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

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As they approach Lake o’ the Cherokees, Estevan and Esperanza become visibly relaxed. There are few white people in the area so they seem to fit in. This is Turtle’s original home, so she, too, fits in. And though Taylor has enough Cherokee blood to qualify for “head rights”, she feels she is the odd one out. Turtle and Esperanza have developed a strong bond, which adds to Taylor’s uneasiness. Then Turtle suddenly shouts, “Mama” as they pass a cemetery. Taylor’s heart skips a beat.

The terrain around Lake o’ the Cherokees is green and hilly, a welcome contrast to the flatness of Oklahoma. Taylor is relieved that the Cherokee Nation isn’t a “complete bust”. Determined to have a good time for just one day, they rent a cottage. Relaxing on a stream bank, Taylor notes that, especially when holding Turtle, Esperanza seems happy, as if, “behind her eyes, or deeper, in the arteries around her heart, something was starting to move.” In this idyllic setting, Taylor also notes very deeply her feelings for Estevan. At sunset they picnic on sandwiches and fruit that Mattie had packed for them, while Turtle runs in circles around the trees. Later, Turtle settles down and buries her doll in the dirt, once again saying, “Mama.” Taylor and Turtle have a tearful discussion about Turtle having seen her mama buried.

At the very end of the chapter, Estevan and Esperanza agree to do a very big favor for Taylor.


This chapter sets the tone for the climactic next chapter. The four travelers, victims to a situation not entirely of their own making, have bonded into relationships unique to each configuration of the pairing. Estevan and Esperanza, refugee husband and wife, are able to relax somewhat because of their ability to blend in with the natives of the area and the natural way they appear as a family with Turtle. Turtle and Esperanza have become inseparable, one having lost a mother, the other having lost a child. This particular relationship sets the scene for the emotional purge, which is to come. Taylor and Turtle are beginning to understand how fragile a mother and child relationship can be and how important it is to each of them to maintain their togetherness. Taylor and Esperanza connect as both act the role of mother to Turtle, however Taylor is uncomfortable with the attachment that has developed between Turtle and Esperanza. Lastly, Taylor and Estevan skirt the possibility of a deeper relationship that neither of them can afford. Taylor, as narrator, confesses her heartbreak.



Taylor, Turtle, Estevan and Esperanza go to the office of a notary public in Oklahoma. (Taylor had gotten his name from Cynthia the social worker.) They have a completely fabricated conversation about who they are and what their plans are. They explain to the notary that Estevan and Esperanza (posing as Steven and Hope Two Two) are giving their child to Taylor. Sobbing, Esperanza explains that she and her husband move around and have no home; therefore they cannot take care of a child right now. She goes on crying harder, feeling that someday they may have more children when things are not so hard. It is clear Esperanza is in deep pain over giving up a child. Estevan tells Turtle to be good and strong, like her mother. Taylor is unsure which mother he means. Esperanza rocks with Turtle and continues to cry. It is easy to believe Esperanza and Turtle are really mother and child, about to be separated. Even Taylor feels as though she can’t take Turtle from Esperanza.

The official papers are drawn up and everyone shakes hands. Taylor arranges the rest of the adoption details with the notary. Estevan and Esperanza appear changed, relieved. They leave the office “a strange new combination of friends and family.” Taylor is now the sole guardian and parent of Turtle, with the papers to prove it.


Though brief, this chapter is the powerful climax in the relationship between Taylor and Turtle. Throughout the novel Taylor has experienced confusion and second thoughts regarding Turtle’s “rightful ownership”. Having finally decided to share her life with the child, Taylor resorts to fraudulent measures in order to secure adoption papers that will allow her to keep Turtle as her own. In the process, however, Taylor comes close to actually losing Turtle because of the relationship that has developed between Turtle and Esperanza. Knowing Esperanza’s despair after having had to give up Ismene, Taylor feels willing to let Esperanza keep Turtle. As it turns out, the scene in the notary’s office is a catharsis for Esperanza that allows her to come to terms with her pain and start anew. In this way the chapter is also a climax in the lives of Estevan and Esperanza allowing them to turn a corner into their own future.

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