Chapter Seven: How They Eat in Heaven:
Taylor, Mattie and Lou Ann discuss mnemonic aids for spelling during a picnic. It was Lou Ann's idea to have a picnic during that warm Arizona winter. She takes Taylor and Mattie to the place where Lou Ann wanted to marry Angel, but the idea of an outdoor wedding was too unwieldy. With the three women is a couple, Esperanza and Estevan, a Guatemalan husband and wife. Estevan is small and compact, while Esperanza's diminutive size makes her seem shrunken. When Esperanza had seen Turtle and Dwayne Ray, she nearly collapsed in the car, and she could not take her eyes off of Turtle. Eventually Taylor asks Estevan if Esperanza is okay, and he replies that Turtle looks like a child they had known in Guatemala.
Taylor swims in the nearby stream (despite Lou Ann's worry that she is swimming less than an hour after eating). On the way back to town that evening, Mattie warns Estevan, who is driving Mattie's car, that "the last thing we need is to get stopped." Mattie's car suddenly stops, nearly causing Taylor (who is driving behind them) to rear end that car. When the car suddenly stops, Turtle does a somersault and makes her first noise, a laugh. On the road up ahead they see a quail: Estevan had stopped in order to avoid hitting it.
Turtle soon says her first word: bean. She says this when Taylor points out big white beans that look like the ones in Mattie's jars. One night, Lou Ann and Taylor invite Esperanza and Estevan over for dinner, because Mattie is going to be on the six-o'-clock news. They also invite neighbors, Edna Poppy and Virgie Mae Valentine Parsons. Lou Ann admits that she would hate to be on television, for she fears she would yell out something absurd like "underpants." At the dinner, Esperanza looks exquisite, wearing a long, straight dress from Guatemala. On television, Mattie discusses "a legal obligation to take in people whose lives are in danger." Mrs. Parsons sees Turtle and remarks that she looks like a "little wild Indian," and asks if she is Estevan and Esperanza's child. Taylor remarks that she is hers, and that she is a wild Indian.
Estevan brings chopsticks, a "gift for the dishwasher," since he works at Lee Sing Market. When Estevan says that few people at the market speak English, Virgie mutters that "before you know it the whole world will be here jibbering and jabbering till we won't know it's America," and Edna reprimands her. Taylor barely contains her contempt for Virgie.
Estevan tells Turtle a story, a "wild Indian story about heaven and hell." He says that in heaven and hell there is an identical dinner table, but in hell one can only jibber and jabber and not eat, because of the very long spoons, while in heaven everyone eats until they are happy and fat. Lou Ann interrupts by asking "real fat, or do you mean just well-fed?"
The Guatemalan couple Estevan and Esperanza serve a pivotal role in Taylor's maturation, placing a tragic human face on the world outside of Taylor's own provincial experiences. These two characters serve a transformative role, with Esperanza providing a greater look at the world, and Estevan serving as the agent for Taylor's acceptance of men.
Kingsolver portrays Esperanza as a tragic and damaged figure from her introduction. The woman seems barely alive; in her shrunken state she recalls the barely living Turtle when Taylor first took her from Oklahoma. While not describing the details of the tragedy yet, Kingsolver makes it unerringly obvious that Esperanza has suffered the loss of a child, as she nearly collapses upon seeing the infant Dwayne Ray and Turtle. Estevan bolsters this assumption with his comment that Turtle reminds Esperanza of a child she knew in Guatemala. The exact details of this loss will become explicit in the following chapters, yet the occurrence of such a loss and its effect upon Esperanza are immediately obvious.
Estevan, in contrast, is a robust and idealized character. He is the one man who registers as significant for Taylor, who views him as sensitive and charismatic; he even devotes time and attention to Turtle. Kingsolver foreshadows the later development of Taylor's feelings for Estevan; while the presence of Esperanza and her delicate state (not to mention the obvious love that Estevan has for her) prevent any tangible development of a relationship between Taylor and Estevan, the importance of the relationship is singularly one-sided. It is important that Taylor opens to the possibility of love, and not that this love actually comes to fruition. The capability for her to care for a man is more important than its execution.
Having established Lou Ann's vast neuroses in the previous chapter, Kingsolver uses them to greater comic effect in this chapter, demonstrating her worry against every possible problem (such as the dire effects of swimming less than an hour after having eaten). This chapter marks a shift in the portrayal of Lou Ann; Kingsolver employs her primarily for comic effect, yet allows the undertones of neuroses and anxiety to allow for character development and dramatics. Kingsolver portrays Lou Ann as an exemplary control freak, so worried that she may be afflicted with something beyond her control, or worse, that she will lose control of herself, that she becomes paralyzed by her fears.
Along with Estevan and Esperanza, another character emerges in this chapter: Turtle. The previously catatonic child, who has a history but no defining characteristics, emerges as a more three-dimensional character with her first noises and words. This also reflects the deepening relationship between Taylor and Turtle, as the unexpected caretaker begins to view her charge as less of a burden and more of an actual person and even a daughter.
The dinner party returns to the theme of outsiders, as it brings together escapees from rural Kentucky, refugees from Guatemala, and even bolsters this through the use of chopsticks from the immigrant Lee Sing. It is Virgie Mae Parsons who brings this quality into relief through her intense anxiety against the encroachment of the whole world' into her territory. Virgie in effect takes the opposite view of Taylor in this situation: instead of opening to the vast world beyond her own experiences, she closes herself off against new experiences. Kingsolver leaves the relationship between Edna Poppy and Virgie Mae Parsons undeveloped at this point in time; however, considering Virgie's somewhat inappropriate behavior Kingsolver brings the obvious question of what role Virgie Mae plays for the more polite Edna.
Kingsolver also foreshadows later developments in the novel through Mattie's television appearance and her comment warning Estevan against getting stopped: Estevan and Esperanza are illegal immigrants and thus are in significant legal danger. Mattie risks herself by taking in these refugees, but does so because she believes in her obligation to do so, once again proving herself bold and courageous.
Chapter Eight: The Miracle of Dog Doo Park:
Taylor learns that Mama is getting married to Harland Elleston, of El-Jay's Paint and Body. Lou Ann insists that Mama is doing the right thing, for everyone deserves their own piece of the pie. The two sat outside with their kids in Roosevelt Park, which children had nicknamed both "Dead Grass Park" and "Dog Doo Park." Lou Ann says that at least her mother is living, for she feels as if Mama Ivy Logan's life stopped counting when her father died. Lou Ann says that Taylor treats men as if they were put on this earth only "to keep urinals from going to waste." Lou Ann had been telling Taylor all winter about the wisteria vines that would come alive in the spring, and toward the end of March they had sprouted a coat of pale leaves and started to bloom: these flowers out of bare dirt Taylor called "The Miracle of Dog Doo Park."
Taylor and Lou Ann see Mrs. Parsons and Edna Poppy, and Mrs. Parsons tells Lou Ann that someone was looking for her, possibly her husband or "whatever he may be." After they finish speaking to Mrs. Parsons and Edna, Taylor asks for Turtle's sake: if Angel wants to come back, would she say yes. Lou Ann asks what else she could do.
Eventually Taylor apologizes to Estevan for what Mrs. Parsons said during dinner. He simply replies that this is how Americans think. Taylor compliments Estevan for his poetic language, but she dismisses his idea that she could say something poetic herself. Taylor slowly begins to learn how things work at Jesus Is Lord Used Tires. Mattie would often leave for days at a time. A red-haired doctor named Terry would often look after refugees with cigarette burns on their backs.
Angel returns to tell Lou Ann that he is going away for good. Taylor does not see this, because she had taken Turtle to the doctor at the time. Taylor eventually realizes that she should take Turtle to the doctor because of what had been done to her. Finally she makes an appointment with Dr. Pelinowsky. Taylor cannot answer many questions about Turtle, and is relieved to think of herself as a foster parent.' Taylor tells Dr. P that she suspects Turtle was molested. Dr. P suggests that Turtle suffers from a condition called a "failure to thrive," for sometimes in an environment of physical or emotional deprivation a child will simply stop growing. He suggests that the condition is reversible.
When Taylor returns home, Lou Ann tells her that Angel is going to join up with any rodeo that will take a one-legged clown. She says that Angel told her that he might not be sending any checks "until he got on his foot," as if he sees himself as an artificial leg with a person attached. Taylor decides to tell Lou Ann about Turtle later. Lou Ann and Taylor realizes that Turtle's name is actually April when she responds to that word. Lou Ann suggests that Turtle is good enough for a nickname, but she should really be called April.
A recurring motif throughout The Bean Trees, as demonstrated by its title, is nature; there are numerous examples in which characters reference or notice the growth of plants or the occurrence of natural phenomena. This motif first became prominent with Turtle's first word, bean,' and takes a larger significance with the paragraphs devoted to the wisteria vines. The "miracle of Dog Doo Park" is the blooming of the wisteria flowers in bare soil, the growth of life from barren ground. The actual growth of the wisteria vine will be explained in the final chapter of the novel, and only then will it achieve its full symbolic significance. Yet even in this undeveloped metaphorical incarnation it proves a canny parallel to Turtle: just as the wisteria flourishes from its barren origin, Turtle now flourishes despite her harsh past. The later visit to Dr. Pelinowsky confirms this metaphor: like the wisteria vine, Turtle lay dormant during her period of deprivation, but this condition is now reversible.
This chapter also develops the idea that Taylor has little use for men, as she rejects the idea that Harland Elleston might fulfill some sort of need of her mother. Lou Ann accurately appraises Taylor's opinion of men (as if they were put on the earth simply so someone could use the urinals), but even as she does so, Taylor begins to branch out from this viewpoint. The impetus for this change is, not surprisingly, Estevan. Taylor idealizes Estevan, but more surprisingly, it is Estevan who allows Taylor to realize several of her own strengths; while others respect Taylor for her fortitude, Estevan cherishes her for more poetic qualities. Taylor at first dismisses the idea, but Kingsolver portrays her as relenting against Estevan's compliments and steadily accepting this new view of herself.
