Symbolism Wiki

The Bean Trees is a novel written by Barbara Kingsolver.

  • Taylor - The protagonist of the novel, Micheal also narrates much of the story. She is a strong, gutsy woman, and her voice is both sassy and strong. Born and raised in rural Kentucky, she leaves to escape a small life in her hometown. Like her mother, she is proud of her Cherokee blood. this is cool
  • Turtle (child of two Indians on a Cherokee reservation) - The child given to Micheal in the middle of the Cherokee nation. She gets her name from her clinginess, which reminds Micheal of the mud turtles in Kentucky. She is so quiet and unengaged that many believe her to be dumb or retarded. This silence, however, is due to Turtle's history: although she is only three years old, Turtle has already been physically and sexually abused. Although Micheal has spent her life avoiding pregnancy, she keeps Turtle with her.

  • Lounn Ruiz - A Kentuckian woman who settled in Tucson with her baby, Dwayne Ray. Her husband, Angel, has just walked out on her when the story begins, and Micheal and Turtle move in with her. She worries about the terrible accidents and horror stories she hears about, fearing for the safety of herself and her baby. More sensitive and more provincial than Micheal, she is nonetheless a survivor.
  • Mattie - The owner of Jesus Is Lord Used Tires and a mother figure for Micheal. She is wise and kind. She allows illegal immigrants to stay in her home, operating a kind of sanctuary. Her garden of beautiful vegetables and car parts is an inspiration for Turtle, whose first word is bean and who loves all kinds of vegetables.
  • Estevan - A Guatemalan refugee, he worked as an English teacher in Guatemala before he and his wife fled to the United States. He speaks beautiful English, and his kind ways inspire romantic feelings in Micheal. He lives in Mattie's building with his wife, Esperanza. He enlightens Taylor about the corruption of Central American governments.
  • Esperanza - Estevan's wife. Her grave demeanor is a reflection of her sorrowful past. Turtle's presence touches her because Turtle reminds her of the daughter she had to leave behind.
  • Ismene - Estevan and Esperanza's daughter, whom they left in Guatemala. She represents both the horror of political corruption and the desperation that can necessitate the abandonment of children.
  • Angel Ruiz - Lou Ann's husband, he is a Mexican man whom Lou Ann met when he worked in the rodeo in Kentucky. Angel's prosthetic leg—the result of a pickup truck accident—wounds his pride terribly and makes him unhappy. He is also an Angel from field of dreams.
  • Alice Greer - Micheal's mother, who lives in Kentucky. In Chapter One, Micheal says that her mother expects the best from her daughter and thinks that whatever Micheal does is wonderful. An encouraging, kind mother, she is the only part of Micheal's hometown that Micheal misses when she leaves. Then, she fell into a hole while chasing a rabbit. Stupid child.
  • Dwayne Ray - Lou Ann's son. He was born on New Year's Day.
  • Newt Hardbine - A classmate of Micheal's. He drops out before graduation to help his family on its farm and dies before Micheal leaves Pittman County. He represents what could have been Taylor's fate had she not had a wonderful mother and the determination to leave town. Got cast into Montay Pythone as the newt.
  • Mrs. Virgie Parsons - Lou Ann's grumpy neighbor, who sometimes baby-sits for the children. She makes insensitive remarks about immigrants.
  • Edna Poppy - The blind woman who lives with Mrs. Parsons. She is much warmer than her roommate.
  • Cynthia - The social worker who comes over after Turtle's run-in with a miscreant in the park. Her prim attitude annoys Taylor, but her intentions are good.
  • Mr. Jonas Wilford Armistead - The legal authority in Oklahoma City who oversees Turtle's adoption. An old white man, he treats Esperanza and Estevan like ignorant foreigners.
  • Granny Logan - Lou Ann's grandmother. She is provincial and harbors many prejudices about Angel's nationality. She hates the arid climate in Tucson and brings Lou Ann water from the Tug Fork River in Kentucky so that she may baptize Dwayne Ray properly.
  • Ivy - Lou Ann's mother. She fights perpetually with Granny Logan, her mother-in-law. Like Granny Logan, she is provincial and has no interest in seeing Arizona.
  • Mrs. Hoge and Irene - The mother and daughter, respectively, who run the Broken Arrow Motor Lodge, where they let Turtle and Taylor stay free of charge on their trip west.
  • Father William - The priest who works with Mattie, transporting illegal immigrants to and from her house.
  • Lee-Sing - The woman who owns the grocery store and Laundromat next door to Jesus Is Lord Used Tires. Her mother brought the original bean seeds from China, the descendents of which now grow in Mattie's yard.


