The Bean Trees is the first novel by America author Barbara Kingsolver. It tells the story of a young woman from Kentucky called Taylor Greer who embarks on a journey to avoid the burdens associated with marriage and child rearing. However, this does not go as planned when she has to take care of an abandoned child. A dominant theme in the novel is that of women and femininity. The story is dominated by female characters that form strong social networks and see each other through good and bad times. This essay analyses femininity in The Bean Trees and explores the various literary elements whose patterns across the story reveal this theme.
The female characters in The Bean Trees depict the feminist views shared by Barbara Kingsolver. They happen to be strong and spirited women living in an imperfect world of America during the early 1980s. They have notably positive traits such as endurance, commitment to family, and ability to form strong relationships; all which help them survive within the confines of society. They are ordinary, decent women who go through the same problems faced by single mothers. Some of their concerns include surviving on a meager income, providing for their children, and balancing employment with motherhood. Despite the trials and tribulations that they encounter, they strive to persevere and in the process discover resources in completely unexpected places.
The theme of femininity in The Bean Trees is explored in a number of different ways, one of them being highlighting the success of almost exclusively female world. For instance, Taylor Greer, the novels main protagonist, is from a small community of women who strengthen each other and live independently of men for a significant portion of their lives. Also, once Lou Ann starts sharing her life with Taylor, she does away with her unsupportive husband, gets a job, and stops caring about her appearance. Despite her negative attitude towards child rearing, Taylor soon finds the spirit to fight for Turtle, her adopted daughter, after receiving encouragement from Lou Ann and Mattie. When she observes Esperanzas tearful liberation, she realizes she would give Turtle to her if she had asked. The loyalty between them is strong considering that Esperanza does not ask for Turtle despite the child being the only thing that gives her joy. From the way they relate to each other, it is evident that the women are extraordinarily royal to each other.
In the novel, Kingsolver portrays gender inequality as more of a societal phenomenon rather than as a bunch of individual grievances. For instance, when Taylor sees Turtles body for the first time, she states that the little girl is already inflicted with burden of being born a female. The statement suggests that the author has no intention of letting readers think of Turtle as an individual. Rather, she wants the child to be seen as a representative of females in general, all of whom go through certain hardships just because of their gender. It is apparent that women suffer due to their sex. A good example of this is when Lou Ann is touched and prodded by men inside a bus, and the fact that she is offended by lewd paintings found in a strip joint. Also, Esperanza appears to have had less educational and employment opportunities in her native Guatemala when compared to her husband. Another good example is that of Estevan, who despite being fluent in English cannot express her grief clearly due to the isolation that comes with her depression.
A notable literary device used to highlight the theme of femininity in The Bean Trees is symbolism. For example, the first word ever that Turtle speaks is bean. It symbolizes the hope that, if something is provided with the care and nurturing that it requires, it can grow and thrive. The little girl underwent gross abuse while in the hands of her previous family, and experienced many traumatizing events in the course of her young life. Fortunately, she started receiving real motherly love and care from Taylor and others who loved her. Consequently, Turtle was able to put her miserable past behind her, in the process growing and learning new things. Her situation can be likened to a bean tree that requires the support of rhizobia bugs. These insects supply the plant with nutrients that enable it grow in a healthy manner. Also, Ismene, who is Esperanzas daughter, can be perceived as a symbolic element in the story. Just like turtle, she symbolizes the corruption and pain of society through the story narrated to Taylor by her mother. Her forced abandonment puts Esperanza in a mournful and depression-like that she has a hard time recovering from.
Kingsolver uses figurative language in The Bean Trees that includes metaphors and similes to present the theme of femininity. A metaphor is a literary device that compares two dissimilar things without the use of any words of comparison. The author is influenced by her feminist opinions to use a metaphor in the part where Taylor buys a Valentines Day card for her mother. The card has a picture of pipe wrench, and is meant to be a joke in that it will assist her mother open jars having tight lids. It is a sign that Taylor feels she does not need help from men in her life as she will use the wrench rather than a husband to open jars.
Snodgrass, M. E. (2004). Barbara Kingsolver: A Literary Companion (Vol. 2). Jefferson, NC: McFarland.
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