The Bean Trees By Barbara Kingsolver Summary and Analysis Chapter 2

Summary and Analysis

Kingsolver shifts the point of view in Chapter 2 to limited third person, relating information as it is seen and understood by Lou Ann Ruiz. Lou Ann, who, like Taylor, is a native Kentuckian, lives in Tucson, Arizona (an environment quite familiar to Kingsolver, who moved there in the late 1970s). Much to her mother's chagrin, Lou Ann married Angel Ruiz four years earlier. Soon after being married, they moved to Tucson to be close to Angel's family. Lou Ann's mother doesn't like Angel because he is Mexican: According to Lou Ann's mother, Mexicans are "trying to take over the world like the Catholics." Here, Kingsolver portrays the prejudice of Lou Ann's mother to reveal the fact that discrimination, in many forms, is prevalent in American society. Lou Ann tries to convince her mother that she is wrong about Mexicans by sending her newspaper clippings about successful Mexican people.

After being married for only a year, Angel has an accident in his truck. His leg is amputated at the knee, and he has to wear a prosthesis — an artificial leg — which "jingles" when he walks. Angel's amputated leg never bothers Lou Ann, but Angel can't accept it. He becomes dissatisfied with life and irritated by everything around him. When his relationship with Lou Ann falls apart, Lou Ann feels guilty because, in her mind, she's done nothing to try to save the marriage. She even thought about leaving herself, but it was easier to endure Angel's verbal abuse and just drift along. On Halloween, Angel cravenly packs his things and leaves Lou Ann while she is at her doctor's office for her seventh-month prenatal exam.

Many readers might object to the suggestion that Lou Ann feels guilty about Angel's walking out on her. Perhaps Lou Ann feels more indifferent about Angel's leaving her than she does guilty. Remember as you read the novel that the women in The Bean Trees ultimately survive — even flourish — without men in their lives. Kingsolver seems to suggest that women do not need men in their lives to feel self-worth.

Kingsolver uses Lou Ann's trip home from her doctor visit to bring to light feminist views regarding the sexual harassment of women and the struggle to survive that women face in a male-dominated society. The nurse in Lou Ann's doctor's office gives her a pamphlet about a diet that she is to follow. On the cover is a picture of a woman holding a baby. Lou Ann concludes that such pamphlets must be "put together by men" who don't like the looks of pregnant women; none of the many pamphlets she's received from her doctor's office have pictures of pregnant women. As Lou Ann rides the bus, men don't look at her directly, and males in general leave her alone. She decides that being able to ride a bus full of people without being sexually harassed is quite pleasant. Before she was pregnant, she couldn't ride the bus without being groped and taunted by men.

Walking home from the bus stop, Lou Ann passes Fanny Heaven, a pornography shop and club that advertises nude women and has a vulgar, "schoolchild"-like painting of a woman on the door. Every time she has to walk by Fanny Heaven, Lou Ann feels uncomfortable and tries to ignore it. Lou Ann's attempt to ignore Fanny Heaven emphasizes how she would rather pretend that something unpleasant doesn't exist than face it and try to change it. Unsure of herself, she discounts her own experiences and viewpoints, believing instead that she isn't strong enough to stand up for herself and to make a difference, not only in her own life, but also in others'. She's unwilling at this point in the novel to take risks.

Before going home, Lou Ann stops at Lee Sing's market to buy candy for trick-or-treaters (which she forgets to purchase), and food listed in the diet pamphlet for herself. She always feels a bit intimidated by Lee Sing because she makes "peculiar" comments. This feeling of intimidation recalls the feelings that Lou Ann has when she walks by Fanny Heaven. She will not — cannot — confront Lee Sing. This time, Lee Sing tells Lou Ann that she will probably have a girl because of the way she is carrying her baby. Lee Sing compares a baby girl to a "New Year pig" because it goes to someone else's family after being well fed. Lou Ann leaves the market feeling offended, but also guilty because she did just that — moved away from her own family after they raised her to be close to Angel's family in Arizona.

When Lou Ann gets home, she realizes that Angel has moved out. She wonders about the items he took and the things he left behind. The tone is sad as Lou Ann faces the reality of her situation. Unfortunately, she seems unable to do anything about her situation, teetering between accepting that she is now on her own and denying that Angel will not ultimately return.

Glossary

Gumby doll a green rubber doll that can be bent in different directions.

conniption a fit of anger.

PCP phencyclidine; used by veterinarians as an anesthetic and used illegally as a psychedelic drug.

Angel Dust another name for PCP.

cyanide a poisonous compound.

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