The Bean Trees

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the HarperTorch edition of The Bean Trees published in 1998.
Chapter 1 Quotes

She had on this pink top that was loose so it could have gone either way, if you were pregnant or if you weren’t. As far as I know, she wasn’t just then. It had these little openings on the shoulders and bows on the sleeves, though of course it was shot to hell now.

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Jolene Shank
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

When Jolene comes into the hospital the first week that Taylor (then called Marietta) works there, Marietta focuses on the blood from Jolene’s bullet wound getting on Jolene’s shirt. Focusing on the damage done to the clothing rather than the damage done to Jolene’s arm is indicative of Marietta’s unique way of responding to disaster, as she never seems to worry about the things that other people are concerned with. Marietta is practical-minded enough to be able to worry about clothing in the midst of disaster, but also seems to lack empathy by minimizing Jolene’s tragedy to its effect on her clothing.

Yet Kingsolver also uses this shirt as a metaphor for the female experience in the male-dominated American society that Marietta grew up in. The shirt is pink, a stereotypically female color, and is useful during pregnancy, the main female occupation in Marietta’s experience of rural Kentucky. The bullet holes and blood stains on the shirt were caused by a man, through no fault of Jolene’s. Marietta, another woman, is left to try to salvage the shirt, just as women in the novel must pull together to help each other after tragedy strikes. This experience is one of many that Marietta experiences that makes her wary of men and it is another incident that Kingsolver uses to expose the damage of misogyny and the necessity of women to protect each other.

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There were two things about Mama. One is that she expected the best out of me. And the other is that then no matter what I did… she acted like it was the moon I had just hung up in the sky and plugged in all the stars; Like I was that good.

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer), Taylor’s Mother
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

The relationship built in Chapter 1 between Taylor and her mother forms a foundation for the rest of the family relationships built throughout the novel. Taylor’s mother is her main source of strength, support, and confidence, though the two characters do not interact very much during the actual events of the novel. Taylor’s mother has high standards for Taylor that force Taylor to leave their hometown in Pittman County, Kentucky, but Taylor’s mother also gives Taylor the unconditional love and praise that she needs in order to meet those goals. Kingsolver suggests that this is the best way to mother, neither stifling one’s children or neglecting them. Taylor may have run away from home, in one sense, but she is not running from her family. The mark of Taylor’s mother’s success as a mother is the fact that Taylor is able to leave and accomplish her goals, rather than staying stuck in Pittman county dependent on her family. Taylor models her own experiences as a mother off of this example.

She put her hands where the child’s shoulders might be, under all that blanket, and pushed it gently back into the seat, trying to make it belong there. She looked at it for a long time. Then she closed the door and walked away.
As I watched her I was thinking that she wasn’t really round. Without the child and the blanket she walked away from my car a very thin woman.

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Turtle (April)
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

The circumstances through which Taylor becomes Turtle’s mother are surreal and unexpected, as Turtle’s biological aunt simply places Turtle in Taylor’s car while Taylor is stopped at a gas station. Taylor had been extremely against becoming a young mother, fleeing her home town in order to escape that fate but ironically falling into this family role because she went on the road. Yet though Turtle’s aunt has to “make it [Turtle] belong” in Taylor’s car, the two actually do belong together by the end of the novel. Kingsolver’s novel argues that the bonds of family can be created through experiences rather than pure blood ties.

Turtle’s aunt also portrays both the burden and the fulfillment that Kingsolver sees in motherhood. The aunt appears round when she is carrying Turtle, a behavior that symbolizes both fatness due to wealth and prosperity, and the societal expectation that women become overweight and unattractive when they become mothers. In the poverty-stricken environment of Taylor’s youth, thinness means starvation rather than beauty.

The Indian child was a girl. A girl, poor thing. That fact had already burdened her short life with a kind of misery I could not imagine. I thought I knew about every ugly thing that one person does to another, but I had never even thought about such things being done to a baby girl.

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Turtle (April)
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

When Taylor finally gets Turtle to a bath after the small child is dropped off in her car at a gas station in the middle of Oklahoma, Taylor realizes that the child is a girl and that she has been severely physically and sexually abused. These incidents are unfortunately fairly common in the United States, and often this abuse is explicitly tied to the child’s gender. Furthermore, Kingsolver also mentions Turtle’s Cherokee heritage, suggesting that the poverty and lack of opportunities on the Native American Reservation also played a role in Turtle’s abuse. Kingsolver points out that, in certain places and environments, simply being born female can cause a lifetime of mistreatment. Taylor, meanwhile, cannot imagine this type of abuse because her mother raised her with such love and care. This is why Taylor’s duty as Turtle’s mother, to teach Turtle to stand up for herself and other women, is so important.

