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

The women in The Bean Trees portray feminist views shared by Kingsolver. They are strong, resilient women living in an imperfect world in late twentieth-century America. Their endurance, strong relationships, and commitment to their nontraditional families are paramount to their survival within the confines of society.


The women in the novel are ordinary, decent women. Their concerns, similar to those of most single women, include how to survive on very little income, how to keep their children clothed and fed, and how to keep a job and care for their children at the same time. Kingsolver considers these women heroes. They persevere in spite of the trials and tribulations they face, and discover resources in totally unexpected places.

Kingsolver's women survive with each other's help. The interdependent relationships that develop among them provide support and encouragement, enabling them to accomplish tasks that they could not accomplish alone. Esperanza is able to come to terms with the loss of Ismene when she has the opportunity to symbolically give up Turtle and say good-bye. If Taylor hadn't had Esperanza's support in return, she may have lost Turtle to the state. The relationships between the women, similar to the relationship between the rhizobia and the wisteria vines, are symbiotic because there is a steady give and take. As a result, like the wisteria vines, the women flourish.

All the women in the novel who have children are single mothers. Motherhood is the most important aspect of their lives. Taylor's mother worked as a housekeeper and raised Taylor alone. She always made it clear to Taylor that trading Taylor's father for her was "the best deal this side of the Jackson Purchase." Taylor, who was adamant about not wanting to be "barefoot and pregnant," willingly takes care of Turtle and loves her as though she is her natural-born child. Lou Ann, overprotective of her son, Dwayne Ray, does her best to be the perfect mother. Although these women have little to offer their children materially, they do offer them the things that count — love, a family, security, and stability. As Taylor tells Turtle, "You already know there's no such thing as promises. But I'll try as hard as I can to stay with you."

Because Kingsolver's women are, for the most part, single, men are not prominent characters in the novel. The attitude of the women toward men is not negative or antagonistic; it is indifferent. Taylor doesn't feel as though she suffered because she grew up without her father. In fact, as she grew up, she realized that there was more to life than facing a future "married to a tobacco farmer." Lou Ann's husband left her, and it didn't seem to matter that he wasn't around any longer. His presence had not been significant enough to miss. This prevailing attitude of the women toward men is expressed in the Valentine's Day card Taylor sends her mother. On the outside, the card reads, "Here's hoping you'll soon have something big and strong around the house to open those tight jar lids." On the inside is a picture of a pipe wrench.

The women quickly learn the benefits of knowing their neighbors and developing a community. Because American society is a mobile society, traditional communities, in which everyone knows and cares about everyone else, are disappearing. By creating a community for her women in the novel, Kingsolver is able to alert her readers to the importance of community and the contribution that it makes to the life of each and every member.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

According to Taylor, who is: “somebody I just go stuck with”?




Quiz