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Mattie introduces the international scope of the novel, broadening Taylor's world even farther from her original view of a world limited to Pittman County. Mattie is the exemplar for the values that Kingsolver espouses through The Bean Trees: she is the epitome of a caretaker, not simply for family, but for all of those in need. She expresses most of Taylor's best characteristics: determination, courage and a no-nonsense attitude, but does so to a larger extent. While Taylor is the narrator for The Bean Trees, Mattie is to a great extent its paragon and heroine.
Mattie's sanctuary for refugees deals with several prominent themes of the novel. These refugees are mostly from South American dictatorships, as will later be revealed. This is the fullest and most literal expression of the idea of most of the novel's characters as foreigners, the logical extension to Lou Ann and Taylor's status as outsiders living in Tucson. The sanctuary also operates under the principle of communal, unselfish help, just as the women in the novel (Lou Ann, Mattie, Taylor, Sandi) aid one another.