The Bean Trees

The Bean Trees Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Back on the road, Taylor describes her first glimpse of Arizona. The cartoonish pink clouds and “forest” of red rock formations are a welcome change from the flat, washed-out plains of Texas. Falling in love with the rocks, Taylor tells the Native American child that they will live in Arizona. It is now January 2nd, as Taylor and the child stayed in the Oklahoma motel for the holiday season. Ms. Hoge, the older woman that had helped Taylor the first night, is grateful for the help during the Christmas rush, as the woman’s daughter-in-law, Irene, weighs as much as an “elephant or a hippopotamus” and can no longer walk.
Kingsolver lets Taylor revel in the extreme landscape of Arizona, celebrating the awesome diversity of America’s natural environments. While she acknowledges that not every part of America is beautiful, these places make landscapes like Arizona even more impressive by comparison. Kingsolver also compares Irene to a large animal, continuing the trend of drawing connections between human and animal kind.
Themes
Nature Theme Icon
Mrs. Hoge is very taken with the Native American child, telling Irene that she looks lovely with a baby on her hip. Taylor scoffs at the idea of becoming a mother because it looks good, but has become very attached to the child herself. Taylor calls the child Turtle, for her strong grip like a mud turtle’s jaw. Turtle does not talk, and Mrs. Hoge worries that she is mentally handicapped, but Taylor insists that Turtle just has her own way of doing things. Especially after Turtle’s abusive past, Taylor does not want to push Turtle at all.
Taylor, though she became a mother by accident, at least recognizes the responsibility involved—it’s not a job that one should take on just for appearances. Meanwhile, Turtle is brought the closest to animal kind out of all the characters with her very name. Turtle has been intensely hurt by the worst of human behavior, to which Taylor’s response is to let her retreat from humankind and find solace in the natural world.
Themes
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
Disaster and Survival Theme Icon
Taylor is very pleased to be back on the road and leave the flat emptiness of Oklahoma. Arizona suits Taylor much better, but a sudden hail storm forces Taylor to get off the interstate. Taylor realizes that the old “laws of nature” that she knew in Kentucky do not apply here, and that Arizona is a foreign country to both her and Turtle. An old man comes out of the gas station where Taylor has parked and asks where Taylor is from. Taylor gives him a sassy answer about her Kentucky plates, not liking the look of the guy.
Taylor, though deeply connected to the natural world in Kentucky, has the presence of mind to realize that she is no longer an expert of the nature here. Kingsolver points out that every region of America is unique and requires respect on its own terms. Both Taylor and Turtle, coming from other parts of America and with different Native American backgrounds, must adapt to this new environment.
Themes
Nature Theme Icon
Belonging and Homeland Theme Icon
When the hail stops, two rainbows appear in the sky and it gets hot enough for Taylor to start sweating in her sweatshirt. Taylor stays in awe of the landscape, thinking it is even more extreme than it looks in the movies. The man from the gas station is still looking at Taylor and now warns her about a tarantula crossing the road. Taylor puts up another brave face, refusing to pander to this man trying to make the world seem more dangerous than it is. The man explains that the rain drives all sorts of bugs out of their holes. Taylor decides that the man is more stupid than mean, and that she has spent enough time in his company. She gets out of the car to push it until it will start. The man scoffs at the old tires, and Taylor knows that he is right. She drives on a busted tire for another couple of blocks until she sees a tire repair shop.
The landscape reminds Taylor of the movies, larger than life but even better because it is real. Kingsolver suggests that everyone needs to experience this kind of natural beauty for themselves in order to truly appreciate it. This reference to the movies extends to the man who tries to scare Taylor into thinking that the world is more dangerous than it really is. Taylor is not a damsel in distress from an old Western, but a strong modern woman who can take care of herself. Even though her old car makes a clean getaway more difficult, it also showcases Taylor’s tenacity in the face of obstacles.
Themes
Feminism and Solidarity Among Women Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
Disaster and Survival Theme Icon
Get the entire The Bean Trees LitChart as a printable PDF.
The bean trees.pdf.medium
As Taylor pulls into the tire shop, she sees a woman in jeans and cowboy boots hosing bugs off her pavement and notices the name of the shop: Jesus Is Lord Used Tires. It reminds Taylor of the ad for 1-800-THE-LORD that she saw in Oklahoma the night she got Turtle. The woman from the tire shop welcomes Taylor in and gets Taylor’s car up on the jack. Taylor holds Turtle tightly, nervous that the tires will explode just like the tire exploded on Newt Hardbine’s father in Kentucky. Taylor finally sits Turtle down on an empty (and thus safe) tire and introduces them both to the woman at the tire shop. The woman doesn’t bat an eye at Turtle’s unconventional name, and introduces herself as Mattie.
