Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Bean Trees

The Bean Trees
Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Release Date:  March 1st, 1989
Publisher:  Perfection Learning
Genre(s): Adult Contemporary 
Pages:  232 
 *1st book of a series*

***So to shake things up a bit, I- along with my friend ^-^ - decided as our final project to write a review/analysis of The Bean Trees and post it as a blog post. The review/analysis is for my English class, so it is SUPER long.  If you just want to read our opinions on the book (if you ignore the analysis and summary, I do believe this is the shortest review I've ever written LOL) , scroll to the bottom.  :)*** 

Summary, review, analysis: 
The story opens with a young high school girl finding herself a job in a hospital. This girl overcomes some dramatic experiences in this job and continues the job for five years. With the savings that she has gained herself over the years, this girl (or should I say new adult)  buys herself an old, beat-down car. Wishing to distance herself away from her hometown and background, the girl gave herself a new name, Taylor, and drove away in the second handed car.
Taylor’s trip opens up the story. Her trip is the beginning of the quest of growth and hardship. When Taylor’s car broke down in Oklahoma, she encounters a woman who offers Taylor her daughter. Reluctant with her decision regarding to the child (yes I am so not going to spoil xD) Taylor finds herself facing a decision  that will give her the chance to experience something that she had never wanted to experience before: motherhood.

*SPOILER ALERT! If you continue reading this post… the story might… just maybe… will probably... could be… most likely… umm… will be… spoiled!* (To continue reading, or to not continue reading? That is the question…)

As Taylor’s car journey may have stopped, her journey in life did not. Through the rest of the book, Taylor meets many other characters; the main characters are Taylor Greer (the narrator), Turtle (the baby), Lou Ann, Mattie, Estavan, and Esperenza.  Taylor is a strong independent woman who needs no [sic] man. She is sassy and seems perfectly indomitable, but all is not as it seems. For example, she tells her three roommates that she and Turtle are going to “envision [themselves] in some other space” (Kingsolver 75) after turning down the alfalfa tea. Taylor’s sassiness is shown in this quote, undeterred by the tea.  Throughout the book we feel like she likes to “hide” behind her sass; even though the book is in first person narration, and she tells us about her thoughts in a seemingly reliable way, she implies a lot of her feelings, and the readers have to infer from the text what she’s truly feeling.  The only time she truly breaks down is after Turtle is almost abducted again.  For example, Taylor says,“‘ Why should she?’ I wanted to know. ‘Would you? I've just spent about the last eight or nine months trying to convince her that nobody would hurt her again. Why should she believe me now?’” (Kingsolver 177). This shows her lack of confidence in her ability to become a mother, which is different than before when Taylor, though she never thought she was competent to be a mother,  had a strong mindset that if she set her mind to it, she could do it.   We feel this part is significant because it not only shows the different sides of Taylor (and gives her depth instead of just this strong, need no man woman; Kingsolver, the author,  is strong supporter of feminism), but also a character development that parallels nicely with Lou Ann’s character development. Lou Ann is more traditionally “feminine” than Taylor; she is soft spoken, wants a man, and lacks self-confidence. For example, Lou Ann states that, "I feel like the only reason I have any friends at all is because I'm always careful not to say something totally dumb, and if I blow it just one time, then that's it" (Kingslover 89). This shows her lack of self-confidence in the beginning and her softspoken nature.  The two women are almost foils of each other in that one is this independent woman and one is more traditional woman.   At the start of the novel, Lou Ann is soft spoken and very motherly.  She goes from a dependent housewife to an independent single mother who speaks her mind.  For example,  towards the end, she gets a job, and she speaks her mind on how the shady place next to Jesus is Lord tires is disgusting.  On the other hand, Taylor, though she does not go from a strong woman to a weak woman, she begins to express her vulnerabilities and accepts them; she learns that getting help from others isn’t a bad thing, and a little dependency on other woman, and getting strength from them, isn’t a bad thing either.  (Please note that this may be a flawed assumption on Lou Ann’s character, for the story of Lou Ann is told from a third person’s point of view, while Taylor’s story is from a first person’s point of view.)
As for symbols, Turtle seems to be more of a symbol than anything else in this book (as in her role in this book is a symbol); she seems to symbolize perhaps the burden that comes with being born as a woman.  Also, Turtle could be a symbolic name in itself that a turtle is always hiding; for example, Turtle (the baby) is very quiet throughout the novel, but slowly towards the end she begins to talk and come out of her shell so to speak.  She’s also shown to subtly express her Native American roots through her love of the garden and her main words (when she starts talking) about things that come from the earth.  Mattie is the ultimate mother figure in this novel. She can best be described as a mama bear: fiercely loving and tough.   She takes action and inspires others to do as well.  Estavan and Esperenza is an immigrant couple who Taylor becomes close with, especially Estevan.  We think it is interesting how he is the only guy in the novel that has a positive light shed on him; all the other guys are portrayed in a really negative light. Taylor “likes likes” him, but she acknowledges that her feelings for him are for naught (he’s married).  Estavan is consistently described as a man of high intelligence by Taylor. I think it’s really refreshing that an immigrant character is portrayed in an intellgent manner.  Esperanza is his wife; well her name says it all doesn’t it? Esperanza means “hope” in Spanish. As a women who is not that highly educated in English, Taylor struggles to communicate and converse with Esperanza, yet in this book something drives the characters on to keep trying, almost as if there is a slim beam of hope (what did Esperanza mean again? Did you just say hope? Yup good job ^-^) shining upon the characters, urging them to keep moving. One object that really caught our attention is the snake that appeared a few times in the book.  Snakes (okay yes snake equals animal) portrayed in most English texts are villains and are evil. (This is an allusion to the Bible and the Temptation of Eve.) Not surprisingly, in this book, when a snake appears in one of the chapters, Turtle is  injured and hurt not much later. It is  almost as if the snake is a foreshadowing of the negative things that will eventually happen in the story.
The author uses a lot of unconventional characters and dispels the stereotypes of them (while adding stereotypes to others as well).  Estevan is an immigrant, but he’s very intelligent and speaks English very well; usually a stereotype of immigrants from South America is seen as coarse and unable to speak English.  Taylor also constantly describes Estevan as a teacher as well.   The women in this novel also dispel stereotypes as well.  Mattie is the unconventional mother (loving but still tough and activist), Taylor is also sassy and tough- quite different from the soft spoken female view at that time. The stereotypes of men (of American men) are that they are evil and sexist. Yet, the plot is a very typical story of a women struggling in her faces of motherhood, and adulthood, and survival-hood. The plot is interestingly narrated in two views, both from the same narrator. The main protagonist, Taylor, first narrates her own story to the readers, and the same time, she shares a story of a friend’s (Lou Ann’s). This allows herself to develop two different points of views and angles to share the story in this book.

