The Bean Trees

The Bean Trees Summary and Analysis of Chapters 4-6

Chapter Four: Tug Fork Water:

Lou Ann Ruiz found her Grandmother Logan asleep with Lou Ann's new baby (Dwayne Ray) in the afternoon heat. She claims that she is merely resting her eyes before her trip back to Kentucky. Angel had moved back in with Lou Ann while Grandmother Logan and Lou Ann's mother, Ivy, stayed with her, for Lou Ann and Angel did not want her mother and grandmother to know about the divorce yet. Lou Ann asks her mother whether Granny Logan always lived with her, from the beginning, and she replies that "not her with us. We lived with her," and that it was easier that way. Granny Logan suggests that Lou Ann and the baby come home to live with them, but Lou Ann reminds them, falsely, that she cannot leave because of her husband. When Lou Ann mentions the sights and industries in Tucson, Granny Logan accuses her of putting on airs. Granny Logan has a coke bottle filled with Tug Fork water for baptizing the baby. She reminisces about how Lou Ann was baptized in Tug Fork, then complains about how Angel is working on Sunday and how she should not expect better from a "heathern" Mexican.

Lou Ann buys tomatoes from Bobby Bingo's truck. He asks Lou Ann if she knows his son, Bill Bing, who sells cars on TV, but she admits that she doesn't have one (her husband took it to his new apartment). Bobby Bingo brags about how his son says that he could buy him a house in Beverly Hills.

At home, Lou Ann sees the coke bottle and tries to remember being baptized in Tug Fork. Angel comes home while Lou Ann nurses Dwayne Ray. He asks whether she has seen his belt buckle or Toros cap. Lou Ann can smell beer on his breath. He asks what is in the coke bottle, and when she tells Angel he pours it down the drain. As Lou Ann nurses her baby, she feels as if he might such the pain right out of her breast.


The fourth chapter is the second and final chapter that breaks from Taylor's first person perspective, and like the previous chapter that did so, it takes the perspective of Lou Ann Ruiz. This chapter largely portrays the demands upon Lou Ann as she attempts to deal diplomatically with her difficult situation; in attempting to please her mother and grandmother, she and Angel must pretend that their marriage is still stable. And, as Kingsolver demonstrates through Lou Ann's interactions with her family, placating each member of her family is difficult to do.

Kingsolver portrays Ivy Logan and Granny Logan as women uncomfortable out of their habitat in Tug Fork, Kentucky, and suspicious of the changes that Tucson has brought to Lou Ann. They are unerringly provincial, complaining about the Hispanic-American Angel as being a "heathern" Mexican, revealing their suspicions about both Hispanics and Catholics. They also suspect that Lou Ann has changed into a person who Œputs on airs' because of her relatively metropolitan lifestyle.

The dynamic within the Logan family is the one instance in the novel in which Kingsolver breaks from the solid bonds between the women of the novel and portrays the relationships in unflattering terms. Yet this new dynamic is necessary, for it demonstrates that Lou Ann does not have a solid support system from which to draw when she needs help with her new child (and thus conveniently foreshadows her relationship with Taylor). Also, this adds a greater and necessary complexity to the relationships of the novel; while certain patterns emerge, they are not set in stone: not every female character is supportive of every other, just as the character of Estevan will prove that not every male character is an errant and unfaithful parent.

The actual appearance of Angel in the novel, the only instance in which his presence is not recalled second-hand, underscores the character details already established about him: he is bitter and surly, drunken and callous toward Lou Ann. Yet Lou Ann draws strength from her son: in the novel, caring for children serves a redemptive role and establishes meaning and significance for those who care for them. In particular, for Lou Ann her son is a rationale for existing; he not only dilutes the pain she feels, but his presence gives her energy and passion for life.

Chapter Five: Harmonious Space:

Taylor began to consider the train that ran near the Republic Hotel as her alarm clock, awakening her at six-fifteen every morning. Taylor worked at the Burger Derby for six days before she quit after a fight with the manager, Jerry Speller. At work Taylor had often teased Sandi with information about horses, but she could at least admit that Sandi had a rough life: the father of her baby had told everyone that Sandi was a schizophrenic who picked his name out of the yearbook when she found that she was pregnant. When she lived with her sister Aimee, Sandi had to pay rent because the devout Christian Aimee thought that it would condone sin for her to let her sister and illegitimate son stay there for free. Taylor admits that Sandi was very helpful with child-care advice. Taylor began looking for roommates, but found the ads maddeningly specific. She finds two ads, one that reads "Must be open to new ideas," the other which reads "New mom needs company. Own room, low rent, promise I won't bother you. Kids okay." The first woman wanting a roommate is Fei, who lives with La-Isha and Timothy, whom Fei says must be excused because he "used caffeine yesterday and now his homeostasis is out of balance." When Timothy asks whether Turtle is a boy or a girl, Fei sharply reprimands him that "gender is not an issue in this house." Fei tells her that a house requirement is that each person spend at least seven hours a week straining curd as part of a soy-milk collective.

The second house on Taylor's agenda is right across from Jesus Is Lord Used Tires, and belongs to Lou Ann Ruiz. Within ten minutes Lou Ann and Taylor are in the kitchen drinking Diet Pepsi and laughing about homeostasis and bean curds. Taylor tells Lou Ann about how she came to care for Turtle, while Lou Ann explains about her cat (Pachuco or Snowboots) who has a split personality. Lou Ann offers Taylor to move in.


