, Estevan and Esperanza are stopped at an immigration check point. Mattie knew this might happen, so she had Estevan and Esperanza dress in bright colors and... (full context)
Chapter 17: Rhizobia
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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... (full context)
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
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...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. (full context)
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Belonging and Homeland Theme Icon
...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. (full context)