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

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Taylor and Turtle visit Cynthia, the social worker, twice a week. Turtle seems fine, but Taylor is still depressed. Cynthia then informs Taylor that Taylor has no legal claim to Turtle and that Turtle may become a ward of the state. This makes Taylor feel even more helpless and inept as a parent. Lou Ann is outraged and tries to help, but her encouragement and common sense cannot alleviate Taylor’s despair.

Mattie is also having problems. She has been unable to arrange safe passage out of Tucson for Estevan and Esperanza. The offers of help have all been too risky. But true to her generous nature, Mattie still spends time advising Taylor and suggesting options that Taylor is unaware of. After some warm dialog and introspection, Mattie’s counsel gives Taylor the courage to go back to Cynthia to discuss Turtle’s future.

Taylor meets Cynthia alone, unwilling to subject Turtle to the discussion of “her future and ownership as though she were an item of commerce.” Cynthia explains that she is willing to help Taylor find the papers and information needed to allow Turtle’s legal adoption. Taylor is surprised and thankful to discover that Cynthia is on her side. Cynthia gives Taylor the name of a man in Oklahoma who could help formalize any legal documents regarding Turtle’s birth, natural parents and abandonment.

Taylor needs to do a lot of thinking and doesn’t discuss the matter with Lou Ann. The following day Taylor and Mattie talk, and afterward Taylor finds Lou Ann at the park to explain her plan. She will drive Estevan and Esperanza to a safe house in Oklahoma and try to find Turtle’s relatives while she is there. Lou Ann is concerned about Taylor’s ability to find Turtle’s relatives and get consent for adoption. Mattie is concerned about Taylor’s risk transporting illegals.

At a late hour, the night before Taylor leaves, Virgie Mae Parsons knocks on Taylor and Lou Ann’s door. They wake the children and follow Virgie to her house where Edna is waiting on the porch. They see huge silver-white flowers blooming from the ground up to high above their heads. Virgie Mae explains that the flowers, Night Blooming Cereus, open for only one night of the year. Edna had noticed the scent and alerted Virgie to the event. They are all delighted and fascinated with the blooms. Lou Ann says the flowers are a sign of something good.

The next morning as Taylor, Turtle, Estevan and Esperanza are loading Mattie’s Lincoln for the trip, Taylor finds it remarkable that Estevan and Esperanza have packed for the rest of their lives in one small suitcase. Mattie gives Taylor money that was donated “from behind the scenes” in effort to provide for the journey. Mattie and Taylor exchange heartfelt words of support and Mattie looks at Taylor “the way Mama would have”. Hugs and kisses are given and with tears in her eyes Taylor drives out of sight while Turtle and Esperanza wave goodbye as if to family.


The themes of this novel are emphatically expressed in this emotional chapter. The theme of the powerful influence of women is verbalized by Taylor as she looks at Mattie’s calendar with a picture of an Aztec man carrying an unconscious woman, “Though I knew that more often than not it was the other way around, the woman carried the man through the tragedy. The man and the grandma and all the kids.” The theme of everyday miracles in seemingly empty places is expressed beautifully with the Night Blooming Cereus erupting in enormous blossoms from a homely porch plant. The themes of community and family not being defined in the usual sense are illustrated strongly in the touching final pages of the chapter. As Taylor, Turtle, Estevan and Esperanza are leaving, the scene plays out like “the most ordinary family picture, except for the backdrop of whitewall tires.”

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