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 they face, instead condemning the isolation and competition of modern American life for making these problems even worse in recent times.
Given that disaster is unavoidable for all characters in The Bean Trees, Kingsolver examines the various ways that people can respond to disaster. Some characters, like Mattie and Esperanza, turn to religion as a way to make sense of a disordered world. Other survivors, like Lou Ann at points in the novel, begin to see the potential for disaster in all everyday situations, and feel hopeless or lost because of it. Still others, like Taylor, stay practical and form contingency plans to prepare for any disaster without becoming paranoid. Lou Ann’s worries provide comic relief in the novel, whereas Taylor’s knack for staying calm in a crisis save the family on multiple occasions. Taylor learns even more about surviving adversity from Estevan and Esperanza, while they remake their lives in America after making it out of the Guatemalan Civil War, and Turtle, who is resilient enough to bond with Taylor after the assault and abandonment she suffered at the hands of her birth family. These characters show Kingsolver’s belief in the ability of people to recover from disaster and thrive, and even suggest that people who have survived disaster are more compassionate and better able to help other people who are in trouble.
Disaster and Survival ThemeTracker
Disaster and Survival Quotes in The Bean Trees
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
“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.”
…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.”
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.”
“Well, don’t feel like the Lone Ranger," she said. “Nobody is.”
“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.”
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.