Mattie is another female character who displays traditionally masculine traits, in both her job and the way she dresses. Mattie’s non-judgmental character shows from the beginning, as her acceptance of Turtle’s name belies her experience accepting everyone. Mattie’s shop will also be a site of salvation for Taylor and Turtle, as Taylor is able to lean on a fellow woman in a way that she doesn’t trust men to help her. But the tire shop doesn’t seem like a safe haven at first, as it’s full of one of Taylor’s biggest fears of disaster.
Themes
Feminism and Solidarity Among Women Theme Icon
Disaster and Survival Theme Icon
Taylor helps Mattie get the old tires off her car, and Taylor notices a wedding ring on Mattie’s finger that looks long settled into the older woman’s skin. Mattie apologizes sincerely that the tires are too far gone to hold a patch, and kindly offers to help Taylor pick out some retreads to put back on the car. Taylor is too ashamed to tell Mattie that she can’t afford new tires, even if they are used. Mattie seems to know how bad this news is for Taylor and invites Taylor and Turtle into her shop for coffee and peanut butter crackers.
Unlike Lou Ann, Mattie’s marital status is introduced as more of an afterthought in her character. Mattie is not defined by her husband, but has a full life of her own. Mattie displays female solidarity and maternal care by trying to help Taylor, even though Taylor is still too proud to accept this assistance.
Themes
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Feminism and Solidarity Among Women Theme Icon
As Taylor and Mattie have coffee, Taylor laughs at the mug she is given. It is covered with cartoon rabbits having sex and seems at odds with the religious name of the shop. Mattie asks about Taylor’s Kentucky plates, and gives more crackers to Turtle. Taylor sees that Mattie is very comfortable with children, and Turtle seems more at ease here than she has since Taylor met her.
Mattie’s Christianity embraces nature, laughing at the natural processes of sex rather than putting taboos on them. Mattie is also very familiar with children, a role model that Taylor very much needs as she tries to become an adoptive mother for Turtle.
Themes
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
Mattie welcomes Taylor to Tucson, telling her about her late husband Samuel who came from Tennessee and never quite got used to the dryness. Samuel and Mattie started the tire shop because Samuel was a “fanatical” mechanic and Mattie keeps it running now that he is gone. Mattie notices that Turtle has eaten all the peanut butter crackers while she and Taylor were talking, and offers to go get Turtle some juice. Taylor declines, but Mattie insists that it’s no trouble and steps out the back door.
Mattie makes it clear that Tucson’s extreme environment is not for everyone. She also reveals that she may have started the tire shop because of her husband, but that she has made it her own place now. Mattie’s confidence is an important role model for Taylor’s insecurity as a mother.
Themes
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Feminism and Solidarity Among Women Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
While Mattie is out getting juice for Turtle, two men stop into the tire shop. One simply wants to pick up a new tire, while the other looks like he is dressed as a Priest. Taylor is wary of this man, as she hadn’t encountered many Catholics in Kentucky, but he leaves when he hears that Mattie is not in. He drives off in a station wagon that looks like it has a whole family of “Indians” in the back. The other man, Roger, waits for Mattie to get back.
Taylor calls the family “Indians” because she is not familiar with any other nationalities that might be coming into America. This is the first hint that Mattie might be involved in immigration of some kind. Taylor’s natural distrust of men paints this as something nefarious, but the man is actually more concerned about keeping the people he is helping hidden and safe.
Themes
Feminism and Solidarity Among Women Theme Icon
Belonging and Homeland Theme Icon
When Mattie returns, she gives Turtle a sippy cup and goes to help the other man (Roger) with his car. Taylor is impressed, both with the genius of the sippy cup and Mattie’s know-how with cars. Roger takes the tire he wants, and Mattie comes back to Taylor and Turtle to offer Turtle more juice. Slightly overwhelmed by Mattie’s kindness, Taylor comes clean that she won’t be buying any tires today. Mattie laughs, saying that she already knew that and just wanted to help cheer them up. Taylor asks if Mattie has any grandchildren, and Mattie gives a confusing answer: “Something like that.”
Mattie is skilled at both traditionally male things, like working on cars, and traditionally female jobs, like caring for children. Taylor admires how Mattie escapes the boundaries that other men and women fall into. Mattie’s “something like” grandchildren will show up later: the children of the immigrants that she helps.
