The Bean Trees By Barbara Kingsolver Summary and Analysis Chapters 16-17

Summary and Analysis

Chapter 16 is the climactic chapter in the novel. Estevan, Esperanza, Taylor, and Turtle visit Mr. Armistead, the person whom Cynthia, the social worker, suggested that Taylor see about getting legal guardianship of Turtle. In Armistead's office, Estevan and Esperanza pretend to be Turtle's parents. They "give" her to Taylor and express their wish for Taylor to adopt her. Note that as Esperanza tells her supposedly make-believe story, she goes through a catharsis, a purification that releases her bottled-up feelings about her real daughter, Ismene, and the atrocities that she has witnessed while living in Guatemala. By relating her personal story, Esperanza acknowledges that she no longer dreams of once again holding and caring for Ismene; she is saying good-bye to her daughter. Note, too, that she gives to Turtle her medal of St. Christopher, guardian saint of refugees, and then hands over Turtle to Taylor.

Because this scene in which Esperanza relinquishes her maternal rights of Ismene and her fictitious rights of Turtle is so sad and painful, Kingsolver interjects humor to lighten the tone. Taylor thinks that Esperanza plays her role as the sacrificing mother so well that she could win an Oscar nomination for best actress. Throughout the novel, Kingsolver injects such humor to lessen the emotionally weighty tone of the work.

When Taylor, Turtle, Estevan, and Esperanza finally leave Armistead's office, Taylor thinks of how the group is now a new community of friends and family. She realizes that Estevan and Esperanza have sacrificed everything for her, including their pride, symbolized by their donning denim work clothes to make themselves look more poor than they really are.

In Chapter 17, Taylor safely delivers Estevan and Esperanza to a church that is part of the underground network known as the Sanctuary movement. Another difficult and emotional scene unfolds as they say good-bye to each other.

Taylor's calling her mother after leaving estevan and esperanza emphasizes the stabilizing role that her mother still plays in her life. Her mother is her refuge. Taylor feels proud as she tells her mother that she has adopted turtle. When her mother uses a phrase that alludes to a child's legitimacy, Taylor chides her, but her mother reassures Taylor that children get their traits not only from their biological parents but from "what you tell them."

The other important phone call that Taylor makes is to 1-800-THE LORD. Rather naively, she wants to thank them for being there when she needed them, which is ironic given that she's never directly relied on them before. Taylor is incredulous when she discovers that the telephone number is not a help line at all, but a number to call to donate money. However, after she hangs up, she feels joy, for she now recognizes that she has survived the recent tough times with the help of her newfound family and friends, not with 1-800-THE LORD.

In the Oklahoma City public library, Taylor and Turtle look at a horticultural encyclopedia. Once again, Kingsolver's knowledge of natural history is evident. Taylor reads about the rhizobia, microscopic bugs that live on the roots of wisteria vines. Rhizobia perform a necessary role for wisteria vines: They produce fertilizer out of nitrogen gas. Here, Taylor makes a symbolic connection between the interdependence of the rhizobia and the wisteria plants and the interdependence among people. The relationship between the rhizobia and the wisteria symbolizes Taylor's positive, life-sustaining relationships with the many people she's met. Without this network of friends and family, she would not be the more mature, nurturing woman she's become.

Taylor now accepts the notion that she, Turtle, Lou Ann, and Dwayne Ray are a family. She explains to Turtle that Turtle is now, legally, Taylor's child, and then she calls Lou Ann to tell her that she and Turtle are on their way home. Lou Ann shares her good news that she has begun dating a new man — one she never would have had the courage to date before meeting Taylor — and has decided to reject Angel's offer to reconcile. But she assures Taylor that their family will remain intact. Lou Ann has grown more secure with herself and the decisions she makes, to a large degree because Taylor has empowered her to accept herself for who she is.

The novel ends with Taylor and Turtle heading back to Tucson, to their new home and family. The closing image is powerful in that Turtle acknowledges that they are going "home." Here, Turtle wholly accepts Taylor as her mother. To emphasize this point, Kingsolver has Turtle sing a song about vegetable soup that includes the names of people in her life, with Taylor as the "main ingredient." Kingsolver leaves very little doubt, if any, that Taylor will be a successful mother to Turtle, much like her own mother was to her. Note that the theme of going home here at the end of the novel balances the theme of departure at the beginning of the novel. Taylor has matured into a responsible woman who recognizes the interdependence of the varied people in her life.

Glossary

Rastafarian a member of a Jamaican religion that awaits the redemption of Blacks and their return to Africa.

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