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“The Bean Trees” by Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees is one of the most popular and urgent literary works nowadays. It touches upon burning issues of the modern society such as the conflict between ethical and legal, racism, adoption laws, homelessness, multiculturalism, kidnapping, depression suicide, the conflict of nature and nurture etc. We are going to analyze the importance of nature and nurture for a child’s bearing and development presented in Kingsolver’s work.

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It should be noted that the author does not contrast the role of these basic influential factors for a child’s bearing and development. Kingsolver presents both these factors as very important and influential. She even gives the same status to both of them. The author points out that nurture may change a child’s bearing and even the whole life, but she does not forget about the fact that genes are impossible to change at all and they become apparent during a child’s life (Dowling 122).

The Bean Trees is a story about the woman who decides to begin a new life far from her parental house and the fate endows her with the possibility of becoming a mother. Although she does not have her own children, she has to become a mother for a little Indian girl. Kingsolver’s work is the story about the upbringing and development of a little Indian girl. The author presents this development in details pointing out the influence of her background and present environment. Taylor becomes a real mother for her and many people notice many similarities between them. These similarities are explained not by genetics but by the nurture. Despite all these similarities, Taylor as well as other people notices that there are a lot of things testifying to the fact that this little Indian girl, named Turtle is not Taylor’s blood child. Although many things in Turtle’s behavior may be changed, her genes are impossible to suppress.

The importance of hereditary ties is expressed in The Bean Trees in a full way. Estevan and Esperanza, two Mayan refugees from Guatemala, figuratively represent Turtle’s dead parents. There is no wonder that Turtle has so close relationships with them as far as they belong to the same ethnicity. This physical similarity may be caught between Esperanza and Turtle, but it is quite difficult to find these ties between Turtle and Taylor (Nurture, Loss, and Cherokee Identity 189). Such similarity is based on hereditary, and there is no wonder that Taylor and Turtle have different appearance as far as she is not her real mother. Nevertheless, Taylor influences Turtle’s behavior and there are a lot of common things uniting them at the spiritual level.

The Bean Trees expresses the importance of nurture. Taylor’s narration abounds with examples of how the expectations of parents influence children’s lives (Nurture, Loss, and Cherokee Identity 189). Taylor’s mother was the source of inspiration and encouragement for her as the reader may observe in the following words: “no matter what I did, whatever I came home with, she acted like it was the moon I had just hung up in the sky and plugged in all the stars” (Kingsolver 13). Her successful life is contrasted to Jolene Hardbine’s fate who got pregnant so young. Jolene explains her misery with the following words: “my daddy’d been calling me a slut practically since I was thirteen, so why the hell not?”(Kingsolver 12). It is the bright example how parental words may make their children happy on the one hand or spoil their life on the other hand. Taylor’s words and behavior influences Turtle’s life as well as Taylor’s mother affects her own life. There is even the example of the cat in the novel that becomes so good only because one owner calls him Snowboots and becomes bad when other owners call him Pachuco that is the name of a bad Mexican boy (Nurture, Loss, and Cherokee Identity 190). These examples testifies to the fact that parental attitude has a great influence over a child’s life.

The author points out the importance of nurture from the birth of the child as well as from the adoption. Adoption presupposes a new life for a child as well as a new environment and nurture. Although Taylor has become mother unintentionally, the author equates her with real mothers. Factually, Barbara Kingsolver points out that the word ‘mother’ is entitled not only to those women who give birth to children, but to those who bring up them as in the case of Taylor. Although Taylor does not accept the fact that she is the mother at first, and when a coworker asks her about the child she answers, “She’s not really mine…She’s just somebody I got stuck with”, at the end of the story she realizes that Turtle is her real daughter and nobody may deny this fact (Kingsolver 70).

Alice, Taylor’s mother, points out the resemblance between Turtle and Taylor in her childhood despite the fact that she is not her blood child. When Taylor says about Turtle, “You never know what she’s going to say”, Alice answers, “Well, she comes by that honest” (Kingsolver 299). Alice highlights the word “honest” pointing out the importance of nurture rather than heredity. Alice explains her point of view in the following words: “I don’t think blood’s the only way kids come by things honest. Not even the main way. It’s what you tell them, Taylor. If a person is bad, say, then it makes them feel better to tell their kids that they’re even worse. And then that’s just exactly what they’ll grow up to be” (Kingsolver 299). Taylor accepted the fact that Turtle is her real daughter despite her adoption. At the end of the narration Taylor says to Turtle: “I’m your Ma, and that means I love you the most. Forever” (Kingsolver 302). Having got the adoption certificate, Taylor accepts that Turtle is her real daughter and nobody has the right to deny this fact. Factually, Taylor realizes it even earlier, but this certificate gives her the right to be called mother legally. The author presents the situation when the word ‘mother’ refers to that woman who brings up a child despite the fact that she did not give the birth to this child (Gorton 2009). Taylor nurtures Turtle and it gives her the right to be called her real mother.