Themes
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Feminism and Solidarity Among Women Theme Icon
Mattie continues to give Taylor child care advice, warning her that dehydration is a constant danger in Arizona, and Taylor realizes how much about motherhood she still has to learn. Mattie then asks Taylor what kind of work she might be looking for. Taylor shares her “peculiar resume” from the odd jobs she had in Kentucky, including picking bugs off bean vines. Mattie laughs and goes to show Taylor the bean vines she has in a little garden that she keeps in the back yard of her shop. Taylor is amazed by the bountiful produce available in January, and Mattie explains that a frost usually arrives to kill the crops mid winter, but that this year has been uncommonly warm. The beans in particular came from Mattie’s Chinese neighbor, brought from China in 1907.
Taylor expects that her skills working with the land won’t come in handy in the Arizona desert, but nature surprises Taylor again with its resilience. Yet the unusual warmth is a small reminder that all is not right with nature, as Kingsolver hints at human-influenced climate change. The beans that grow in Mattie’s garden are also transplants from another place, coming from China. These bean trees will become very meaningful to Turtle, another immigrant to Tucson.
Themes
Nature Theme Icon
Belonging and Homeland Theme Icon
Taylor marvels at how different Tucson feels, even though it is still American land. Her hometown in Kentucky is stuck twenty years behind the cultural developments of the rest of the country, and Taylor feels as though she has catapulted into the future. This is exciting, but Taylor is also unnerved by the lack 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 is much rougher than the hotel where Taylor lived in Oklahoma, with a clientele of prostitutes and homeless people congregating at the corner.
Taylor comments on the differences in both the land and the culture of Tucson. Taylor is used to the sleepy rhythms of rural Kentucky, where the community may be stifling but it is also a support system that acts like a family. Taylor feels the lack of people that she knows, compounded by living in an impersonal hotel.
Themes
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Belonging and Homeland Theme Icon
Taylor is especially confused by a new type of poor people that she meets in Tucson. Though they look like the bag ladies that Taylor remembers from Kentucky, they seem to enjoy their exotic appearance and live in galleries and studios they have converted out of an abandoned shopping mall. Taylor goes inside one of these stores try to understand, and is mainly confused by the art and the artist herself. Turned off by the artist’s snobby attitude when she asks about the name of one of the works of art, Taylor makes fun of the other paintings and leaves.
Taylor’s lack of culture causes her to mistake urban artists for homeless people. Kingsolver pokes fun at these artists, who think that they are living closer to the earth but are actually creating artificial barriers between themselves and the people around them.
Themes
Nature Theme Icon
Belonging and Homeland Theme Icon
Taylor struggles to find a new source of income as her savings dwindle, but draws the line at giving blood as the other homeless people in Tucson do. She tries to work at the blood bank because of her experience in the Pittman County Hospital, but is turned away because she has no license in the state of Arizona. She hangs out at Burger Derby, a dying fast food joint, talking to the girl behind the counter. The girl, Sandi, turns out to be crazy about the Kentucky Derby horse race and loves hearing all the juicy details that Taylor knows about Secretariat, a famous race horse.
Taylor, coming from rural Kentucky, does not have the right documentation to be taken seriously in the more developed city of Tucson. She feels like an outsider in this place, even though she wants it to be her home. In contrast, Sandi dreams of the pastoral charms of Kentucky. Just as Taylor thought that Arizona was out of a movie, people who are not from Kentucky think that it is like a movie.
Themes
Belonging and Homeland Theme Icon
Taylor asks Sandi about getting a job at Burger Derby, then realizes that she would have to pay someone to watch Turtle. Surprisingly, Sandi also has a son that she leaves at the Kid Central Station at the mall while she works. This day care is meant for shoppers, but Sandi just checks in every two hours on her breaks. Taylor thinks about checking the Kid Central Station out, and Sandi asks her to check in on Seattle, her son, if she’s going there now. Sandi explains that Seattle is named after a race horse and looks exactly like her with blonde hair. Sandi then comments that Turtle looks nothing like Taylor, and Taylor explains that Turtle isn’t really hers. Turtle is just someone Taylor “got stuck with,” a feeling that Sandi understands.
Sandi, a young single mother in Tucson, proves to be a surprising source of advice for Taylor. Sandi has an unconventional approach to child care, but is only doing what she must in the absence of other support. Both Sandi and Taylor share a feeling of “getting stuck” with their family, though Sandi’s child is biological and Taylor’s is not. Kingsolver continually points out the similarities that non-traditional families share with more traditional ones.
Themes
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Feminism and Solidarity Among Women Theme Icon