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

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Taylor Greer is the key protagonist and the most developed character of the novel. She is the narrator, thus the reader sees everything from her angle. She struggles through life’s challenges and by the end of the novel discovers a new meaning for “family” and gains the ability to appreciate each day’s miracles.


There is no true antagonist, no one character that plays the villain in the novel. Different situations cause conflict with the protagonist. The antagonist is the human condition. Taylor’s personality conflicts with her small town Kentucky background so she heads west. The sudden appearance of a child in her life causes repeated conflict, as Taylor is noncommittal about the relationship. She has conflict with Lou Ann who is Taylor’s opposite in terms of strength and independence. She falls in love with Estevan who is married and a refugee causing personal and political conflict. The real conflict is Taylor’s struggle to control her life and resolve these situations.


The climax occurs when Taylor takes a stand on her relationship with Turtle and her feelings for Estevan. She risks her own safety to secure the adoption of Turtle and to transport Estevan and Esperanza to a safe house.


Although the characters feel life’s struggle, all of their difficulties are resolved somehow through Taylor. Lou Ann gains confidence and security in her life, Estevan and Esperanza are safely transported, and Taylor becomes the sole guardian and parent of Turtle.


The novel follows the experiences of Marietta “Missy” Greer as she leaves her childhood home, Pittman, Kentucky. Unlike many of her peers, she has avoided pregnancy and is getting away. She heads west with a barely functioning Volkswagen Bug, determined to change her name according to the first place she has to stop. She ends up in Taylorville. Now Taylor Greer, she drives through the Cherokee Nation area of Oklahoma and her car breaks down. Here an abused, abandoned baby girl is unloaded upon her. She names the child Turtle because of the baby’s unrelenting grip.

Taylor and Turtle drive on together. Challenged with unexpected motherhood and two flat tires, Taylor arrives at Jesus Is Lord Used Tires in Tucson, Arizona. The tire shop is run by a woman named Mattie, and doubles as a safe house for Central American refugees. Mattie gives Taylor moral support and a job. Taylor learns that her own troubles are small compared to those of Estevan and Esperanza, a couple who have had to give up their daughter and are fleeing from both Guatemalan death squadrons and the I.N.S.

As the result of a newspaper ad looking for a roommate, Taylor now lives with Lou Ann Ruiz and her baby boy. Lou Ann’s husband has left her and Lou Ann is without any confidence or self-esteem. Coincidentally, Lou Ann is from the same area of Kentucky as Taylor. The two find comfort in each other’s spirited, down home Kentucky dialect and share the burdens of new motherhood.

Taylor’s relationship with Turtle grows. Her relationships with Mattie, Estevan and Esperanza also grow. The story climaxes as Taylor risks her own safety to transport Estevan and Esperanza to a church/safe house in Oklahoma. While there, Estevan and Esperanza pose as Turtle’s parents to allow Taylor to legally adopt the child. The struggles of the human condition are resolved for the time being in the lives of those Taylor has touched. Taylor discovers a new appreciation for everyday miracles and a new definition for family.

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