The Bean Trees By Barbara Kingsolver Summary and Analysis Chapter 3

Summary and Analysis

Kingsolver now shifts the point of view back to the first person and writes from Taylor's perspective. Taylor and the little girl, whom she names Turtle because the girl holds onto Taylor like a mud turtle, are on the road again, and Taylor is in "hog heaven." After staying at the Broken Arrow Motor Lodge through the Christmas holidays, Taylor decided to leave because her "eyes had started to hurt in Oklahoma from all that flat land." She's made some money working as a chambermaid while old Mrs. Hoge baby-sat Turtle.

To Taylor's discomfort, Mrs. Hoge insinuates that Turtle is retarded, but Taylor defends Turtle, as any committed, protective mother would, maintaining that Turtle has "her own ways of doing things." After Taylor and Turtle leave the Broken Arrow and Mrs. Hoge, the tone of the novel becomes more light and cheerful as Taylor and Turtle leave Oklahoma and eventually enter Arizona.

Kingsolver describes the Arizona desert landscape at sunrise by creating humorous images. "Puffy-looking rocks" are shaped like "roundish" people and animals, and "clouds are pink and fat and hilarious-looking, like the hippo ballerinas in a Disney movie." Because Taylor truly enjoys the physical environment of Arizona, she decides that she and Turtle will live there. Here, note how different environments affect Taylor throughout the novel. In rural Kentucky, she grew discouraged about living her entire life threatened by getting pregnant by men like Newt Hardbine (a newt is a type of salamander — certainly not a positive image of men). In Oklahoma, Taylor grows weary of the never-ending landscape, symbolic of her wandering and meandering without something to tie her to the world. And in Arizona, with its natural beauty and peaceful colors, Taylor feels more at home.

As Taylor and Turtle drive through Tucson, Arizona, it begins to hail. The roads become icy and the car has no side windows, so Taylor pulls off the highway to seek cover and wait out the storm. Although she runs over glass on the off ramp and gets two flat tires, her spirits are not dampened. As she drives down the street, Taylor sees the Jesus Is Lord Used Tires shop.

Taylor stops her car and meets Mattie, a widow (another single woman) and owner of Jesus Is Lord Used Tires. Taylor finds out that both flat tires are irreparable; unfortunately, she can't even afford retreads. Noting her hesitancy, Mattie invites Taylor for a cup of coffee. Taylor accepts, and they go sit at a table in the back of the shop.

Kingsolver uses this scene in which Mattie initially greets Taylor and invites her to share in a cup of coffee to provide meaningful details that foreshadow the future. While Mattie gets Turtle some juice, a nervous-acting priest wearing blue jeans comes in looking for Mattie. He doesn't want to wait for Mattie and drives off in a car full of what look like "Indians." Mattie comes back with a spill-proof cup and, observing Taylor's inexperience with Turtle, casually mentions that Turtle could easily become dehydrated without enough to drink. When Taylor comments that Mattie must have grandchildren because she is so good with children, Mattie responds, "Something like that," without clarifying what she means. Here, Kingsolver presents Mattie as a somewhat mysterious person willing to help stranded travelers but unwilling to reveal much about herself. Only very late in the novel does Kingsolver better explain the reasons for Mattie's secrecy. However, note that Taylor doesn't seem all that alarmed by Mattie's unwillingness to explain herself. In fact, Taylor doesn't seem to notice the vagueness of Mattie's responses, perhaps because she already feels comfortable with this woman who unhesitatingly accepts her and Turtle.

Being around Mattie causes Taylor to look at her own lack of child-rearing skills. She feels incompetent as a parent and questions whether she is doing what is best for Turtle by keeping her. Kingsolver interjects a feminist viewpoint as Mattie goes to assist a customer. Taylor watches her and feels proud to see that a woman is accepted for doing a "man's" job.

As Mattie and Taylor walk out to Mattie's garden, Taylor hears someone walking overhead without shoes on. This reference to someone overhead further emphasizes the mystery that surrounds Mattie. Again, however, Taylor trusts that Mattie is in control and knows what is upstairs. She is beginning to trust Mattie more and more.

Note that Kingsolver relies on her background in natural history to describe the bugs and spiders that surface after the hail and rain, as well as the vegetable and flower garden thriving in the dry, desert soil behind Mattie's tire shop. Kingsolver's biology background becomes evident when Taylor later inquires about work at the Red Cross plasma center and refuses to sell her blood because "Blood is the body's largest organ."

Taylor leaves her car at Mattie's and she and Turtle get a room at the Hotel Republic, within walking distance of Jesus Is Lord Used Tires. It is clear to Taylor that Tucson is nothing like rural Kentucky, where everyone knows everyone else and helps each other through good and bad times. Taylor feels lonely and depressed as she realizes that she and Turtle will have to "find [their] own way." Ironically, this struggle is necessary if Taylor is to mature as an adult and eventually recognize the human bonds between herself and the other women on whom she can rely. Earlier in the novel, when she still lived with her mother in Kentucky, Taylor relied totally on her mother for support and shied away from friendships with her schoolmates. Now, she cannot rely on her mother's protection and support and must learn to trust her own instincts.

The internal and external conflicts that Taylor experiences in Chapter 3 are representative of the struggle that many single mothers face. Taylor needs a job, but what can she do with Turtle when day care costs more than what she can earn? Where will she find a job with her limited experience? What if she can't provide for Turtle? What if her money runs out? How will they make it alone without family or friends to help? Also note that Kingsolver addresses the problem of teen pregnancy when Sandi, a young waitress at the Burger Derby restaurant, empathizes with Taylor, who describes Turtle as "just somebody I got stuck with."

Glossary

Disney meaning Walt Disney (1901-1966), the U.S. pioneer of animated film cartoons. The "hippo ballerinas" to which Kingsolver refers appear in the animated classic film Fantasia (1940).

doohickey something whose name is unknown.

ORV short for off-road vehicle; a camper known as a recreational vehicle (RV).

phlebotomist a person trained to draw blood from people for diagnosis or study, or to determine how to treat a disease.

nineteen-ought-seven 1907; ought is a colloquial word meaning zero.

the Derby refers to the Kentucky Derby horse race, run annually near Louisville, Kentucky, on the first Saturday in May.

Secretariat considered by many horse-racing fans the greatest racer ever; Secretariat won the coveted triple crown (the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes) in 1973.

Seattle Slew a race horse that won the Triple Crown in 1977.

towhead a person with white or light-colored hair; tow is a coarse fiber used in the past to make gunnysacks.

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




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