The conflict between Lou Ann and Angel resolves itself in this chapter, but Kingsolver does not provide a resolution satisfactory for both parties. Although Angel and Lou Ann make a definitive break from one another, Lou Ann has already accepted the fact that she would forgive Angel if he wanted to return to her. This resolution thus leaves Lou Ann with a state of actual finality but no emotional completion; yet this allows for a later maturation that will allow Lou Ann to grow past her dependence on her husband.
The visit to Dr. Pelinowsky more clearly defines the relationship between Turtle and Taylor, while also foreshadowing later developments and problems within this relationship. The visit confirms that Turtle was likely sexually molested, and suggests that this problem may continue to affect Turtle; however, for the first time the relationship between Turtle and Taylor becomes defined. Taylor is now a foster parent' to Turtle.
Nevertheless, the question over Turtle's relationship to Taylor underlies a problem that will propel the narrative of the final chapters. The visit underscores the idea that Taylor has no legal claim to Turtle, and this will become a problem when an upcoming event forces the issue.
Once again, the theme of names returns to The Bean Trees with the decision to give Turtle a new name. Quite significantly, Turtle receives her new name when her status and position change, just as Taylor chose her new name once she left Pittman County. The new name, April, even carries with it the symbolism of spring and renewal, as the baby Turtle takes on a new role as the foster daughter of Taylor Greer.
Chapter Nine: Ismene:
Estevan tells Taylor quietly that Esperanza tried to kill herself by taking a bottle of baby aspirin. Mattie had found her and rushed her to a clinic in Tucson where she would not have to show papers. Taylor does not know what to saying, telling him "anything I can think of to talk about seems ridiculous next to a person's life or death." She offers him food or beer, for her vivid memories of times of crisis involve women preparing food for men. Taylor tells Estevan about a boy in high school, Scotty Richey, who was seemingly an electricity genius that killed himself. He did so because he didn't have anybody, for there was no mixing between groups in her high school. Estevan compares her high school to the caste system in India. In these groups, Taylor was a Nutter, the bottom group (the poor kids and the farm kids). Estevan tells Taylor about how the police in Guatemala use electricity for interrogation. When he says that it is easier for Taylor not to know these things, she says that it's not fair to think that she just looks the other way while the President or somebody sends down shiploads of telephones to electrocute people, and that sometimes she feels like a foreigner too, for nobody asked her permission.
Estevan tells Taylor that she can't know what Esperanza has been through, and Taylor replies that he can't know either. Estevan admits that Turtle reminds him of Ismene, their daughter. She was taken in a raid on their neighborhood. Since Esperanza knew the names of twenty teachers' union members, the authorities used Ismene as a leverage tool: if she told the names of these members (who would be killed), she would get Ismene back. Taylor begins to cry. Taylor thinks about how even her bad luck brings good things: her car breaks once, she gets Turtle, her car breaks a second time, she finds Mattie. And she now counts tires and children as blessings, despite avoiding them for half her life. Taylor asks Estevan if it is difficult to talk about Ismene, and he says that it is not so much now, and it helps to know that her life is still going on somewhere. He asks why she was called a Nutter, and Taylor says that it is because of the walnuts the kids would pick to earn money for school clothes.
Esperanza's suicide attempt places in sharp relief the anguish and suffering that she feels and indicates the gravity of both her and Estevan's situations. Their status as illegal immigrants endangers their life; Esperanza cannot get treatment at certain hospitals because of her status, and Mattie is forced to find a clinic that will save her life without endangering it once more.
Taylor's discussion of the social divide in Kentucky brings into relief issues of class that remain an underlying theme of The Bean Trees. The central characters all belong to lower or precarious classes: Taylor and Lou Ann from rural Kentucky, while by virtue of her occupation Mattie belongs to the blue-collar workforce. The anecdote concerning the suicidal Scotty Richey relates to Esperanza and Estevan in a significant sense; like Scotty Richey, the Guatemalan immigrants find themselves caught between two classes. While Estevan's education and occupation as a teacher places him in an educated class, his illegal status forces him into a lower social caste, working in a grocery store. This mixing of class markers also applies, to some extent, to Taylor. She is among the rural poor, yet her brash confidence and aspirations blur these class lines. This adds another dimension to the theme of foreigners; Taylor even explicitly refers to herself as a foreigner in her own land.
Estevan's story concerning Ismene finally establishes the details easily assumed during Esperanza's first interaction with Turtle. Esperanza had indeed lost a child, but the actual story takes a turn from the expected: the child was not murdered, but kidnapped and placed in foster care. There is a certain irony in this story: while The Bean Trees has more than its share of single mothers raising children, the one two-parent family in the novel is the one which has its child taken away. In many ways, the dilemma that Esperanza faced was worse than the mere loss of the child. She was forced to choose between the life of her child and the life of a large number of union members.
This chapter signals a greater maturation for Taylor. She finally realizes the irony of her own situation, highlighting how what she considered to be bad luck suddenly turns into good fortune. She also, to a more explicit extent, becomes aware of events on an international scale. Her world is no longer provincial: she shows a deep and intuitive understanding of the scope of her situation and her place, or lack thereof, in the world. This foreshadows the eventual time in which Taylor takes this understanding and moves into taking action.