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Although nurture is paid a lot of attention in The Bean Trees, the role of nature is also pointed out by the author. Taylor is one-eighth Cherokee by her nature and her attitude to Turtle may be explained as ethnic solidarity. Once time Taylor mentions her bond with Turtle, “Her great-great grandpa was full-blooded Cherokee…On my side. Cherokee skips a generation, like red hair” (Kingsolver 96). Taylor thinks over her roots and her belonging to Indians. She has noticed that she has the same appearance with Indian women on postcards with “the long, straight hair and the slender wrist bones” (Kingsolver 20). More than that, her favorite colors are the Indian ones namely red and turquoise. Taylor dresses Turtle in the same colors passing her this hereditary tradition (Decker 2003).

When Turtle finds out that her parents are dead, she buries her doll calling her ‘mama’. Taylor shares her sadness, but the most consolatory for her are Estevan and Esperanza who are the prototype of her dead parents. Taylor says that Estevan and Esperanza have the same “high-set, watching eyes and strong-boned faces” as Turtle has (Kingsolver 124). The existence of Estevan and Esperanza helps Turtle to get through her loss while she helps them to deal with their grief, the kidnapping of their own daughter (Nurture, Loss, and Cherokee Identity 192). It may seem that Estevan and Esperanza will be the best parents for Turtle due to their ethnical ties, but they personally reject this idea, “We love her, but we cannot take care for her…We move around so much, we have nothing, no home” (Kingsolver 214). Taylor’s care is necessary for Turtle and Taylor has become a good mother for her. This example testifies to the fact that nurture is as important as nature.

At the end of the narration Turtle seems to have “a comfortable hybrid identity” combining nurture and heredity (Nurture, Loss, and Cherokee Identity 197). The plot is structured around the establishment of Turtle’s personality with her family history as a Cherokee and her final point of becoming Taylor’s daughter. Plot is presented in such a way that the reader is involved in the debates between the importance of kinship, parenthood and families. The author presents the balance between the value of nature and nurture. Barbara Kingsolver expresses nurturing (environment) as important as nature (genetics).

The Bean Trees evokes debates concerning the question of motherhood whether nurture or birth makes a parent. Although the author points out the importance of nurture at the beginning of the poem presenting Taylor’s family and her own childhood, she does not deny the influence of genetics. The reader may observe this influence in Turtle’s behavior. Taylor is amazed with Turtle’s behavior sometimes and she says, “Doesn’t she walk like a queen? I swear I didn’t teach her that. It’s a natural talent” (Kingsolver 128). Even if Taylor influences Turtle’s behavior, her natural talents are impossible to be changed or suppressed. Kingsolver points out the power of genetics in Turtle’s behavior. Taylor “has had many moments of not believing she’s Turtle’s mother” (Kingsolver 10). Although Taylor and Turtle differ from each other physically, they have many common things making other people believe that they are blood mother and daughter. When Taylor’s mother, Alice, looks at them she concludes, “They share something physical, a beautiful way of holding still when they’re not moving” (Kingsolver 138). Alice explains such resemblance by their influence on each other. She points out that not only Taylor teaches Turtle but Turtle influences Taylor too.

Barbara Kingsolver presents the equal importance of nurture and nature in her work The Bean Trees. She connects this question to the debate about the right to be called mother. There are two kinds of mothers depicting in the story, namely ‘a biological mother’ connected to a child by nature and ‘a real mother’ who nurtures a child. Such differentiation may seem to give more influential power to nurture, but Kingsolver uses many examples testifying to the fact that nature is impossible to be suppressed anyway.

Works Cited

Decker, Cathy 2003, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees. The Sights and Symbols of the Novel. Web.

Dowling, John. The Great Brain Debate: Nature or Nurture? USA: Princeton

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University Press, 2007. Print.

Gorton, Ceri 2009, “The ThingsThat Attach People”. A Critical Literary Analysis of the Fiction of Barbara Kingsolver. PDF file. Web.

Kingsolver, Barbara. The Bean Trees, New York: HarperTorch, 1998. Print.

Nurture, Loss, and Cherokee Identity in Barbara Kingsolver’s Novels of Cross-Cultural Adoption n.d. PDF file. 2012. Web.

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