The Bean Trees

Birds Symbol Icon

Birds serve as a symbol of freedom in the novel because of their ability to fly, but it is a delicate, vulnerable freedom. Birds represent the freedom of nature, but this freedom is threatened by the confines of modern life in an American city like Tucson. Roads kill birds, while houses trap them in places that they don’t belong. Taylor mourns a blackbird killed on the side of the road and tries to release a trapped song sparrow from her kitchen at moments when the institutions of modern life are most threatening to Taylor’s ability to hold on to her adopted daughter Turtle. Conversely, when Taylor hears bird song, the city of Tucson seems a friendlier, kinder place. In addition, the heroes of the novel are the characters who treat birds with kindness, as when Estevan stops his car to allow quail to pass. Through the relationships of these characters with the birds around them, the novel suggests that the natural freedom that birds represent can be harmed by humans, but also require human protection in order to survive and thrive.

Birds Quotes in The Bean Trees

The The Bean Trees quotes below all refer to the symbol of Birds. 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer 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:

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Birds Symbol Timeline in The Bean Trees

The timeline below shows where the symbol Birds appears in The Bean Trees. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 6: Valentine’s Day
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
Disaster and Survival Theme Icon
...in her upper room, which Mattie says is a “Sanctuary.” Taylor compares this to a bird sanctuary where birds cannot be shot, and Mattie is content to leave the explanation there.... (full context)
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Disaster and Survival Theme Icon
...the law. After some deliberation, Taylor decides to admit to Mattie that she has a “chicken-shit” fear of exploding tires. Mattie looks at Taylor with disbelief, and then throws a can... (full context)
Feminism and Solidarity Among Women Theme Icon
...Ann laughing, Taylor starts ranting about all of her parts as if she is a chicken that men want to pick apart and eat. (full context)
Chapter 7: How They Eat in Heaven
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
Disaster and Survival Theme Icon
...Ann and Taylor try to see what made Estevan stop, finally noticing a family of quail crossing the road in front of the car. Taylor, Lou Ann, and Turtle freeze as... (full context)
Chapter 8: The Miracle of Dog Doo Park
Nature Theme Icon
Disaster and Survival Theme Icon
...vet.” Then she leaves in a four-wheel Blazer with binoculars and says she is going birdwatching. Sometimes, a young red-headed man comes to see Mattie when she returns from these trips.... (full context)
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
Disaster and Survival Theme Icon
...to explain Turtle’s past injuries, but Taylor gets distracted looking out the window at a bird that has made a nest in a cactus. (full context)
Nature Theme Icon
Uninterested in Lou Ann and Taylor’s conversation, Turtle delightedly feeds peanuts to a duck. Taylor leans back and listens to bird song in the trees, a sound she has... (full context)
Chapter 9: Ismene
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Feminism and Solidarity Among Women Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
...her bedroom reminds her of “moon soup,” and Taylor hears a cat yowl and a rooster crow long before daybreak before falling asleep. (full context)
Chapter 10: The Bean Trees
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
Disaster and Survival Theme Icon
...wakes up and Lou Ann comes home in a good mood. Taylor marvels at the birds that sing every morning, even though the trees in their neighborhood park are so sickly.... (full context)
Chapter 11: Dream Angels
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Belonging and Homeland Theme Icon
...whole world is coming apart, as Mattie is gone more and more often on her “birdwatching” trips. The last time Mattie and Taylor talked, Mattie said that Estevan and Esperanza would... (full context)
Chapter 12: Into the Terrible Night
Nature Theme Icon
Disaster and Survival Theme Icon
...eye level from a tree branch. Mattie calmly explains that rattlesnakes climb trees looking for birds’ eggs. Taylor, determined not to be afraid, nonetheless feels her stomach tighten when she looks... (full context)
Nature Theme Icon
Disaster and Survival Theme Icon
...took her in Oklahoma. Virgie appears in the kitchen doorway to tell Taylor that a bird has gotten in the house, confusing Taylor until Lou Ann explains that this has nothing... (full context)
Nature Theme Icon
Disaster and Survival Theme Icon
...that has gotten into the house. Taylor takes the broom from Virgie and chases the bird until it smacks into the wall, while Lou Ann spells out Turtle’s doctor’s name in... (full context)
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Feminism and Solidarity Among Women Theme Icon
Disaster and Survival Theme Icon
...Ann is angry at Taylor for leaving Turtle with the police while she chased the bird out of the kitchen. Taylor is too unsure of her abilities as a mother to... (full context)
Chapter 13: Night-Blooming Cereus
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Disaster and Survival Theme Icon
Belonging and Homeland Theme Icon
...the freeway, Taylor has to resist the urge to stomp on the brake for a blackbird that has been run over on the center line. (full context)
Chapter 14: Guardian Saints
Nature Theme Icon
Belonging and Homeland Theme Icon
Taylor and Estevan talk as Taylor drives. Estevan tells Taylor about the quetzal bird that is the symbol of the Guatemalan Indians. Taylor feels as though she is driving... (full context)