The Bean Trees opens in rural Kentucky. The novel's protagonist, Taylor Greer, who is known at the beginning of the novel by her given name, Marietta, or by her nickname, Missy, remembers a moment in her childhood when Newt Hardbine's father was thrown to the top of the Chevron sign after his tractor tire exploded. Ever since then, Taylor has been afraid of tires. Taylor goes on to tell the story of Newt Hardbine, a peer of Taylor's who died while Taylor was still in high school. Although Newt and Taylor seemed like identical kids when they were small, Taylor was the one to escape small-town life. She did so by avoiding pregnancy, getting a job working at the hospital, and saving up enough money to buy herself an old Volkswagon bug. About five years after high school graduation, Taylor says goodbye to her beloved mother, Alice Greer, and leaves Pittman County, Kentucky, for good. The protagonist decides that she will drive until her car runs out of gas and then take a new name based on wherever she is when her car stops. She ends up in Taylorville, and changes her name from Marietta to Taylor. Her car breaks down in the middle of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, and she stops in an old bar for a cup of coffee and a hamburger. As she sits in her car, getting ready to leave, a woman approaches and puts a baby in the front seat of Taylor's car, telling her to take it. She tells Taylor she is the sister of the child's mother and that the baby was born in a Plymouth car. The woman leaves with no further explanation. Taylor is bewildered, but drives off with the child. They go to a hotel, and while bathing the baby, Taylor discovers that the baby, a girl, has been abused and sexually molested. She names the baby Turtle because the girl clings to things like a mud turtle. Eventually, Taylor and Turtle make it to Tucson, Arizona. When Taylor's two back tires blow out, Taylor goes to an auto-repair shop called Jesus Is Lord Used Tires. There she meets the owner, a kind, wise woman named Mattie. Mattie takes to Turtle right away. Taylor moves into a Tucson hotel with Turtle and finds a job working at the Burger Derby. The narrative switches to the story of Lou Ann Ruiz, another Kentuckian living in Tucson. Lou Ann has been abandoned by her husband, Angel. On January 1, she gives birth to a son, Dwayne Ray. Lou Ann's mother and Granny Logan come west to visit the baby, and Granny Logan brings water from the Tug Fork River in Kentucky, which she suggests should be used to baptize the baby. When Angel comes home to gather up some of his things, he pours the water down the drain. Meanwhile, Taylor has started her new job, but she quits six days later. She begins to look for a place to live, and finds a room for rent listed in the paper. The room turns out to belong to Lou Ann. The two women become fast friends, and Taylor takes the room. Without work, Taylor is left with no option but to take a job working for Mattie at Jesus Is Lord Used Tires. One day Taylor meets two of Mattie's friends, Estevan and Esperanza, a married couple from Guatemala. Taylor quickly falls in love with Estevan and their love begins to bloom. There sexual tensions become hard to hide and Esperaza discovers them at bed at Jesus is Lord Used Tires. Soon, it is evident that they are illegal aliens living with other illegal aliens in Mattie's home above the tire shop. A month or so later, Taylor takes Turtle to see a doctor and finds that Turtle's growth has been stunted because she was abused. Turtle is not a baby, as her size indicates, but a three-year-old. That same day, Angel tells Lou Ann that he is leaving her for good. Mattie's friend Esperanza attempts suicide. When Estevan comes to tell Taylor this news, he ends up divulging the story of their past. He tells her that he and Esperanza had to leave behind a child in Guatemala. The government wanted the names of union members from Estevan and Esperanza and took their daughter, Ismene, a s a way of forcing them to tell. Choosing to save seventeen lives instead of trying to get their daughter back, the couple fled their country. Estevan spends the night on Taylor's couch. Taylor realizes she is falling in love with him. After a few weeks, Lou Ann gets a job at a salsa factory, supporting herself in the absence of her husband. No sooner does she start her new job than Angel sends a package with presents for Lou Ann and Dwayne Ray, and a letter asking her to come live with him in Montana, or, if she does not want to do that, to let him come back and live with her in Tucson. After consideration, Lou Ann refuses to take him back. On the night of the first summer rain, Mattie takes Esperanza, Estevan, and Taylor into the dese rt to see the natural world come to life. Turtle is left with her babysitter, a blind woman named Edna Poppy. Edna and Turtle go to the park, and because of her disability, Edna does not notice when a prowler approaches Turtle. Taylor returns and hears as much of the story as Edna can tell: Edna heard struggling and swung in the direction of the attacker with her cane. She hit him and then felt Turtle tugging on the hem of her skirt. Turtle does not seem hurt, but she has stoppe d speaking and has the same vacuous look in he r eyes that s he had when Taylor first saw her. Turtle's trauma and the difficulties of Estevan and Esperanza make Taylor depressed. To make matters worse, the police in vestigation into the attack on Turtle reveals that Taylor has n o legal claim on Turtle. Taylor will be for ced to give her to a state ward or find a way around the law. The socia l worker in Tucson gives Taylor the name of a legal advisor in Oklaho ma, where the laws are different. Mattie becomes worried about Estevan and Esperanza's safety. A recent crackdown on illegal imm igration will force Esperanza and Estevan to build a new home as "illegal aliens" in Oklahoma. While there, she will look for Turtle's relative s and see if they will consen to a lega l adoption. Once in Oklahoma, Taylor returns to the bar where she received Turtle but finds that it has changed owners. There are no signs of the people  he met there seven months before Taylor constructs a plan to convince the authori ties in Oklahoma that Estevan and Esperanza are Turtle's biological parents. Once in the office of Mr. Armstead, the legal authority in Oklahoma, Esperanza and Estevan pretend to be Turtle's biological parents. Esperanza sobs real tears at the prospect of giving up Turtle, and Taylor realizes that Esperanz a is grievi ng the loss of her own daughter, who looked so much like Turtle. Taylor and Turtle drop off Taylor then calls her mother, who comforts her. Taylor and Turtle head back to Tucson, a place that both of them now call home.


55 Volkswagen Bug

The Volkswagen Bug is a symbol of Taylor's old life. She's worked so hard to not end up pregnant like everybody else and have a grander story than most could hope for from her town. This car is taking her away to a new beginning where she writes a new story that exceeds any expectations she could have met.