The Emergence of Characters through Motherhood in The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
In the novel The Bean Trees, by author Barbara Kingsolver, the author depicts several different versions of unconventional motherhood in order to communicate her strong views on feminism and nontraditional families. Lou Ann, Taylor, and Esperanza, the three main characters in the book, represent different aspects of motherhood, opposing to the common stereotype, yet all three mothers are faced with the same struggles of survival and the safety of their children in the harsh world. The three women have many similarities, but they find their common bond in motherhood. Neither Esperanza, Lou Ann, nor Taylor have conventional views on motherhood, and none of the women are raising their children in a normal family setup. Lou Anns husband has deserted both herself and the baby; Taylor has had an Indian child thrust upon her as her own; and Esperanza has left her child behind in her homeland with kidnappers in an attempt to save the lives of many other people. Taylors situation is especially significant as she was determined to make it out of Kentucky without any responsibilities. Kingsolver creates a community of characters who depend upon one another in order to survive personal hardships, unexpected crises, and even everyday challenges within an increasingly complex world. As these characters journey through life, they meet and connect with one another in a profound and often life-saving manner. In the process, they form a community of mutually supportive peopleone that functions like a big extended family, however non-traditional it may be. In doing this, Kingsolver not only illustrates the importance of family as an emotional support system in today's society, but the changing face of the family unit itselfone that is defined more by love than by structure, and one that almost always features strong, independent women.
Taylor begins her journey through life as a nave, typical American girl and transforms herself into a self reliant, independent, and adventurous woman. Taylor moves from her own town in order to get away from the pressures of being like every other girl, impregnated and unable to make a sufficient life for herself. Ironically, Taylor is given a baby along her expedition and states that if [she] wanted a baby [she] would have stayed in Kentucky (18). (Kingsolver, Barbara. The Bean Trees. New York: Harper Perennial, 1992. Print. Further references to this work we be documented parenthetically in the text.) Her previous beliefs claim that she did not want raise a child, but despite those ideas, Taylor is ready for the challenge. Taylor is forcer to care for and bring up the child and have the full experience of motherhood. This conflict in which Taylor must herself and her previous notions sparks a change in her, to discover a different side she never knew existed. Parental responsibility exemplifies Taylors independent nature and style, but the experience is new and unexpected, leaving her conflicted. Rather than abandon the child, Taylor makes the plunge into motherhood, casting aside all doubts and developing a new sense of love for parenting. As time goes on, Taylor grows to love Turtle and discovers that her love has also fostered jealousy towards other women when Turtle gives them more attention than herself. When Taylor, Turtle, Estevan and Esperanza stop at the Cherokee nation, Turtle wanders off while the adults talk and every so often she found a pinecone, which she bring back to me or to Esperanza (220) . Turtles choice affects Taylor deeply who tried very hard not to keep count of whose pile was bigger (220) .Taylor openly admits this newfound jealousy to herself, which is a clear sign of self-discovery through her conflicts, and in this case specifically, with other women. Over time, Taylor changes her views on motherhood and has become stronger. Through conflicts between herself and the other women in the novel, Taylor finds her new self. She learns to love her child and forge strong bonds of friendship with the people that care about her. She also learns to feel jealous, the perfect example of how strong her love for Turtle has truly become. Tough times and rough situations call for action and point to self-discovery for those who face them, using their discoveries as a means to cope, overcome and learn.
The character of Esperanza starts off as a timid mother who is recovering from the loss of her of her child and she is able to transform herself into a powerful woman who learns to move on from the past and focus on the future. When the story with Esperanza begins, readers find out that in order to deal with the loss of her child, Esperanza attempts suicide. Esperanzas child, Ismene wasnt killed; she was taken (142) showing that even the act of taking a child away can tear a mother apart. When Esperanza still had tears in her eyes (156), readers were shown that she still misses her daughter dearly. Yet, Esperanza has not given up hope. With Taylors maturity, she tells Esperanza to have some hope and that things will become better. Going on through the novel, readers are able too see Esperanzas transformation. It begins when Taylor, Esperanza, and Estevan all begin their trip for safety. Esperanza held Turtle on her lap [and] she seemed honestly happy. Her eyes were clear and she spoke to Estevan and [Taylor] looking at [their] eyes (218). This was the beginning transformation of Esperanza becoming a stronger woman. Then, at the end of the book, Esperanzas final journey was complete. At the adoption agency, Esperanza, who folded her arms around Turtle and held her against her chest, rocking back and forth for a very long time with her eyes squeezed shut (227). Esperanza goes on to say how happy she is that Turtle finally has a good and loving mother. This is the final step for Esperanza to get past Ismene. She physically gives up Turtle, but symbolically, Esperanza gives us Ismene and moves on from past times. Overall, Esperanza started as a sad, weak, woman who could not get over the loss of her child, yet she miraculously transforms herself into a women who is focused on the future and ready to move on from the past.
Lou Ann believes that without a dominant father figure she will never be able to raise Dwayne Ray on her own, yet by the end of the novel, she realizes that a father is not needed to make a family and she can act as both a mother and a father in the process of bringing up their child. Lou Ann started off as an obsessive mother [hoping] more than anything that it wouldnt be born on Christmas Day (25) and performing other intolerable acts that held Dwayne Ray beck and gave Lou Ann the name of the over protective mother. Lou Ann was always held down by Angel, so much that their arguments made her feel that her bones were made of something like the rubber in a Gumby doll (26). Lou Ann was so put down by Angel and she was physically and emotionally exhausted by his nuisances. Through her journey, with the help of Taylor along the way, Lou Ann started working, she had begun to cut her hair far less often and finally stopped comparing her figure to various farm animals (159-160). This shows how Lou Ann is growing as a person and she is gaining more self confidence. Then finally, towards the end of the novel when Turtle was harassed, Lou Ann finds her real identity and she shines through her outer shy shell. Lou Ann becomes the teacher and Taylor becomes the student, with Lou Ann telling Taylor that everything will be alright and she has nothing to worry, yet ironically, Lou Ann is usually the most worried between all of the characters in the novel. Overall, Lou Ann started off as a shy and timid girl who thought that there was no hope for herself because she has lost Angel, yet she comes to the sense that she can be a powerful mother figure and raise her child as a good kid, being a single mom.
In the novel The Bean Trees, by author Barbara Kingsolver, the author present different views as a mother and that there is no such thing a perfect family, rather that each family has its own individual flaws. Kingsolver suggests it is unrealistic to expect perfection from mothers. She depicts Esperanzas decision to abandon her child as painful but also understandable and even noble. She does not blame Taylor when Turtle is left with a blind baby-sitter and attacked by an assailant. Kingsolver values the attempt at responsible parenting over the results. As each character moves through their lives, they all discover who they really are along the way and they each find out the importance of motherhood. A family is based on love and friendship, rather that making a perfect family with a mother and a father. Each finding their own identity, Taylor, Esperanza, and Lou Ann, each come to the sense that being a powerful women will help them succeed in life and better their role as a mother.