Slinking through life, setting and attaining low-set goals, and looking forward to nothing but more of the same in the future, is not a life many would want to live. Taylor Greer, the main character in the book, The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver, lives in a town whose inhabitants have the aforementioned life style. She wishes to break free and travel, but leaving her mother behind is once of the hardest things she has done. Barbara Kingsolver, however, suggests a theme of friendship rather than self-independence as Taylor travels through life. The message – do not look for a place, then find friends; but look for friends, and then make that your place – is clearly stated by key points of evidence in the book. In reading the book, one can see that this message is only hinted at in the beginning, but by the last chapter it is obvious. The characters of Taylor, Lou Ann and Turtle are the best representations of this theme in the book.
Taylor wishes to escape from a place where she has been forced to find friends throughout her childhood. She travels out West to find any place other than her hometown where she can live. Though she originally settles in a town because of a flat tire, she quickly finds friends and decides to make that her new home. Her physical place is with her friends in Arizona but as the story progresses, one can see that her place in the grand picture is with Turtle. She states to Estevan, “[…] I spent the first half of my life avoiding motherhood and ties, and now I’m counting them as blessings” (137). It is at this point the Kingsolver suggests that Taylor turns from not wanting Turtle to fully embracing her motherhood duties. When Taylor finds Lou Ann and Turtle to be her friends, she finds a place much like what her mother was – always accepting of what she does and always cheering her up.
The second example, Lou Ann Ruiz, a single mother and recently separated from her husband, struggles to stay with the day to day routine of life. She has low self-esteem and regards everyone’s opinions as better than her own. She clings to the idea that her place is with Angel, even though he has retracted his love for her and has left her; she holds on to the idea that since she loves Angel still, he must be her place. Since she clings to a love she cannot have, she is mortally afraid that she will lose her other love, her baby. However, when Taylor moves in with Lou Ann, she helps Lou Ann see the reality of her situation. Lou Ann finds her friends in Virgie May, Edna Parsons, Turtle, and Taylor. Once she begins to regard Taylor as a friend, she slowly begins to voice her own opinion. She begins to like her appearance and stop obsessing over her fears of losing her baby. It is then, even though Angel sends Lou Ann a letter stating he would like her to join him in Montana, Lou Ann realizes that her place is with Taylor and her neighbors.
The last paradigm of this theme is the character Turtle. She is a Cherokee Indian who has already had a rough life at the age of three. Normal children of Turtle’s age try to make friends with others, but Turtle has been abused. She is then given to a stranger, and forced to cope with her life. Turtle had neither a place nor friends, but her situation changes slowly as Taylor becomes more aware of her responsibilities as a mother. In the beginning of the book, Turtle does nothing but stare at Taylor; by then end of the book, she is talking, though the words mainly consist of vegetables, and is on the road to recovery from her earlier abuse as a child. Turtle also begins to make friends with Esperanza. The two seem to connect deeply and one thinks that Turtle has found her friend and place. However, once Esperanza lets go of Turtle at the adoption agency, Turtle realizes that Esperanza is not her place. As Taylor and Turtle drive away, Turtle finds her friend in Taylor and, since Taylor adopts Turtle, she finally finds her place. Turtle acknowledges this when she “entertained me [Taylor] with her vegetable-soup song, except that now there were people mixed in […]. I was the main ingredient” (232). In Turtle’s own way of communication and thinking, she has come to trust people and now knows that Taylor is her only “Ma”.
When one finds their place and friends, they begin to grow and flourish. All of the characters in The Bean Trees, once they find their friends, quickly adapt to their place, and continue to grow and to help each other. Taylor has her place with Turtle and Lou Ann. Lou Ann, though still slightly unsure of herself, finds her place with Taylor and her neighbors; Turtle finds and clings to Taylor. Their place is not always physical, such as a home, but a sense of belonging; no matter what happens, the friends each character makes will help and support them through rough times. All humans seek social interaction, and all feel accepted once they know others in a certain group – humans find their place when they find their friends.
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