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

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The novel is written in the voice of Taylor Greer. In this instance of first person narrative, Taylor is not only the medium through which the story is conveyed, but also the central character. The people and events of the novel are presented to the reader after having been percolated through Taylor’s senses and moral code. Each chapter ends with a remark that punctuates Taylor’s feelings about the preceding events.

Unity of time is maintained in the novel, but once Taylor heads west, unity of place is disrupted. The events in Taylor’s story are portrayed chronologically with a traditional path of story development. The beginning chapters are introductory (including the two chapters not narrated by Taylor) and we are eventually led into Taylor’s quest toward self-discovery. Though there is a straight line of time, there is not just one high point. The story rises and falls in ripples of emotion as something significant happens each time Taylor changes location. The final climactic swell occurs when Taylor returns to the Oklahoma setting and describes for the reader gratifying solutions to all of her predicaments.

Taylor’s plot line first brings the reader through her rationale as to why she must get away from Pittman, Kentucky. She is leaving a situation where people are emotionally needy, incomes are limited, and “family” means mother and daughter. Little does she know at this point that she will eventually find herself reasonably happy and satisfied in her new situation where people are emotionally needy, incomes are limited, and she is the mother with a daughter. The difference is to be found in the new definition for “family” that Taylor constructs along the way.

At first Taylor is not comfortable as a mother. Her relationship with Turtle, the abandoned child, grows with each of their experiences together. Her feelings of indecisiveness about what to do with regard to keeping the child, though neither central nor obvious, are always present. Taylor shares a sense of marvel about Turtle with the reader. She also shares her insecurities as a candidate for motherhood.

Over the course of time, and some unsettling incidents, Taylor comes to grips with her feelings and decides that she must keep the child. Her satisfaction with this decision as well as her situation in life is illustrated by her description of Rhizobia in the final chapter.

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