The Bean Trees

The Bean Trees Summary and Analysis of Chapters 13-15

Chapter Thirteen: Night-Blooming Cereus:

As the social worker predicted, Turtle proves resilient. She never does anything with the anatomical rag dolls, except for planting them under the social worker's desk blotter. She does talk to Cynthia, the social worker, about the "bad man" and how Edna Poppy "popped him one." Taylor realizes how ridiculous her pep talk to Esperanza was, for there is no point in treating a person suffering from depression as though she were just feeling sad. Taylor receives bad news from Cynthia: it had come to her attention that Taylor had no legal claim to Turtle. She says that the state of Arizona has a claim on her, and she is a ward of a state. Whether or not Taylor can qualify to become her guardian depends on income and stability.

Lou Ann becomes angry at this news, and tells Taylor that she must fight for Turtle. When Taylor appears ready to give up the fight, Lou Ann says that "I thought we were best friends, but now I don't hardly know who in the heck you are." Lou Ann tells her a story about Bonita Jankenhorn, who was the smartest and gutsiest person she knew, doing crossword puzzles in an ink pen. But when Lou Ann met Taylor, she knew that Bonita Jankenhorn had more than met her match.

Mattie had not yet found a way to get Esperanza and Estevan out of Tucson, much less to a sanctuary church in another state. Mattie tells Taylor that she knew that she was a new parent when she first met her at Jesus Is Lord Used Tires. Mattie tells her that she is asking the wrong question: she is asking whether she can give this child the best possible upbringing and keep her out of harm's way her whole life, when she should instead ask if she wants to try to do so.

Taylor makes an appointment with Cynthia, and they discuss "proof of abandonment" and the cornerstone of an adoption of this type would be the written consent of the child's natural parents. She tells Taylor that in some cases, exceptions are made. Cynthia tells Taylor that she is on her side in this. When Taylor asks whether she'd rather see Turtle stay with her than at a state home, she says "there has never been any doubt in my mind about that." After the visit, as Taylor leaves, a secretary rushes after her with a note from Cynthia: "I appreciate your sensitivity in not wishing to discuss April's custody in her presence." And below there is a name: Mr. Jonas Wilford Armistead, and an Oklahoma City address.

Taylor tells Lou Ann that she is going to drive Esperanza and Estevan to a safe house in Oklahoma, and while she is there she will find Turtle's relatives. Mattie warns Taylor of the dangers of transporting illegal immigrants. Taylor tells her that there are more important things to consider: Esperanza and Estevan will get a whole lot worse than prison and a fine. The night before Taylor is about to leave, Edna and Virgie bring over flowers: a night-blooming cereus, which opens its flower for only one night of the year. They are in awe of the flower, and Lou Ann sees it as a sign of something good. Mattie gives them money for their trip, saying that some folks are heroes and take the risks, and other folks do what they can from behind the scenes.


Lou Ann proves herself right when Turtle shows herself more resilient than Taylor expects. This is a testament to the improvement that Turtle has shown during her time with Taylor. The anecdote about the rag dolls is a bit of foreshadowing; her burying of the dolls is significant, but not for the different reasons that either the social worker or Taylor suggest.

The conflict foreshadowed in previous chapters becomes finally established in this chapter: Taylor must find a way to gain legal custody of Turtle. Once again, it is Lou Ann who reminds Taylor of her determination and power; this suggests that an additional role that Lou Ann plays for Taylor is as he support and reminder of her strengths. In this role, Lou Ann proves herself an idealist who thinks the best of others and has great faith in their strengths.

The two major conflicts of the final chapters of the novel come together in this chapter, as Taylor decides to go to Oklahoma and take Esperanza and Estevan to a safe house in the area. The concurrence of these two plotlines fit well with Taylor's newfound realizations. She assumes the role of courageous heroine that Lou Ann expects of her, fighting to keep her Turtle, yet also moves her fight to a more dangerous and international scale, risking her safety in order to help Esperanza and Estevan. Several anecdotes in this chapter suggest how Taylor has developed throughout the novel; Taylor learns from Mattie that she appeared to be a new mother when she first arrived at Jesus Is Lord Used Tires, while Taylor realizes her own failings in her conversation with Esperanza. Mattie's conversation with Taylor also neatly parallels Taylor's final conversation with Cynthia; while Taylor doubts her role as mother, neither Mattie nor Cynthia doubt that Taylor will provide the best upbringing that she can for Turtle.

The convergence of the two major conflicts of the novel begins to take shape in this chapter, as Kingsolver foreshadows that Estevan and Esperanza will aid Taylor in securing custody. Kingsolver foreshadows this through several details, including the physical resemblance between the Guatemalan couple and Turtle, Esperanza's unresolved emotional state and her relationship with Turtle, and the discussion of securing "proof of abandonment."

The night-blooming cereus is a symbol and a harbinger. Lou Ann views this as a sign that they are undertaking the journey at the right time: the problems of each character are coming together so that each of them can be resolved. The night-blooming cereus is also a dark symbol, an example of great beauty finding its expression only when things seem darkest.

Chapter Fourteen: Guardian Saints:

Immigration stops Taylor's car about a hundred miles away from the New Mexico border. Everyone appears as American as possible, but when Taylor hesitates upon being asked whether Turtle is hers or theirs, Estevan quickly replies that she is theirs. Estevan and Taylor talk about everything, and he asks whether the alligator is the national symbol of the United States, because you see them everywhere on people's shirts, just above the heart. He says that the symbol of the Indian people in Guatemala is the quetzal, a green bird with a long tail. Taylor asks him if he misses his home, because often she misses her own home, and for Estevan it must be worse, not speaking his own language. Estevan tells her that he is a Mayan, and his native language is not even Spanish: his true name is not even a Spanish name, for he chose a Spanish-sounding name when he moved to the city. Taylor tells him that she chose a new name as well. She says that her mother chose the name Marietta because it is the city in Georgia where her parents' car broke down (and she was conceived). They listen to Esperanza singing Mayan songs to Turtle. Taylor wonders about the situation of the Indians, and wonders how a person can be "illegal."

On the second day they reach Oklahoma, and in order to fend against the boredom of watching the horizon they play word games, including finding palindromes (including the sentences "A man, a plan, a canal: Panama" and "Able was I ere I saw Elba.") They reach the Broken Arrow Motor Lodge, where Taylor learns that Mrs. Hoge had died, and Irene had lost over one hundred pounds. Mrs. Hoge had died of Parkinson's. Irene admits that she misses Mrs. Hoge, even if she was never kind to her. Taylor realizes that Oklahoma is a good choice for Estevan and Esperanza, for they appear Cherokee and can fit in easily.

Taylor notices that Esperanza once calls Turtle "Ismene." She cheerfully tells Estevan that she always tells Turtle she's as good as the ones who came over on the Mayflower, but "they landed at Plymouth Rock. She just landed in a Plymouth." Estevan chooses the name Steven for himself and Hope for Esperanza. They reach the place where the Indian woman gave Turtle to Taylor, but Taylor hesitates before going in. When Estevan asks about the worst-case scenario, she says it is that "we lose her, some way."

In the diner, she sees that most of the signs she remembered were gone, but there is the same postcard rack. Taylor tells a waitress that she is looking for someone, a woman whom Ed knew. The girl tells Taylor that her parents own the place, and bought it in March. The waitress supposes that Ed must have died. Taylor brings Esperanza and Estevan in for lunch. Taylor asks about Bob Two Two, but the waitress claims that his place closed down as well. Taylor realizes that she is on a snipe hunt: a practical joke for something that does not exist. Taylor does not want to give up, however, and wants to go to the nearly Lake o' the Cherokees.


The incident at the New Mexico border is a tense demonstration of the struggles that each of the characters face. The immigration patrol confronts Esperanza and Estevan with their precarious status, while by asking Taylor about Turtle also creates anxiety concerning who actually is her parents. Esperanza's quick response that she is Turtle's mother is rational and helpful in diffusing the situation, but it also creates some tension between Esperanza and Turtle. There is an underlying territorial conflict between Taylor and Esperanza that remains unspoken: while Esperanza feels some claim and kinship to Turtle, Taylor feels her own claim and emotional bond with Estevan, whom she is growing to love. This bond that Esperanza feels for Turtle becomes explicit when Esperanza once calls Turtle "Ismene," and Taylor notices that Turtle calls Esperanza "Ma."

The theme of names arises once more during the discussion of Guatemala, in which Estevan reveals that he chose his name when he moved to the city. This nearly replicates the similar choice that Taylor made when she chose her name upon leaving rural Kentucky. The news concerning how Mama Greer chose Taylor's name aligns with a subtext concerning names in the novel: names can identify where a person comes from, as Taylor's original name, Marietta, explicitly did. And, the final choice of new names for Esperanza and Estevan coincides with the recurring theme of persons choosing new names as their status changes: as they prepare to live a new life, they choose new names, Steven and Hope, to live in Oklahoma.

The events of the final paragraphs of this chapter demonstrate the significance of the changes that have occurred through the course of The Bean Trees. Taylor returns to these places as a different person only to find that these places bear little resemblance to the places she remembers. Kingsolver portrays the changes as if a lifetime has passed, when in actuality it has been only six months. Even those areas of her journey not critical to establishing Turtle's status have changed, with the death of Mrs. Hoge and the drastic weight loss of Irene. Kingsolver portrays this with a sense of surreal dread; everything has changed for Taylor, as if what she experienced never even occurred. It is, as Taylor remarks, a macabre joke, a search for something that does not exist.

This drastic change in the area where Taylor found Turtle eliminates any legal option for Taylor to establish guardianship over Turtle. However, this does not eliminate hope for Taylor. It instead leads to the logical and foreshadowed conclusion that will bring together the coinciding plotlines between Taylor and Turtle on one side and Esperanza and Estevan on the other.

Chapter Fifteen: Lake o' the Cherokees:

Over the next several hours, Esperanza and Estevan seem changed. As they reach closer to the heart of the Cherokees, they see fewer and fewer white people. Esperanza and Estevan seem relieved to be around people who look more like they do, while Taylor is the odd woman out. They reach Lake Oologah, the Lake o' the Cherokees, one of the few diamonds of the Cherokee Nation. All of a sudden, Turtle cries out "Mama," but Taylor only sees a gas station and a cemetery. Meanwhile, Turtle and Esperanza become inseparable.

The four travelers find a cottage. Although Esperanza and Estevan object, Taylor considers this vacation a present, "as an ambassador of my country." Esperanza begins to thaw and in some respects return to life, seeming honestly happy when she holds Turtle. Although they insist that Taylor call them Steven and Hope, Taylor cannot get used to changing their names, and suggests that they only use the names when they need to fool someone. While Turtle and Esperanza remain on the shore, since neither know how to swim, Taylor and Estevan take a boat out on the lake. Estevan takes off his shirt to sun himself, and Taylor wishes to know how his chest would feel against her face, so she looks away. She tells him that she will miss them a great deal.

Esperanza begins to use English more and more often, and she discusses with them whether she likes sunset or sunrise better. Turtle attempts to bury a doll in the dirt, but Taylor explains to her that beans grow into bushes or trees when you plant them, but doll babies don't. Turtle says "Yes, Mama." Taylor asks if she saw her mama get buried like that, and Turtle says "yes." Taylor explains that it is sad when people die, because you don't get to see them again." That night, Taylor asks Estevan and Esperanza to do a great favor for her, and they agree.


The relationship between Esperanza and Turtle becomes more disturbing to Taylor in this chapter, as Esperanza becomes closer and closer to her child. Nevertheless, her exposure to Turtle serves to heal Esperanza, and the formerly suicidal woman comes to life while around Turtle. Likewise, the relationship between Taylor and Estevan becomes stronger and more passionate, as Taylor realizes her deep attraction to him. Nevertheless, at this point neither relationship takes a turn into appropriate action. Taylor does not act upon her feelings for Estevan, while Esperanza agrees to help Taylor secure custody of Turtle. The impending resolution of custody to Turtle will also resolve the relationship between Esperanza and Turtle, averting the potentially disturbing consequences concerning the bond Esperanza feels toward Turtle.

This chapter also clears up a mystery concerning Turtle. The reason that Turtle buries her dolls is that it replicates the burial of her mother, as shown by Turtle's reaction to the cemeteries in the area. The burial of the dolls adds shading to the theme of natural growth through the novel. While these instances of natural phenomena generally concentrate on growth and maturation, this anecdote incorporates the presence of death. While Taylor considered the burial of dolls (like seeds) to be a metaphor for life, it is in fact a metaphor for death, blurring the lines between the two events and placing them both as part of a natural continuum.