Chapter 2 Quotes

“Feeding a girl is like feeding the neighbor’s New Year Pig. All that work. In the end, it goes to some other family.” Lou Ann felt offended, but didn’t really know how to answer. She was a long way from her own family in Kentucky, but she didn’t see this as being entirely her fault.

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Lee Sing (speaker), Lou Ann Ruiz
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

Lee Sing presents another cultural viewpoint on women, which is just as misogynistic as the rural American culture that Taylor and Lou Ann experience growing up. Lee Sing predicts that Lou Ann’s baby will be a girl, then laments that Lou Ann will have to do all the work of raising her daughter just to “give” that daughter away to another family when it comes time to marry. Lou Ann herself has married a Mexican man and moved to Tucson with him rather than staying close to her family in Kentucky, but is offended at the thought that she was “wasted effort” to her family. In both the Chinese and American cultures, Kingsolver suggests, girls are not respected as valid people. The girls are then blamed for not staying close to a family that never appreciated them for their merits. At this point, Lou Ann sees these injustices but has no idea how to confront them or change them.

Chapter 3 Quotes

By this time, I had developed a name for the child, at least for the time being. I called her Turtle, on account of her grip. She still wasn’t talking but she knew her name about as far as a cat ever does, which means that when you said it she would look up if she was in the right mood.

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Turtle (April)
Page Number: 48-49
Explanation and Analysis:

Taylor names the Native American child that was given to her Turtle, because Turtle has a very strong grip like a mud turtle, which has an extremely strong jaw. At this point, Turtle seems to have retreated to the animal world after experiencing horrible abuse at the hands of her human family. Taylor’s name for Turtle, and her description of Turtle as cat-like, reveal both that Taylor has an immense respect for animals and that she chooses to meet her child on Turtle’s own terms. Turtle’s name does not come from the shyness or slowness often negatively associated with turtles, but from the strong grip. Taylor clearly admires these turtles for their ability to hold on, and hopes that Turtle will be able to hang on despite the hard start to her life.

Taylor does not take the fact that Turtle doesn’t talk and doesn’t always answer to her name as a sign that Turtle is not smart, simply explaining that Turtle must be clearly choosing when she wants to answer and when she doesn’t. Taylor also does not blame Turtle for choosing not to engage with the human world that has caused her so much harm already. Taylor will give Turtle the space, support, and praise that she needs to reenter the human world when she is ready, and let her take solace in the natural world as long as she chooses to.

I never could figure out why men thought they could impress a woman by making the world out to be such a big dangerous deal. I mean, we’ve got to live in the exact same world every damn day of the week, don’t we?

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker)
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

When Taylor stops for gas for the first time in Arizona, she meets a man at the gas station who insists on warning Taylor about a tarantula they see on the ground and the special kind of poison that the tarantula carries. Taylor, naturally distrustful of men, does not believe that tarantulas actually release poison, and wonders to herself why men always feel the need to scare women. In Taylor’s perspective, raised by a single mother who was far more capable of taking care of a child than any man in her hometown, women are just as qualified to assess the dangers of the world and deal with them without male help. Taylor completely rejects the idea that women need men to keep them safe, or indeed that women need men at all. She resents the ways that men seem to exaggerate the danger of the world in order to force women not to live their lives as fully as possible. Admittedly, Taylor does not yet understand how dangerous the world can actually be, but the novel makes it clear that this naïve bravery is due to her youth and inexperience and that her gender will not stop her from continuing to face the world head on. Taylor’s attitude about female independence also shows in the way that she raises Turtle without any male figures at all.

“You know, your little girl doesn’t look a thing like you,” …
“She’s not really mine,” I said. “She’s just somebody I got stuck with.”
Sandi looked a both of us, her elbow cocked on her hip and the salad tongs frozen in midair. “Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.”

