The Bean Trees

In life, every person makes decisions and these decisions relate to the choice of life that one ends up living. In The Bean Trees, Barbara Kingslover tells of a young lady and the choices that she made which transformed her life. This is a story about love and friendship, abandonment and belonging and the discovery of surprising resources in apparently empty places. In this paper, I seek to explain in a clear way the path that Tailor Greer follows in the reconstruction of her life and, as a result, her identity.

In the first chapter, where we are introduced to Taylor, the main character in the story, her friends and her life in general. We clearly see that in the midst of the poverty she had grown to know and call home, it did not deter her from hoping for a better future not only for herself but her family. Of importance as we see here is motherhood that was a pillar for Taylor. Barbara contrasts the effects of the different kinds of parenting that Taylor, Newt (her friend) and Jolene (Newt’s girlfriend). It is in the encouragement that Taylor received from her mother that she was able to make the good choices that she did. Unlike Newt, who impregnates Jolene and ends up shooting both of them dead, Taylor opted to stay away even though she was one of the few who had not become pregnant, and seek a better future. She says, “But I stayed in school, I was not the smartest or even particularly outstanding but I intended to finish” (p.3).

The first step in finding her better future was when she moved away from home. Since she had been working and helping her mother with the bills, she had saved up some money that she took and bought a car that ferried her away from home. Taylor, who was earlier known as Marietta, left home, making a promise to herself; that she would get herself a new name (which she chose Taylor). The name came up as this was the town in which her car broke down in, Taylorville. She later begins to rethink her definition of home as she is on her way since she had related the idea of home not with anything else but a physical setting.

In the process of her journey, she met a woman who left a child in her care after which she wrote to her mother informing her that she would be taking her “head rights” with her, meaning that she will take the baby. This phrase suggests that she was beginning to forgo her interpretation of home as a place and related the word more with the connection with people. Taylor discovered that the little girl had been sexually abused while changing her diapers, and this solidified her commitment to her even though at first she did not know exactly she would do with her. Kingslover introduces the perils of motherhood as Taylor takes up the responsibility to the upbringing of Turtle.

After making different stops due to her being uncomfortable with the towns in which they found themselves, Tailor and Turtle (the little girl) finally stopped in Arizona due to car problems. Taylor end up working for Mattie in her shop called “Jesus Is Lord Used Tires” and also a safe house for Central American refugees where she meets and befriend Estevan and Esperanza. It is as a result of this that Taylor realises the rising issues of injustice and discrimination.

While looking for a house after she loses her first job, Taylor responds to an advertisement in the papers and lands a place with Lou Ann Ruiz, who was left with her son Dwayne Ray after being left by her husband, Angel. They form an immediate bond and a sense of family amongst themselves once they realize that they are both from Kentucky. The main theme in the novel is noted by the friendship that develops between Taylor and Lou Ann and the other characters, and also the fact that they create a home in an unanticipated place.

After a long time of waiting, Turtle, who had been brutalized when Taylor found her, started talking. Taylor compares Turtle to a bird, who has managed to blossom regardless of her unreceptive surroundings when she says, “There was a cactus with bushy arms and a coat of yellow spines as thick as fur. A bird had built her nest in it. In and out she flew among the horrible spiny branches, never once hesitating. You just couldn’t imagine how she’d made a home in there” (p.130). When she does begin, her first words are names of vegetables, including most prominently, beans, which grew in Mattie’s garden. After an incident however which included a social worker, the authorities found out that Taylor had no legal rights over Turtle and that she could lose her in a legal battle if none of her relatives were found. Taylor vowed that she would take any necessary steps in order to keep Turtle who was like a birth daughter to her.

The relationships between Taylor and Esperanza and Estevan grow as she goes to the extent of risking her safety to transport the two to Oklahoma where they found a safe house to hide in. She also went searching for Turtle’s relatives to sign her custody over to her legally but unfortunately she did not find them. Taylor then asks Esperanza and Estevan to pose as her parents and express their wish to surrender guardianship of their daughter who was left in her care legally. In the mean time, the struggles of the human condition are resolved for those with whom Taylor related. Taylor discovers a new gratefulness for miracles in life and a new definition for family.

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