One of the major themes in this book is about family.  Unconventional families work just as well as conventional ones. An example would be Lou Ann and Taylor; perhaps the author is saying that single mothers can raise children well and strong.  It’s a very strong feminist message. This book also reminds us of that quote on how it takes a village to raise a child.  In this case, it is a community, and while the main point of the book isn’t to raise the child, it still takes a village to raise up people.  The bonds of community also reinforced how unconventional families work just as well.   It was a community of purely mostly women.  Another theme is about motherhood. Perhaps the author was making the point that motherhood is rewarding and shouldn’t be seen as something that holds a person back.  Taylor didn’t want to become a mother, but she became a mother anyways.  It is thrust onto her.

This book has taught us a lesson. Despite the main themes and messages that the author was sending through the book, we learned that, even though there may be hardships and fear, and there may be many discriminating views from the society to an individual women taking care of a child ( or even a women doing anything in general), we should not doubt the ability of anyone, especially ourselves.  That you should always believe in the choices you make for yourself and believe that you have the ability to do whatever you want. There is one section in the book that will stay in our head forever; when Mattie was giving Taylor advice on whether or not to keep the children, Mattie told Taylor to stop asking herself questions that will doubt her abilities, but to start asking her questions that reveal her inner thoughts. A continuous self-doubt will never make Taylor make a decision that she will not regret, but a thought to reveal her potential actions will be the best decision factor for both Taylor and anyone struggling to make decisions.

The genre of this book is contemporary.  

To conclude this, we included some thoughts and messages below:

A’s thoughts:
 I thought the book was sweet, and I liked it a bit,(just a little),  but I felt it was off and a bit detached.   I think this came from the fact that she seemed to be hiding something, and we had to read a lot between the lines.   But this book is undeniably funny at times, and I did enjoy Taylor’s voice.  There wasn’t really a big plot in the novel; it was more heart driven and driven by the characters.   I thought the parallelism, symbolism, and paradoxes were a bit too obvious, but perhaps that was the intention of the author- to make it standout.  Overall, I thought the book was ok.   It was nothing groundbreaking to me, but perhaps that's because I'm reading it from a 21st century view of modern views rather than the views of the 1980s on women.
Rating: 2.7 out of 5

C’s thoughts: (and maybe a little advice to the readers?):
This book was very interesting, the major themes of parenthood, family hood, and a women’s individualist (feminism, if you want to say…) gave the story’s plot a sweet “womanly” feeling. By womanly, I sense the aura of a mother growing out of the character. Despite the fact that Taylor did not want to become a parent at the start of the book, fate eventually brought her to face motherhood. After the times she spent with Turtle, the child that changed the course of her life, Taylor went through her quest of facing many struggles and eventually taking care of Turtle. I finished the book in two sittings, which I ultimately regret. I wish I have read the book a bit slower, so I could develop more analysis into the plot. As an easy read, I finished this book way too quickly to actually play attention to the author’s message behind the book. It wasn’t until I had to complete the assignments that were given out weekly as homework, until I realized that i have barely paid attention to the loaded amounts of literary devices used in this book. For those of you reading this blog, I would definitely recommend this book, but just as an opinion, you should really slow down when you’re reading this book. It contains so much thought in the book, which by just reading through the book to get it over with will cause you to miss out on a great piece of literature. Don’t be so eager to know about the ending, pay attention to all the minor details that lead up to that conclusion!
Rating: Pi out of 5

Thanks for reading!!:D

No comments: