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

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Lou Ann finally gets a job at a salsa factory. She and the other workers are accustomed to the essence of hot peppers that permeates their skin and remains even after scrubbing. They all know not to touch eyes or private parts. Lou Ann does her job enthusiastically and even invents recipes that end up printed on the jar labels. Having a job seems to have elevated Lou Ann’s self esteem.

On hot evenings, unable to sleep, Lou Ann and Taylor stay up late after Lou Ann’s swing shift and read about disasters in the newspaper. Once, reflecting on why she is such a “worry wart”, Lou Ann confides to Taylor a dream wherein an angel tells her that Dwayne Ray will not live to see the year two thousand. The worry from the dream is compounded by Lou Ann’s ominous interpretation of the next morning’s horoscope. Taylor counsels Lou Ann explaining that Lou Ann hunts for disaster. “If you look hard enough you can always come up with what you want.” Taylor further explains to a needful Lou Ann that worrying makes Lou Ann a caring and attentive mother.

Lou Ann gets a promotion at work and things are going well. Then she receives a package from Angel containing gifts, apologies and offers of reconciliation. She is confused and indecisive. About the same time, Taylor receives word that Mattie may have to move Esperanza and Estevan to Oregon or Oklahoma to avoid deportation. Taylor is confused at first, but then sees the situation with clarity.


We see the character of Lou Ann developing from a self-loathing, cowering personality to someone with more confidence and self-reliance. The package from Angel arrives as if to test her emerging independence.

Turmoil is also brewing for Mattie, Esperanza and Estevan. This awakens Taylor’s perception of reality and the reader intuits that she will meet this injustice head on, perhaps finding those surprising resources within herself.



Mattie, Taylor, Estevan and Esperanza ride off into the desert to experience the first rain of the summer. Taylor elaborately describes the sights, sounds, and smells that are coming alive. “There seemed to be no end to the things that could be hiding, waiting it out, right where you thought you could see it all.” She also confesses to the reader her feelings for Estevan as they dance in the rain, thunder their music.

When Taylor gets home she finds a terrible situation. Turtle had been at the park with Edna Poppy and someone tried to kidnap or molest the child. Edna swung her cane and struck the person while Turtle clung to Edna’s skirt. As the events of the night are explained, a policeman and a social worker arrive. Taylor is distraught and overwhelmed. She excuses herself and joins Virgie Parsons who is chasing a sparrow that has gotten into the house. Taylor notes the frightened heartbeat of the bird and uses a broom to gently usher the bird out the screen door to freedom, but Into the Terrible Night.

There is no evidence that Turtle has been molested. She is scared and bruised and Taylor fears that her child, who is finally developing a vocabulary, will not speak again. The incident leaves Taylor feeling hopeless and empty. She bemoans the ugliness around her, abused children, the homeless, refugees, and ignores Lou Ann’s efforts of support.


This chapter brings the reader feelings of sensual joy, then hopeless despair. Taylor’s observation in the desert about how life can hide from you parallels the theme of apparently empty places being surprising resources for the beauty of life. Kingsolver’s use of similes and extended metaphors here draws the reader completely into the splendor of the changing seasons in the desert.

As in Chapter 8, the appearance of a bird symbolizes Turtle. She is terrified by the events of the night, coaxed to safety, but has no guarantees about what the future holds. As a result of the events of the day, Taylor sheds her idealism and naiveté as she realizes that her true desires, the love of Estevan and the safety and well being of Turtle, are not within her reach.

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