Analysis of symbolism in The Bean Trees.
While humans are not given the ability to literally resurrect, people and objects are constantly being resurrected from a damaged or injured state. Some of those incidents might be trivial and ordinary, such as flowers growing back after a harsh winter, or a broken item being sent back to a workshop to be repaired. Others can be significant, such as a person recovering from an illness that was diagnosed as terminal. Examples of resurrection of different levels can be seen in the novel The Bean Trees by Barbra Kingsolver. The author includes symbols such as birds and gardens to present her theme that resurrections of varying degrees are ubiquitous in this world and can miraculously occur in times of hopelessness.
Birds make many appearances throughout the novel that serve as a symbol for Taylor and Turtle. Turtle makes her first sound, a laugh, when the car that she is in suddenly stops for a family of birds crossing the road. This family of birds represents the small “family” she forms with Taylor and herself, and her laugh suggests that she is being raised well. She is resurrected from her previous life of abuse and neglect and now lives with a caring mother. In addition, Taylor looks out of a hospital window while checking Turtle’s condition and sees that “a bird had built her nest in [a cactus] with bushy arms and a coat of yellow spines as thick as fur” (166). Turtle can be compared to the bird in that she has built her way back into life despite her painful past and the dangerous world. She represents the resiliency and the ability to thrive that humans have. Furthermore, after Turtle was attacked by a stranger in the park, Taylor chases a song sparrow out of the house. The trapped bird represents Turtle’s trapped condition after the assault, and its terror connects with Turtle’s fright during the incident. Its survival after hitting the window foreshadows Turtle’s recovery as well; although she first stays in a state of shock, within a few weeks she resurrects back into her normal self again. These examples reveal that despairing situations can reverse itself even when all hope seems lost.
Mattie’s garden, which is full of wonderful flowers, vegetables, and old auto parts, serves as both a symbol and an inspiration for Taylor and Turtle. Spread out on the ground, there are vegetables growing on and around auto parts, such as “heads of cabbage and lettuce sprout[ing] out of old tires” (62). Like the plants, Turtle also has to grow up in a harsh world, and she not only survives, but also thrives. She is renewed from her near dead state when Taylor first receives her. The plants in Mattie’s garden are living organisms, which means they must have a beginning; in this case, some of them sprout from one small bean that is buried in the ground. Turtle’s life parallels the life of a bean, which starts out buried like the dead, but then slowly grows back into a living thing. Turtle is first thought to be mentally “dead”, but she learns to trust Taylor and slowly comes back to life by learning to talk. Furthermore, “the killing frost of the winter came on Valentine’s Day” (103), which did not affect some of the plants in Mattie’s garden like the sweet peas or cabbages, but killed others. The plants that did not die represent Turtle’s clinging hold onto life after her abuse. The plants that died as a result of the frost gives a chance for the new to come around, as Mattie said; this shows that after a hard time, a resurrection can occur and bring back life. Her garden is a constant source of renewal, both literally and metaphorically.
The symbolism in this story allows Kingsolver to compress her message – that resurrections are omnipresent and can change despair into hope – into just the elements birds and Mattie’s garden. Both Taylor and Turtle undergo resurrections of different degrees throughout the novel. Through these characters, Kingsolver shows the resilient nature of humans; if we fall during hard times, there is always hope to recover.