The Bean Trees


Barbara Kingsolver

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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.
Nature Theme Icon

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 Arizona. Though the flora and fauna in the desert are the polar opposite of the natural world in Taylor’s original Kentucky home, Taylor is enchanted with the stark beauty of this new landscape. The animals that have adapted to the harsh desert or overcome the extra stresses that human cities put on natural resources in the desert provide inspiration for Taylor as she and Turtle learn to survive and thrive in this arid land despite the troubles they have faced. Taylor expresses Kingsolver’s belief that modern human society has adversely affected natural ecosystems and begins to learn about the ways that humans have harmed the delicate balance of the desert and ways that humans can help return the earth to its natural rhythms. Kingsolver reverently describes the beauty and wonder of nature, as well as the harsh balances of life and death in the natural world, as she advocates for humans to become responsible stewards of the good and the bad in the environment.

More than simply rest and relaxation, natural spaces in the novel also offer cathartic experiences that begin to heal traumatic experiences from many characters’ pasts. Turtle, though shell-shocked from the tragedies of her first years, takes an interest in gardening that helps her to slowly bridge the gap between human and natural worlds. Turtle’s growth matches the growth of the wisteria vines that thrive in the poor soil of the Tucson desert. Turtle’s rebirth into human society takes place at a lake as Turtle reenacts the burial of her mother. At the same lake, Taylor finally realizes how to gain legal custody of Turtle. Though the natural world is far from idyllic in Kingsolver’s conception, it is still more perfect than the manmade institutions that have caused Taylor and Turtle, as well as Estevan and Esperanza, so much trouble in the novel. Taylor, Turtle, and the others need to spend regular time in natural environments in order to be happy and healthy. Kingsolver writes these natural scenes with an eye towards building awareness of the majesty of nature while convincing her readers that the natural world needs people who are committed to preserving that beauty for future generations.

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Nature ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Nature appears in each chapter of The Bean Trees. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Nature Quotes in The Bean Trees

Below you will find the important quotes in The Bean Trees related to the theme of Nature.
Chapter 3 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Turtle (April)
Page Number: 48-49
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Lou Ann Ruiz (speaker), Angel Ruiz
Page Number: 84-85
Explanation and Analysis:
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:
Chapter 17 Quotes

The wisteria vines on their own would just barely get by, is how I explained it to Turtle, but put them together with rhizobia and they make miracles.

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Turtle (April)
Related Symbols: Wisteria Vines (Bean Trees) and Plants
Page Number: 305
Explanation and Analysis:

She watched the dark high-way and entertained me with her vegetable-soup song, except that now there were people mixed in with the beans and potatoes: Dwayne Ray, Mattie, Esperanza, Lou Ann and all the rest.
And me. I was the main ingredient.

Related Characters: Taylor Greer (Marietta Greer) (speaker), Turtle (April)
Page Number: 312
Explanation and Analysis: