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 the male-dominated culture that Kingsolver sees in America. Taylor, raised by a single mother, sees no need for a male father figure in the makeshift family she forms for her daughter Turtle. Taylor refuses to let American society, especially the conservative sensibilities of her rural Kentucky hometown, limit what she can and can not do, working in the traditionally masculine fields of medicine and car repair in order to provide for Turtle. Further, Taylor and Lou Ann each take over aspects of traditionally masculine roles in the family, as Taylor teaches Lou Ann how to let go of the societal expectations of female bodies and the judgment passed on working mothers and helps Lou Ann become a truer version of herself in the process.
Aside from exposing the cultural pressure that dictates acceptable choices for women, the novel also exposes the multiple instances of outright misogyny that women face. Taylor is often dismissed or patronized by men in the novel, as Kingsolver comments on how women are rarely treated seriously in the workforce. Even worse, Turtle suffers sexual abuse at the hands of her extended family, something that Kingsolver refers to as the unfortunate birthright of being a woman. While some characters, like Estevan, are able to overcome the toxic culture that perpetuates this suffering, others, like Angel, cannot help but carry it out. In the face of gender inequality and injustice, The Bean Trees argues that women must support each other. Taylor and Lou Ann learn to lean on each other as they raise children with a better chance at equal gender relations, teaching Turtle to stands up for herself and Dwayne Ray to respect women.
Feminism and Solidarity Among Women ThemeTracker
Feminism and Solidarity Among Women 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.
“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.
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?
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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.”
“You are poetic, mi’ija.”
“Mi hija,” he pronounced it slowly.
“My daughter. But it doesn’t work the same in English. We say it to friends. You would call me mi’ijo.”
“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.”