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Sandi (speaker), Turtle (April)
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

Soon after Taylor and Turtle move to Tucson, Taylor makes friends with Sandi, an employee at the fast food restaurant where Taylor eats most of her meals to cut down on costs. Sandi is another example of young motherhood in the novel, doing her best to take care of her son with a minimum wage job and no family support. Sandi notices that Taylor and Turtle don’t look related, unlike her own son who looks exactly like her with blond hair. Taylor explains that she got “stuck with” Turtle, and Sandi identifies with the feeling. The novel often asserts the worth of all types of families by showing how alternative families like Taylor’s are just as loving and committed as biological families. Here, it takes the opposite tactic and argues that biological families can feel just as arbitrary as alternative families.

Even though Sandi is a biological mother and Taylor is an adoptive mother, the two still share similar feelings about their children. Sandi feels as though she got “stuck” with her son, because no matter how much she loves him, he has still added an amount of difficulty to her life that she did not ask for. Sandi will do anything to give her son a good life, including working at a fast food restaurant that she hates, but that doesn’t mean that this is the right life for Sandi or the life that she wanted. Sandi takes on the challenges of single motherhood with resourceful cheer, but she still has doubts. Using Sandi as a comparison allows Taylor to also have doubts without losing sight of the fact that Taylor is a real mother – no matter how she got “stuck” with her child.

Chapter 4 Quotes

He moved around in there for quite a while before he said anything to Lou Ann, and it struck her that his presence was different from the feeling of women filling up the house. He could be there, or not, and it hardly made any difference. Like a bug or a mouse scratching in the cupboards at night – you could get up and chase after it, or just go back to sleep and let it be. That was good, she decided.

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Lou Ann Ruiz (speaker), Angel Ruiz
Page Number: 84-85
Explanation and Analysis:

After Lou Ann’s family leaves from their visit helping Lou Ann take care of her newborn son, her husband, Angel, returns to pack up his stuff and move back out. Lou Ann then explains the difference between Angel’s presence in the house and her mother and grandmother’s presence in the house: her female family members fill the house while Angel leaves it still empty. Lou Ann compares Angel to an animal, rather than another human being in the house. To Lou Ann, at least, women offer companionship to other women, but men are not even the same species. Even if Lou Ann were to try to communicate with Angel, he wouldn’t understand, and Lou Ann would just have to “chase” after him rather than talk to him as equals. Lou Ann decides that this is a good thing, growing up as she did with a mother and grandmother who kept each other from getting lonely both while Lou Ann’s father was alive and after he died. It is only once Lou Ann meets Taylor that she feels true companionship.

Chapter 6 Quotes

“So one time when I was working in this motel one of the toilets leaked and I had to replace the flapper ball. Here’s what it said on the package; I kept it till I knew it by heart: ‘Please Note. Parts are included for all installations, but no installation requires all of the parts.’ That’s kind of my philosophy about men. I don’t think there’s an installation out there that could use all of my parts.”

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker)
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

As Taylor tries to convince Lou Ann not to mourn the departure of her husband, Angel, Taylor gives the analogy that men are like toilet bowl installations. Taylor has experience with fixing toilets because she once worked in a hotel called the Broken Arrow in Oklahoma, soon after she found Turtle. Taylor doesn’t feel like a traditional romantic relationship between a man and a woman would ever fulfill all the various parts of her identity as a woman. Taylor has felt constrained by traditional female roles throughout the novel, whether that be in her job or in her family. Even the metaphor that Taylor uses has a decidedly masculine tone, as plumbing is usually seen to be a man’s job. Taylor questions the idea that women need a man to be complete.

I’ll tell you one thing,” Lou Ann said. “when something was bugging Angel, he’d never of stayed up half the night with me talking and eating everything that wasn’t nailed down. You’re not still mad, are you?” I held up two fingers. “Peace, sister.”

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Lou Ann Ruiz (speaker), Angel Ruiz
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

Soon after Lou Ann and Taylor start to room together, Taylor takes on the “father” role in the family by going to work and coming home grumpy, while Lou Ann takes the “mother” role by staying home with the kids and trying to keep Taylor happy. Yet instead of perpetuating this dynamic, Taylor quickly becomes uncomfortable with the standard gender roles that they are falling into and decides to talk to Lou Ann about how they can keep up a more equitable arrangement in the house. Lou Ann can’t believe that Taylor is treating her with such respect, commenting that her husband, Angel, would never have tried to solve a problem by talking. Kingsolver presents this night of talking things out as a hallmark of healthy female relationships, a point which Taylor underscores by calling Lou Ann “sister.” Relationships between women in the novel have a chance of being fair, whereas relationships between men and women are usually unequal. Even if the family of two women and their children is less conventional than the family with a mother and a father, Lou Ann is far better off living with Taylor than she ever was living with Angel.