While Kingsolver employs a generally light tone through most of The Bean Trees, she uses the fifth chapter of the novel primarily as an absurd satiric comedy. The centerpiece of the chapter, Taylor's visit to the odd commune, proves a savvy parody of ŒNew Age' principles, particularly when filtered through the view of the practical, down-to-earth narrator. The members of the commune are sharply rendered types, claiming to adhere to an unconventional lifestyle and to be "open to new ideas" but instead proving themselves to be rigid, dogmatic and humorless. Kingsolver does not spare any satiric details, from the pretentious names (Fei and La-Isha) to the politically correct dogma that gender is not an issue (when the question about Turtle's gender was asked innocently) to the adherence to strict yet unproven diet principles. Kingsolver portrays these characters essentially as hypocrites and frauds, and justly uses them as comic material to help Lou Ann and Taylor bond.

The interlude at the "harmonious space" is a mere break from the larger themes of the novel. The opening of the chapter further establishes the history of Sandi as a woman coping with a child in an uncaring, masculine world, while the final section of the chapter, in which Taylor and Lou Ann finally meet, proves the most potent example of the strong bond between women, rendered all the more solid because of the common experiences between the two Kentucky natives.

The chapter also returns to the theme of names with a short anecdote about the cat (Pachuco or Snowboots). Lou Ann indicates that the two disparate names of the cat reflect two different personalities: when called Pachuco, the cat acts accordingly, but when called Snowboots, the cat adopts a different manner.

Chapter Six: Valentine's Day:

Taylor takes a job at Jesus Is Lord Used Tires, for she loves Mattie, but she cannot get past her fear of tires. Mattie's place is always busy, not simply with customers but with people who just pass through. There is a set of people who speak Spanish and live with Mattie upstairs for various lengths of time. She says that it is like a sanctuary. When Taylor says that she remembers a sanctuary as "a place they set aside for birds, where nobody's allowed to shoot them," Mattie replies that "they've got them for people too." The people are generally brought and taken away by the priest in blue jeans she had seen the first day, Father William. When Mattie introduces Taylor to Father William, she says "You are old, Father William" despite his youth, simply because it is a poem from a book she had as a child.

Eventually, Taylor tells Mattie about her secret fear of exploding tires. Mattie takes a five-gallon can and fills it halfway with water, then throws it at Taylor. She tells her that it is twenty-eight pounds of water, which is the weight in a tire. She says that the damage Taylor just suffered (she just got the wind knocked out of her) is the worst that could happen with the small tires in the shop.

Taylor shops for a book for Turtle, since she has never had one, and finds a Valentine's card for her Mama, which reads on the cover "Here's hoping you'll soon have something big and strong around the house to open those tight jar lids," and inside has a picture of a pipe wrench. Lou Ann buys a book of names to find a real one for Turtle, and she suggests that Turtle doesn't have much of a personality. Lou Ann sees life as a life-threatening experience, saving newspaper stories of every imaginable type of freak disaster. Eventually Taylor tells Lou Ann to have a beer with her, and suggests that she doesn't have to help her out so much, because they're acting "like Blondie and Dagwood." They keep on drinking, and Lou Ann becomes nervous when she realizes that she is drunk. Lou Ann constantly worries about saying something totally dumb and blowing her friendship. She believes that, although she is glad that Angel left, one is supposed to love the same person all their life and "if you don't, well, you've got to have screwed up somewhere." Taylor's opinion of men is the same as her view on toilet repair: "Parts are included for all installations, but no installation requires all parts." She believes that there isn't a man out there that could use all of her parts.


As shown in the previous chapter, Barbara Kingsolver is willing to use the novel for its comic purposes, and in this chapter she turns her comic aim on her narrator by exposing the absurdity of Taylor's irrational fear of tires. There is certainly irony concerning Taylor's job at Jesus Is Lord Used Tires: of all the irrational fears that one could have, Taylor fears tires, and of all the jobs that Taylor could get, she finds one at a used tires shop. It is the tough but compassionate Mattie who exposes the absurdity of Taylor's fear: if her solution to Taylor's fear is less than graceful, it nevertheless relieves Taylor of her phobia.

Yet a more important detail in this chapter of The Bean Trees is the development of Mattie's role, not only in her relationship with Taylor, but in her larger role within society. It is Mattie who 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.

Considering the pattern of female relationships established throughout The Bean Trees, Taylor's reprimand of Lou Ann is a jarring shock, as she seemingly retreats from the idea of living with Lou Ann and Dwayne Ray as a family. Yet upon closer inspection Taylor's words betray a different anxiety; she does not wish to live in a family environment like "Blondie and Dagwood," in which Lou Ann plays the submissive wife to Taylor's dominant husband. It is not the idea of a family to which Taylor objects, but the idea of a paternalistic relationship, even with Taylor in control. She instead strives for greater equality.

Kingsolver also deals with the problematic issue of Taylor's view of men in this chapter. There is definitely a subtext of androgyny around Taylor, who rejects her obviously feminine names (Marietta and Missy) for a more masculine moniker. Taylor views men only in terms of functionality: they can satisfy certain needs and serve certain roles, but no single man could use "all of her parts." Taylor's view of men as objects meant for functional purposes is one of her various attitudes that will shift through the course of the novel, as she learns to accept men for the less functional purposes that they may serve. Even the symbolism throughout the novel underscores Taylor's belief in men as mere tools: she buys a card that implicitly compares a man with a pipe wrench, then later makes the explicit comparison between a man and a toilet.

The differences between Taylor and Lou Ann become more explicit in this chapter with the greater description of Lou Ann's view on life. Lou Ann is unerringly paranoid, nervous and paralyzed by anxiety over any possible rejection. She behaves diplomatically in order to diffuse possible disasters, believing that any minor mistake might lead to the end of a friendship. Lou Ann lives her life constantly on guard against disasters, convinced that one will befall her either out of poor luck or, worse, her own carelessness.