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Free Study Guide for The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver-BookNotes

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THEMES


The Bean Trees
carries a strong family theme; not family in the usual sense, but loving caring and being there for people that you aren’t related to but consider family. The second theme is one of everyday miracles. Apparently empty places can be surprising resources for life’s beauty. The third theme is the ability of women to use their power of community to manage the struggles in their own loves and the lives of others.


MOOD


The undercurrent mood of The Bean Trees is one of struggle. Kingsolver, however does not allow the feeling to get too heavy. Love, humor and the affirmation of risk taking are interspersed with the sometimes quite serious difficulties the characters experience. The troubled feeling surfaces and dips throughout the plot.

At the climax, the reader is brought near tears as Esperanza relives losing a child, but this time is able to say goodbye and deliver the child to safety. Taylor demonstrates her genuine and unconditional love for the child as she describes how near she comes to losing Turtle, unable to resist if Esperanza would have asked to keep the child.

The struggles once again submerge and the novel ends with satisfying resolutions for all of the characters.


Barbara Kingsolver - BIOGRAPHY


Barbara Kingsolver grew up in eastern Kentucky and, like her character Marietta Greer, never imagined herself staying there. She left Kentucky and attended DePauw University in Indiana where she majored in biology. (She took one creative writing course.) She pursued graduate studies in biology and ecology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, receiving a Masters of Science degree. (She also took a writing class taught by author Francine Prose.)

After graduate school Kingsolver wrote for journals and newspapers as a science writer for the University of Arizona. In 1986 she won an Arizona Press Club award. In 1995 she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from DePauw University after the publication of High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never.

The Bean Trees was published in 1988. It was received enthusiastically by critics and read with delight by ordinary readers. Kingsolver began this novel while pregnant and suffering insomnia, sitting in a closet. The novel won the Enoch Pratt Library Youth-to Youth Books Award, the American Library Association Notable Book and the New York Times Notable Book.

The Bean Trees was followed by a collection called Homeland and Other Stories (1989), a nonfiction work, Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike (1989), a poetry collection, Another America: Otra America (1992), and the novels, Animal Dreams (1990), Pigs in Heaven (1993), The Poisonwood Bible (1998), and her most recent work, Prodigal Summer (2000).


Barbara Kingsolver is both a writer and a human rights activist. Her writing is actually a form of political activism. In addition, she gardens, cooks, hikes, and plays hand drums and keyboards with her husband, guitarist, Steven Hopp. She lives with her husband and two daughters near Tucson and in Southern Appalachia.


HISTORICAL INFORMATION


There are two items of history that will assist in the understanding of the author’s development of the story. The first is the existence of the Cherokee Nation, the second, the Guatemalan Civil War.

The Cherokee Nation was established in 1839 after almost 17,000 Indians were forced from their southeastern homeland and marched to “Indian Territory”, now the state of Oklahoma. About 4,000 died of hunger, exposure, and disease on this Trail of Tears. The Cherokee Nation is the second largest Indian tribe in the U.S. Many of its over 200,000 members live in a 7,000 square mile area in northeastern Oklahoma. They have their own democratic government and their own constitution. They do not have a President and Vice President, but a Principal Chief and Deputy Principal Chief. Their Congress is the Tribal Council.

The Guatemalan Civil War lasted over thirty years from 1960-1996. The Bean Trees was written in 1988, before the Central American Relief Act. At that time, America was supporting the oppressive regime and Central American refugees were not legally allowed into the country. There have since been reports of genocide, murder and other human rights violations. The 1996 Peace Accord ended the Guatemalan Civil War but the country’s democracy is fragile.


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