Chapter 7 Quotes

This whole conversation had started with a rhyme he used to help his students remember how to pronounce English vowels…Lou Ann and I had already told him three or four times that he spoke better English than the two of us combined.

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Lou Ann Ruiz, Estevan
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

One of the defining traits of Estevan’s character is his command of the English language, even though it is not his first or even his second language. When he first comes to America, Estevan’s English skills are a necessary part of his survival, but they are also an important sign that he truly belongs in this country. Lou Ann and Taylor stand out because of their Kentucky accents, meaning that Estevan actually fits in better in Tucson than they do. Estevan has put years of effort into perfecting his English, while Lou Ann and Taylor have never put much thought into their speaking patterns. This parallels the way that those born in the United States take their place in this country for granted, while immigrants must fight to prove that they belong here.

Mrs. Parsons said, “And is this naked creature one of theirs? She looks like a little wild Indian.” She was talking about Turtle, who was not naked, although she didn’t exactly have a shirt on… “She’s mine,” I said. “And she is a wild Indian, as a matter of fact.”

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Turtle (April), Virgie Mae Parsons
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:

When Taylor invites Estevan and Esperanza, a Guatemalan refugee couple, and her neighbors Edna Poppy and Virgie Parsons over for dinner, Virgie’s stiff and formal version of good etiquette rubs Taylor the wrong way. The final straw comes when Virgie passes judgment on Turtle as a “wild Indian,” invoking the harmful stereotype of Native Americans as “savages” who need to be civilized. She furthermore mistakes Turtle for Estevan and Esperanza’s daughter, letting the color of Estevan and Esperanza’s skin convince her that the couple is somehow savage as well. Kingsolver uses Virgie to explain the viewpoint of many white Americans about their ownership of American land. These people believe that they belong in America and therefore have the privilege of deciding what behavior is acceptable here and who is allowed to belong here. They are not in favor of granting sanctuary to refugees, thinking that these immigrants are just adding more wild children to America rather than contributing anything positive. Virgie means “Indian” as an insult, but Taylor reclaims that word to insist that Turtle is an Indian, and therefore belongs in America more than Virgie does.

Chapter 8 Quotes

“You are poetic, mi’ija.”
“What’s miha?”
“Mi hija,” he pronounced it slowly.
“My something?”
“My daughter. But it doesn’t work the same in English. We say it to friends. You would call me mi’ijo.”

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Estevan
Page Number: 158
Explanation and Analysis:

Estevan and Taylor grow close as they talk before work at Mattie’s tire shop. Estevan finds Taylor’s rural colloquialisms to be poetic, a sign of how easily he accepts the good points of other cultures. Just like Taylor earns the right to belong in Tucson because she accepts the desert on its own terms, Estevan belongs in America because he comes to this country with an open heart and mind. He also shares an aspect of his culture, calling Taylor “mi hija”, Spanish for “my daughter.” Unlike American English, Estevan’s Guatemalan Spanish has a way to casually consider friends like family. Taylor has been building a family out of her friends, including Lou Ann and Estevan, but had no way to refer to this in the language that she knew. Estevan shows her that the boundaries between friends and family do not have to be so rigid. Kingsolver points out that this chosen form of family is even more meaningful to Taylor.

Chapter 9 Quotes

But poor Scotty with his electricity and his trigonometry, he just didn’t belong to any group. It was like we were all the animals on Noah’s ark that came in pairs, except of his kind there was only the one.

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker)
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:

When Estevan comes over to tell Taylor the sad news that his wife, Esperanza, has attempted suicide, Taylor begins to think of a boy she knew in high school who committed suicide on his 16th birthday. Taylor describes this sad event as a product of Scotty’s loneliness. As in the biblical story of Noah where all the animals survived a great flood because Noah collected two of each animal and put them on a huge boat until the water was gone, Scotty did not have a mate and therefore could not survive the inevitable disasters of life. Humans, just like animals, need to belong to each other in order to be happy and healthy. Scotty had no group or clique to belong to at his high school. Without a family to depend on, Scotty was not able to survive. This parallels Turtle’s failure to thrive when she lived with her abusive birth family and underscores the incredible importance of family connections in the novel.

