The Bean Trees

Themes and Colors
Family and Motherhood Theme Icon
Feminism and Solidarity Among Women Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
Disaster and Survival Theme Icon
Belonging and Homeland Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Bean Trees, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees follows Taylor’s attempts to raise her adopted daughter Turtle, focusing on what it takes to be a family and the alternative forms that family can take in the absence of the traditional mother-father-children family model. Taylor is fiercely protective of the small family she forms with Turtle, her best friend Lou Ann, and Lou Ann’s son Dwayne Ray in Tucson, Arizona as they all help each other…

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The Bean Trees, like many of Barbara Kingsolver’s novels, deals in an almost exclusively female world. These strong, complex female characters drive the plot forward on their own, with little need for male characters. Indeed, the only male characters treated with sympathy are Estevan and Dwayne Ray—Estevan because he is emotionally sensitive and profoundly respectful of women and Dwayne Ray because as a baby and toddler he is too young to have internalized…

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Kingsolver’s background as a biologist and her intense love of nature are prominent throughout the novel. Aside from the many beautiful descriptions of the landscapes around the characters, the characters themselves also love the natural world and find peace when they are in natural environments. Kingsolver continually affirms that humans are also animals, and therefore part of the environment in which they live. Taylor learns to integrate herself into the environment when she moves to…

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Though disasters and tragedies loom large in The Bean Trees, the novel also includes the ever-present hope of survival. Characters in the novel across all social, economic, and political divides struggle with all manner of disasters, ranging from the personal loss of a family member, to the failure of national institutions, to the high number of natural disasters occurring with greater frequency around the globe. Kingsolver does not blame her characters for the disasters…

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The theme of belonging and homeland works on two levels within the novel. On a small scale, the novel’s plot follows Taylor’s struggles to find her true home. Unhappy with the classism and sexism of her rural Kentucky hometown, Taylor searches for a place that feels more comfortable. Through this search, Kingsolver points out that the place where a person is born is not necessarily where that person belongs. When Taylor settles in Arizona…

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