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The Bean Trees

Abandonment is a feeling known to many people. There are different types and levels of abandonment. In The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, many characters have been introduced to the feeling of abandonment. Abandoning or being abandoned is constant in the novel and Kingsolver uses it to link all of the characters together.
Taylor Greer has lived in Kentucky all her life. Yet, the life available to her in Kentucky is not what she always dreamed of: “none of these sights had so far inspired me to get hogtied to a future as a tobacco farmer’s wife” (3). Living with her mother, Taylor becomes more independent and striven to find a better life. Taylor’s father disappeared before she could even remember what he looks like: “And for all I ever knew of my own daddy I can’t say we weren’t except for Mama swearing up and down that he was nobody I knew and was long gone besides” (2). Taylor’s father’s abandonment contributes to Taylor’s dislike in men: “To hear you tell it, you’d think man was only put on this earth to keep urinals from going to waste” (112). She does not trust any men and Kingsolver displays this by not adding many male characters to the novel. Taylor feeling of being abandoned by her father scars her, even thought she does not express it clearly.
Taylor’s want and need for a better life than the one she has in Kentucky inspires her to leave. With the money she earns from her job counting blood cells at the Pittman County Hospital, Taylor buys a ’55 Volkswagen bug that is falling apart, “In this car I intended to drive out of Pittman County one day and never look back, except maybe for Mama” (10). Taylor’s mother wanted the best for her and always expected the best from her; “There were two things about Mama. One is she always expected the best out of me. And the other is that then 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. Like I was that good” (10). Taylor’s mother never wanted to hold her daughter back, “The day I brought it home, she knew I was going to get away” (11). So when Taylor brought home the car, she made sure Taylor could handle being on her own. She’s the type of mother who prepares her children for everything; she took all the air out of the tires so Taylor could fix them: “’That’s good, Missy,’ she said. ‘You’ll drive away from here yet. I expect the last I’ll see of you will be your hind end’” (11). Taylor’s leaving Kentucky was the best thing that happened to her. She moved on with her life, made many new friends, got a job where she got rid of her fear (tires) and found Turtle.
On her way to anywhere far from Kentucky, Taylor ends up with something she had been avoiding all her life: a child. Taylor stops to get coffee and leaves with a little Indian baby girl. A strange Indian woman appears from the middle of nowhere, “She opened up the blanket and took out something alive. It was a child. She wrapped her blanket around and around it until it became a round bundle with a head. Then she set this bundle down on the seat of my car. ‘Take this baby,’ she said” (17). Taylor is a strong and independent woman. But she did not know how to react in the occasion. Taylor uses dry, sarcastic, humor when she does not know what else to do, “If I wanted a baby I would have stayed in Kentucky. I could have had babies coming out of my ears by now’” (18). Turtle, named after mud turtles that cling for their lives, was abandoned without any explanations. It was obvious that no one wanted her and she suffered for it, “’This baby’s got no papers. There isn’t nobody knows it’s alive, or cares. Nobody that matters, like the police or nothing like that. This baby was born in a Plymouth” (18). Turtle was luckily left with Taylor. Unfortunately, the baby had been through a lot in her few years of life: “That fact had already burdened her short life with a kind of misery I could not imagine. I thought I knew about every ugly thing that one person does to another, but I had never even thought about such things being done to a baby girl” (23). It is interesting how the one thing Taylor did not want for herself, changes her life and way of thinking completely: “Do you know, I spent the first half of my life avoiding motherhood and tires, an now I’m counting them as blessing?” (137). Taylor becomes very attached to Turtle and wants to protect her from everything: “I’ve spent about the last eight or nine months trying to convince her that nobody would hurt her again” (168). When Taylor decides to adopt Turtle, she does everything possible for it to work out, including lying about her legal parents. Turtle and Taylor went through many difficulties but in the end they ended up together: “’I know it’s been confusing, there’s been a lot of changes in the management. But from here on in I’m your Ma, and that means I love you the most. Forever” (225). Turtle is the best thing that happened to Taylor’s life. Taylor though that having a child would cause her to have weaknesses, but in reality Turtle makes Taylor stronger than ever. Turtle helps show Taylor who she really is and Taylor does the same for Turtle: “’That means you’re my kid,’ I explained, ‘and I’m your mother, and nobody can say it isn’t so. I’ll keep that paper for you till you’re older, but it’s yours. So you’ll always know who you are” (232). Turtle’s abandonment causes Taylor’s life to completely change, for the better.
Lou Ann Ruiz sees herself as a weak person, and becomes even weaker once her husband; Angel abandons her and her baby, Dwayne Ray. Lou Ann’s relationship with Angel was not a good one from the beginning. He always told her what to do and made fun of her, causing her self-esteem to be lower than usual. Lou Ann began to realize that her relationship was not great but did not know what to do about it; “She had been thinking about herself and Angel splitting up for even longer than she had been pregnant, but she didn’t particularly do anything about it. That was Lou Ann’s method. She expected that a divorce would just develop, like a pregnancy” (24). Lou Ann did everything for Angel; she never stood up for what she wanted. Once he lost his leg, she became even more available to him and his taunts: “Having nearly lost Angel made him all the more precious” (25). Angel has no consideration at all for Lou Ann, “When she got home she saw that Angel had already been home from work and had left again, for good. She was confused at first and thought they had been robbed, until she began to see a pattern to what was taken” (31). Angel enjoys hurting Lou Ann. He pries at her weak spots and makes sure to make the scar even worse. An example of this is when Lou Ann’s grandmother brings water from a creek to baptize Dwayne Ray, “She heard the chugging sound of the water as he poured it down the drain. The baby’s sucking at her felt good, as if he might suck the ache right out of her breast” (64). Angel’s abandonment leaves Lou Ann with the chance to live with Taylor and Turtle. Taylor gives Lou Ann strength to become an independent person: “’I’ve gotten so brave hanging around you. Six months ago it would have scared the living daylights out of me just to walk by him on the street” (230). They become very good friends and each other’s family. Lou Ann looks up to Taylor, she tells her about a girl named Bonita Jankenhorn who everyone thought was “made out of gristle… But when I met you, that day you first came over here, I thought to myself, ‘Bonita Jankenhorn, roll over. This one is worth half a dozen of you, packed up in a box and gift-wrapped” (175-176). Lou Ann and Taylor are perfect for one another; they keep each other going.
Abandonment plays a major role in Barbara Kingsolver’s novel. It links all the characters together. Once one abandons, or is abandoned, they find someone else. They all help each other grow and become stronger. Even with something as horrible and hurtful as abandonment, hope can be found. Taylor explains it perfectly to Turtle when she talks about bean trees, “’There’s a whole invisible system for helping out the plant that you’d never guess was there.’ I loved this idea. ‘It’s just the same as with people. The way Edna has Virgie, and Virgie has Edna, and Sandi has Kid Central Station, and everyone has Mattie” (227-228). Everyone is linked together and each person has someone to help. This whole cycle is caused by abandonment. The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver shows that can be hope and love found in any situation, even in abandonment.

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