“You think you're the foreigner here, and I’m the American, and I just look the other way while the President or somebody sends down this and that . . . to torture people with. But nobody asked my permission, okay? Sometimes I feel like I'm a foreigner, too.”

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Estevan
Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:

When Estevan comes to Taylor’s house with the bad news that his wife Esperanza is in the hospital for attempted suicide, he and Taylor stay up late into the night drinking and talking about their backgrounds. Estevan, a Guatemalan refugee who had to flee Guatemala due to persecution of the teachers’ union, educates Taylor on the atrocities the Guatemalan government enacted and the support that this administration had from the American government. Taylor balks at the guilt that she feels for these events, as an American who has little to no say in what the American government chooses to do. Though Taylor is American by birth, she disagrees with the values that are associated with this American identity. She therefore feels just as foreign in that type of American environment as Estevan does in the country. While Estevan desperately wants to belong to America so that he can be safe, Taylor explores the unfortunate consequences of automatically belonging to a place that doesn’t always feel like home.

Chapter 10 Quotes

“It's terrible to lose somebody,” I said, “I mean, I don’t know firsthand, but I can imagine it must be. But it's also true that some people never have anybody to lose, and I think that's got to be so much worse.”

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Esperanza, Ismene
Page Number: 200
Explanation and Analysis:

After Esperanza attempts suicide, Taylor goes to speak with Esperanza while she is recovering in Mattie’s office. Taylor wants to convince Esperanza that she still has much to live for, even if Esperanza has lost so much with the raid against her family in Guatemala, the loss of her daughter Ismene, and her refugee status in America. Yet, by Taylor’s own admission, Taylor herself does not know what it is like to deal with that sort of tragedy. Taylor has to learn from Esperanza how to keep going after the many tragedies that have marked her life.

With the little that Taylor does know about loss, she reminds Esperanza of the bonds that she has with her family that made it so hard to lose them in the first place. This underscores the importance of family in the novel. It was far better for Esperanza to have Ismene, and experience the joy of family and motherhood for a short while, than to never have it at all. Kingsolver maintains that humans need to be connected to other people in order to be truly happy, even if that means running the risk of losing them.

Chapter 11 Quotes

…If somebody offered to show me a picture of Dwayne Ray in the year 2001, I swear I wouldn’t look.”
“Well, nobody’s going to,” I said gently, “so you don’t have to worry about it. There’s no such thing as dream angels. Only in the Bible, and that was totally another story.”

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Lou Ann Ruiz (speaker), Dwayne Ray
Page Number: 210-211
Explanation and Analysis:

Lou Ann and Taylor bond over their shared experience as new mothers, but Taylor often gets frustrated with how much Lou Ann worries that Dwayne Ray will fall victim to some disaster. Lou Ann’s preoccupation with disaster is her defining character trait for much of the novel, as her father’s death and her family’s superstitious outlook on life have caused her to look for danger everywhere. Yet Taylor insists that worrying about all the possible disasters is a waste of effort that won’t help the young women deal with disaster when it actually happens. Taylor often references Christianity as a place that people look to for comfort during a disaster, but she usually seems skeptical that this religious belief will help either. Here, Taylor suggests that “dream angels” are only real in the Bible, an alternate reality where anything can happen that does not have much to do with the real world that she and Lou Ann have to live in. Kingsolver seems to agree that there are a lot of terrible things that can happen to a child, considering her frank portrayal of Turtle’s sexual abuse or the hardships that the Guatemalan refugee children face. Yet the proper response to these dangers is not to make up “dream angels” that warn Lou Ann of all the possible things that might happen to Dwayne Ray, or retreat to asking help from other sources, but to face up to these events when they come and deal with them as best as one can.

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.

“Well, don’t feel like the Lone Ranger," she said. “Nobody is.”

