SparkNotes: The Bean Trees: Themes

Barbara Kingsolver published The Bean Trees in 1988. It was her , and her first big break as a fiction writer. Since then, the novel has become an American classic, and—as you may have guessed—a familiar selection for high-school English curricula.

In the book, The Bean Trees, this is a familiar concept to the characters Estevan and Esperanza.

Taylor’s move away from Pittman and her taking Turtle, Louann not going after her husband, and the many risks of Estevan and Esperanza, create conflicts which drive the plot of The Bean Trees.


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by Gergen) I found this idea of Kingsolver's to be the basis of her book The Bean Trees....

So yes, what we are saying is that Barbara Kingsolver is kind of a big deal. Which means that The Bean Trees, as her very first novel, is pretty up there too.


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In the meantime, to fill you in on your Kingsolver background, after publishing The Bean Trees she went on to become one of the biggest names in contemporary American writing. President Clinton presented her with a National Humanities Medal, Oprah praised her novel (1998), and her books were nominated for .

The Bean Trees by Katie Tritschler on Prezi

So. The Bean Trees is set in the early 1980s, a decade in which the United States gave financial and military support to governments and other forces enacting fierce violence in Central American countries. In the meantime, concerned American citizens were to give refuge to Central Americans who were fleeing for their lives.

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So, tying these issues together, The Bean Trees has some powerful things to say about the responsibility that human beings have for one another—even when it seems that, as individuals, the whole seven billion of us are worlds apart.

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As scholar Patricia Stuelke , The Bean Trees is "the most famous fictional representation" of that solidarity movement. Which means that, for those who read the book as an indictment of American imperialism, its sympathy for Central American refugees is a clear marker of Barbara Kingsolver's commitment to social justice.

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But wait! Let's look on the flip side, where there are plenty of reasons to question The Bean Trees' commitment to social justice. As Patricia Stuelke argues (yes, we'll link ), the novel takes on a whole different tone if we ask what injustices it takesfor granted, and therefore fails to address or expose.
In other words, even though The Bean Trees seems to be critical of American imperialism, it could be argued that the book's central plot relies on an imperialistic perspective.