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

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CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES


CHAPTER 17


Summary

The four travelers arrive at the sanctuary church. They have become close and Taylor finds it extremely difficult to say goodbye to her friends, especially Estevan. She loves him but realizes that “There’s no way around the hurt.... You just have to live with it.... All four of us had buried someone we loved in Oklahoma.”

Taylor calls her mother from a pay phone and pours out her heart about everything that has happened. They have a long, warm conversation that reaffirms the loving connection between them. Neither of them wants to hang up, but they promise to make a trip to see each other and say their goodbyes.


This leaves Taylor alone with Turtle for the day while they wait for the adoption papers to clear. The two have a talk about who their friends are and confirm that Taylor is indeed Turtle’s mother, now and forever. They go to the public library to pass the time and end up in the reference section reading about bean trees. Taylor describes the life cycle of wisteria plants, how they are pollinated and form beanlike pods. She goes on to explain the reason these plants can survive in poor soil is because there are microscopic rhizobia on the roots that manufacture fertilizer for the plant. Taylor likens the rhizobia to the Underground Railroad, moving secretly among the roots. She loves that it’s an invisible system like people helping people. “The wisteria vines on their own would just barely get by is how I explained it to Turtle, but put them together with rhizobia and they make miracles.”

By late afternoon they are in the Oklahoma County Courthouse waiting nervously for the adoption papers. Taylor is so anxious she decided to call Lou Ann, collect. Lou Ann is ecstatic to hear from Taylor and doesn’t care about the cost of the phone call. Taylor inquires about Angel and Lou Ann insists there’s no way she’d take him back. Lou Ann has a new boyfriend who is very tall, black, and owns a Doberman pinscher with pierced ears. He is good with Dwayne Ray. Lou Ann attributes her bravery in going out with this guy to hanging around Taylor. Lou Ann and Taylor agree that they consider each other family and finally, to Lou Ann’s relief, Taylor tells Lou Ann that Turtle is legally Taylor’s daughter now.

Taylor and Turtle head back for Tucson. Taylor tries to explain to Turtle that they are going home. Turtle does not seem concerned about where they are going. She is happy that she is with Taylor and sings her “vegetable soup song” with people mixed in and Taylor as the “main ingredient.”


Notes

This chapter is a series of Taylor’s conversations, brief and tearful with Estevan, lengthy and warm with her mother, loving and almost philosophical with Turtle, and relaxed and homey with Lou Ann. In each conversation the term family is redefined to include not only people who are biologically related but also people who, like Rhizobia, are always there to help. This, the main theme of the novel, is appropriately represented at the end of this last chapter by Turtle’s song that includes people in with the things that we care for and cultivate for our own well being.


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