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Lou Ann Ruiz (speaker)
Page Number: 230
Explanation and Analysis:

After Turtle is assaulted in Roosevelt Park because Edna accidentally kept her out after nightfall, Turtle returns to the non-responsive state that Taylor originally found her in and Taylor starts to question her own fitness as a mother. Lou Ann gets angry at Taylor, wondering why she would consider abandoning her child like that. When Lou Ann finally confronts Taylor, Taylor confesses how worried she is about keeping a child safe in such a dangerous world. Lou Ann’s answer refers to the Lone Ranger, a cowboy character who famously worked alone while he crossed the frontier of the United States. While this lone wolf attitude may have worked for the cowboy hero, it is the exact opposite of what the responsibilities of motherhood require. Taylor has to remember that she isn’t raising Turtle on her own, even if she is a single mother. She has Taylor, Mattie, and countless others supporting her as she supports Turtle. Moreover, every mother has to have some sort of human support system in order to survive and help their children. These family connections are the most important human bonds in the novel, as the characters step up to help each other again and again through disaster and tragedy.

Chapter 13 Quotes

“But the problem is that you have no legitimate claim. A verbal agreement with a relative isn’t good enough. You can’t prove to the police that it happened that way. That you didn’t kidnap her, for instance, or that the relatives weren’t coerced.”
“No, I can’t prove anything. I don’t understand what you’re getting at. If I don’t have a legal claim on Turtle, I don’t see where anybody else does either.”

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Cynthia (speaker), Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer)
Page Number: 233
Explanation and Analysis:

After Turtle is assaulted, Cynthia, a social worker, gets involved with the family to try and help Turtle recover from the incident, but she unfortunately learns that Taylor doesn’t actually have any official documentation that she is Turtle’s mother. Taylor explains how she was given Turtle, but Cynthia insists that the verbal agreement is not proper claim for the state of Arizona. Taylor and Cynthia have very different definitions of what constitutes family. In Cynthia’s mind, all the legal documentation must be there in order to ensure that the child is with her “legitimate” family. Yet from Taylor’s perspective, Taylor is the only one who is remotely interested in caring for Turtle. Therefore, Taylor is the only possible choice for Turtle’s mother, no matter what the blood or legal relationships are. Taylor doesn’t understand why Cynthia cannot make her definition of family more fluid so that Turtle can live with someone who loves her.

The novel shows again and again that family is the people you choose to treat like family, regardless of what is considered family from a legal perspective. Alternative families like the adoptive family Taylor gives to Turtle are just as good, if not better than the birth family that Cynthia seems to think that Turtle deserves. While Kingsolver sympathizes somewhat with Cynthia’s job, as Cynthia has to do her due diligence for Turtle and Turtle’s birth family, the family bond that Turtle has formed with Taylor is the highest priority of the novel.

“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.

Chapter 14 Quotes

“A human being can be good or bad or right or wrong, maybe. But how can you say a person is illegal? You just can't. That's all there is to it.”

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Estevan, Esperanza
Page Number: 261
Explanation and Analysis:

Estevan and Esperanza are refugees from Guatemala who have entered the Untied States without the proper documentation, making them “illegal” in the eyes of many Americans. Taylor, growing up in rural Kentucky, had no strong feelings on the subject of immigration, or whether immigrants truly belonged in America. Yet as Taylor continues to get to know Estevan, she becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the thought that anyone of Estevan’s warmth, intelligence, and kindness should be barred from living in the United States. Taylor argues that people should be judged as people, not as dehumanized “illegals.” The question of who is legally allowed to be American or live on American land should also be a more individualized process, rather than painting large populations of people as illegal and nothing more.

“That looks beautiful,” I said. “That's the Cherokee Nation?”
“Part of it,” she said. “It's real big. The Cherokee Nation isn’t any one place exactly. It’s people. We have our own government and all.”

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker)
Page Number: 270
Explanation and Analysis:

When Taylor returns to Oklahoma, she finds that the bar where she first received Turtle is under completely new management. While talking to the girl behind the counter of the bar-turned-café, Taylor also finds out that the wasteland she thought was Cherokee Nation is actually just the tip of this land. True Cherokee Nation is a natural paradise with beautiful lakes, somewhere that the Cherokee people can now be proud of even though they were forced here against their will. The girl also points out that part of what makes Cherokee Nation Cherokee is that it belongs to the people. Taylor has struggled with the question of where she belongs throughout the novel, moving from her hometown in Kentucky to a new home in Tucson, Arizona. Taylor had been basing her home on the location that she appreciated most, but the girl helps her see that home is the place where there are people who you belong with.

