The Bean Trees

Why did Estevan and Esperanza leave Guatemala to come to the United States? How had they managed to adapt to their changed circumstances?


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Chapter Seven makes explicit Mattie’s role as an activist for illegal immigrants and refugees. Clues from previous chapters hinted at her work: Spanish-speaking people constantly staying in her house, a hurried priest with an Indian family waiting in his car, Mattie’s explanation to Taylor that she operates a human sanctuary. It now becomes clear to us that Mattie not only works for immigrants’ rights, she hides illegal immigrants in her house. The novel takes a political stance, portraying Mattie’s work as good and heroic. Edna and Virgie do not understand Mattie’s remarks, perhaps deliberately: Virgie harbors very conservative views on immigrants and twists Mattie’s ideas in order to hear what she wants to hear. Neither does Taylor fully comprehend what Mattie says, a failure that Kingsolver does not excuse. Because Kingsolver makes the nature and nobility of Mattie’s work clear to the reader, Taylor’s failure to grasp it seems perplexing and possibly willful. Kingsolver lets us wonder if Taylor decides not to understand because the topic scares or upsets her. Estevan’s story of heaven and hell continues this political commentary. As he tells the story, he glowers at Virgie, conveying his disapproval of her views on immigrants. She thinks immigrants should fend for themselves and Americans should not help them, just as the hell-dwellers in Estevan’s story think only of helping themselves.


Gradesaver/ Chapter 7 Analysis

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 Œthe 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.