The Bean Trees By Barbara Kingsolver Critical Essays Kingsolver's Style

Barbara Kingsolver's style is poetic. She blends realism with lyricism, interspersed with humor, to create what critics have called a "southern novel taken west." Kingsolver accurately depicts the lives of common, everyday people (most of them women) by creating vivid images that provoke thoughts, feelings, and moods. For example, we hear the air gun as Taylor works on tires at Jesus Is Lord Used Tires, and we feel the same tingling in our fingers that Lou Ann feels after dicing hot chilies in a packing line at Red Hot Mama's salsa factory. Kingsolver describes the neighborhood where Taylor and Lou Ann live in Arizona as being "a little senile, with arthritic hinges and window screens hanging at embarrassing angles . . . transformed in ways that favored function over beauty." This image, which is both humorous and serious, gives readers a clear picture of Taylor's physical surroundings.


Kingsolver's native southern Kentucky dialect contributes to the realistic representation of the simple, ordinary life lived by her characters. Taylor and Lou Ann both grew up in rural Kentucky and consider themselves hillbillies. They feel comfortable with each other because they talk alike, using expressions such as "I'll swan" and "ugly as a mud stick fence."

Numerous examples of humor throughout the novel prevent the tone from becoming too serious and sad. For example, Lou Ann thinks that her cat has a split personality because "the good cat wakes up and thinks the bad cat has just pooped on the rug." And Taylor imagines Lou Ann going to a job interview and saying, "Really ma'am, I could understand why you wouldn't want to hire a dumb old thing such as myself." Kingsolver's abilities to relate life realistically with a sense of humor and to create detailed images from her perceptive observations enable her to invoke feelings of empathy for her characters and instill hope for a brighter future.

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