On a larger scale, the Cherokee Nation also has its own government, meaning that it can dictate who belongs on Cherokee land and who does not. As the novel follows Turtle, Estevan, and Esperanza, all indigenous people who have been pushed out of their homes, the novel celebrates this example of Native Americans taking back the control of a land that should have belonged to them before immigrants from Europe took the American land for themselves. While Cherokee Nation may not be on the land that the Cherokee tribe originally lived on, Oklahoma is now where the Cherokee people live. This means that the land belongs to them.

Chapter 16 Quotes

Here were a mother and her daughter, nothing less. A mother and child – in a world that could barely be bothered with mothers and children – who were going to be taken apart. Everybody believed it. Possibly Turtle believed it. I did.

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Turtle (April), Esperanza
Page Number: 288
Explanation and Analysis:

When Taylor can’t find any of Turtle’s relatives in order to try and legally adopt Turtle, she asks the Guatemalan couple Estevan and Esperanza to pose as Turtle’s parents in order to fake an adoption. Over the course of the novel, Esperanza and Turtle have grown very close, partly due to their similar looks and personalities, as well as the fact that Esperanza has lost her biological daughter and Turtle has lost her biological mother. By the time the little group reaches Oklahoma, Esperanza and Turtle have seemed to use each other to fill the void that their lost blood relations left in their lives. At the public notary’s office, Esperanza and Turtle say a truly heart-wrenching goodbye as they draw up the adoption papers. Their relationship is no longer false in any sense of the word, and they are truly family in that moment right before they will be separated. This chance to say a proper goodbye gives both Turtle and Esperanza closure on the previous tragedies where they were denied that opportunity.

The bond of motherhood is sacred in the novel, and one of the most significant influences in a child’s life. Even though society at large can “barely be bothered” about this bond, Kingsolver continues to uphold this value as the highest calling for any mother. Taylor, believing in the bond that Esperanza and Turtle have made, dedicates herself to becoming the mother that Turtle deserves, now that she has had to say goodbye to two mothers – her birth mother and Esperanza.

Chapter 17 Quotes

The wisteria vines on their own would just barely get by, is how I explained it to Turtle, but put them together with rhizobia and they make miracles.

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Turtle (April)
Related Symbols: Wisteria Vines (Bean Trees) and Plants
Page Number: 305
Explanation and Analysis:

Turtle and Taylor go to Oklahoma so that Taylor can gain legal custody of Turtle. While waiting for the public notary to file the papers, Taylor takes Turtle to the public library and looks up wisteria vines, Turtle’s favorite plant back home in Tucson. Throughout the book, Turtle has been compared to the wisteria vines, which are ugly plants on first glance that blossom into beautiful flowers when they are ready. This is yet another example of how human beings are shown to be a part of the natural systems around them. Now, Taylor finds out another reason that Turtle is like a wisteria vine. Turtle grew up in very poor conditions, losing her biological mother and living with an abusive aunt and uncle in poverty. Yet wisteria vines are able to thrive in poor soil thanks to the helpful rhizobia bug that fertilizes the dirt, just as Turtle is able to grow strong thanks to the help of Taylor and her other adoptive family members. Kingsolver extends this metaphor to all the characters of her book, all of whom need the help of other people in order to live healthily and happily.

She watched the dark high-way and entertained me with her vegetable-soup song, except that now there were people mixed in with the beans and potatoes: Dwayne Ray, Mattie, Esperanza, Lou Ann and all the rest.
And me. I was the main ingredient.

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Turtle (April)
Page Number: 312
Explanation and Analysis:

After Taylor gains legal custody of Turtle in Oklahoma, the two drive back to their home in Tucson. Turtle, who has had trouble connecting with other people due to the abuse she suffered with her biological family, is finally able to engage with the other members of her new-found family. Previously, Turtle only said the names of vegetables as a way to show how much more comfortable Turtle was with the natural world instead of human society. Now instead of talking about vegetables in the ground, Taylor describes Turtle’s speech as a “vegetable-soup” that can nourish people and help them grow.

Taylor too was uncomfortable with the new family that she had formed with Turtle, Lou Ann, and Dwayne Ray, because she didn’t feel like she truly belonged as Turtle’s mother. But now that Taylor has learned that Turtle loves her best, making her the “main ingredient” in her soup, Taylor can feel secure as Turtle’s mother. Their family may not be conventional, but it is the best thing for Taylor and Turtle to come home to.

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