The Bean Trees By Barbara Kingsolver Summary and Analysis Chapters 5-6

Summary and Analysis

Kingsolver shifts, for the last time, to a first person point of view, allowing Taylor to tell her own story as she experiences and perceives it. After eating breakfast at Burger Derby on several consecutive mornings and getting to know Sandi, a young waitress at the Derby, Taylor applies for and gets a job as a waitress there. She leaves Turtle at Kid Central Station, a baby-sitting service for shoppers at a local mall, while she's at work. The child care service is free, and Taylor and Sandi, whose son is there also, take turns going to check on their children. Although Taylor is fired from her job after only six days, at least she no longer has to leave Turtle at Kid Central, which she doesn't like. Perhaps unknowingly, Taylor is growing more protective of Turtle and more committed to motherhood.

Taylor begins scouring the local coffee shops for newspapers left lying on the tables for help-wanted and housing ads. A woman named Jessie, who claims leftover fruit and melon rinds, always has an "interesting-smelling shopping cart" with her and professes to be an artist, collecting the fruit "for still-lifes." Kingsolver uses Jessie to allude to homelessness.

Without a job, Taylor is unsure whether she can still afford the room at the Hotel Republic, so she begins looking not only for a job but a new place to stay. Kingsolver includes a comical sketch of individuals who are perceived as living on the fringe of society when she has Taylor meet three New-Agers looking for a roommate. Taylor can't imagine giving up toxins found in junk food or spending hours straining curd. She turns down a cup of alfalfa tea and humorously tells the three roommates that she and Turtle are going to "envision [themselves] in some other space."

At the next house, Taylor meets Lou Ann Ruiz. An immediate bond forms between them because they are both from Kentucky and speak the same dialect. Taylor and Lou Ann, both single mothers living at poverty level, decide to combine their resources and share Lou Ann's house. In effect, they create a community in which members are as concerned about others as they are about themselves. Aside from having children, the two mothers are quite different. Taylor is independent and spirited, whereas Lou Ann is fearful and feels worthless. Kingsolver again interjects humor to prevent the chapter's tone from becoming too depressing — Lou Ann and Taylor talk about Turtle, and Taylor notices Lou Ann's cat pawing at the carpet. Lou Ann thinks that the cat has a split personality because "the good cat wakes up and thinks the bad cat has just pooped on the rug."

Turtle's personality and demeanor haven't changed much in the time she's been with Taylor. Taylor understands that Turtle's experiences have had a major effect on her. When Taylor and Turtle first meet Lou Ann, Lou Ann whacks an ice tray against the counter to loosen the ice cubes and Turtle winces. Turtle's reaction suggests some previous emotional or physical abuse, but Kingsolver refrains from explaining the girl's obviously painful past.

When Lou Ann talks about her fear of flying and a particular airplane crash, Taylor recalls that she earlier saw on the news that the only survivor of the crash, a flight attendant, was rescued by a rope that had been dropped to her from a helicopter. The look on Turtle's face reminds Taylor of the look on the flight attendant's face as she gripped the rope. Although Taylor is growing more and more protective of Turtle, she cannot yet understand the causes for Turtle's mysterious actions. Later, when Lou Ann asks Taylor if Turtle is adopted, Kingsolver foreshadows the future because people don't "just dump [a baby] like an extra puppy."

Despite her fear of exploding tires, Taylor starts working for Mattie at Jesus Is Lord Used Tires. Taylor seems able to face her fears and work to overcome them, especially if it means being able to support Turtle monetarily and emotionally. Mattie agrees to give Taylor two tires for her Volkswagen and help fix the ignition, so she can't refuse the job offer. Noticing that Taylor is jumpy around loud noises, Mattie asks her if she's "running from the law." Foreshadowing the future, Mattie comments, "I've got enough of that on my hands," without explaining any further. Embarrassed, Taylor admits to being afraid of exploding tires. Kingsolver's scientific background is again evident as Mattie helps Taylor overcome her fear of exploding tires by performing an experiment and explaining exploding tires in relative terms.

As time passes, Taylor becomes more aware of Spanish- speaking people living with Mattie. The people come and go with the blue-jeaned priest whom Taylor met on her first visit to Mattie's shop. When Taylor asks Mattie about the people, Mattie asks her if she knows what a sanctuary is. Taylor's only familiarity is with sanctuaries set aside to protect birds. Mattie tells her that sanctuaries exist for people, too. Here, Kingsolver begins focusing Taylor's — and the reader's — attention on the plight of less fortunate people. Taylor's growing awareness of the world around her mirrors her newfound awareness of herself as a responsible adult in whose care a young girl has been placed.

Taylor comes home from her job at Mattie's one evening and is upset because it is as if she and Turtle and Lou Ann and Dwayne Ray have become a family: She goes to work while Lou Ann stays home and cooks, cleans, and takes care of the children. Taylor's reaction reveals her independence but also shows that she still has some maturing to do; through Turtle, she is still learning how to open up to and care for other people. Taylor voices her feelings, and naturally, Lou Ann feels bad and cries. She wants to please Taylor because she doesn't want Taylor to abandon her like Angel did. Kingsolver's feminist views and humor become more apparent as Taylor tells Lou Ann her theory about not staying with one man for an entire lifetime. Taylor compares men to the flapper ball that shuts off the water in a toilet tank. Taylor had memorized a line from a flapper ball package that read, "Parts are included for all installations, but no installation requires all of the parts." Taylor doesn't think "there's an installation out there that could use all of [her] parts." She also shows Lou Ann a Valentine card that she bought for 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. Taylor doesn't dislike men; her attitude is one of indifference — a major theme in the novel. Taylor and Lou Ann laugh, and Lou Ann is in disbelief as she realizes that Taylor has stayed up half the night to talk out a problem with her.

Throughout Chapters 5 and 6, Kingsolver continues to use her extensive background in biology and natural history to create images and symbols. For example, she compares the railroad system in Tucson to a hardened artery in a human body. At one time, the railroad probably brought new life to the city "like a blood vessel carrying platelets to circulate through the lungs." After a frost kills Mattie's purple beans, Mattie tells Taylor, "That's the cycle of life . . . the old has to pass on before the new can come around."

The tone at the conclusion of Chapter 6 is happy. Taylor and Lou Ann survive their first "talk" and realize that they have become friends.

Glossary

Freeloader a person who imposes on another's hospitality without sharing in the responsibility or cost.

Mr. Ed a popular television show in the early 1960s whose title character was a talking horse. (The "horse" was actually a trained zebra.)

hunkered crouched down.

Beach Blanket Bingo refers to a 1965 beach movie of the same name, featuring teen idols Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.

homeostasis a relatively stable state of equilibrium.

sarong a long strip of cloth worn as a dress or skirt.

flex short for flexible.

splitting our gussets laughing hard enough to rip the seams in your clothing.

Junebug a large beetle.

jerry can a container that holds about five gallons of liquid.

foisting deceitfully forcing someone to accept something.

Blondie and Dagwood a married couple in a newspaper comic strip.

Heimlich Maneuver an abdominal thrust to dislodge food or other material from a choking person's windpipe.

José Cuervo a brand of tequila.

star sapphire a gem cut and polished to show a star shape in the stone.

Sing Sing a U.S. federal penitentiary located in Ossining, New York.

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