The Characters (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Taylor Greer, the main character, enlists the warm wishes of the reader immediately through her open, honest narration. She quickly lets the reader into her middle-American background. With her rural Kentucky regionalisms and dialect, she is open and sincere. She has a good sense of humor and can laugh at herself as well as at others and at the comedy of human life. As both the narrator and the main character, she carries the story of growing into responsibility and love. She learns her own ignorance and political naïveté, and while her goodheartedness and compassion for others cannot protect her from pain, they reinforce her moral fiber, which gives her the courage to do right. She did not seek the responsibility of a child, but she accepts what fate seems to throw in her path.
Turtle, the child, is seen gradually to emerge from the cocoon of silence and withdrawal with which she surrounds herself, presumably as a result of the abuse she has suffered. She is the catalyst for Taylor’s discovery of responsibility, commitment, and love.
Lou Ann Ruiz is at first only Taylor’s housemate, but gradually the two develop a relationship that is strong, supportive, and mutually beneficial. Lou Ann constantly belittles herself—about her appearance, her capabilities, and her potential. Yet despite desertion by her husband, she slowly gains some self-confidence and is able to take a job in a salsa factory. Obsessed with the safety of her baby,...
(The entire section is 539 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Bean Trees Characters. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Taylor Greer, the protagonist and narrator. Born and reared in rural Pittman, Kentucky, she vows not to get pregnant and live the rest of her life in Pittman. After graduating from high school and working for five years in a hospital lab, she buys an old Volkswagen and drives west. She acquires an abandoned Native American child, whom she names Turtle, in Oklahoma. Taylor and Turtle end up in Tucson, Arizona, where Taylor struggles to rear a child by herself and earn a living. She becomes involved in the sanctuary movement for Central American refugees. Tough-minded and resilient, Taylor meets these challenges with humor, optimism, and courage.
Turtle Greer, Taylor’s adopted Native American daughter. When Taylor leaves Kentucky to drive west, a young Native American woman leaves the two-year-old Turtle in Taylor’s car. Turtle has been severely abused and does not begin to speak until six months after her arrival in Tucson. Taylor knows nothing about Turtle’s parents or her background.
Lou Ann Ruiz
Lou Ann Ruiz (née Logan), who also is originally from Kentucky. She lives in Tucson with her infant son Dwayne Ray. After her husband, Angel Ruiz, leaves her, she advertises for a roommate, and Taylor and Turtle move in with her. Lou Ann is more traditionally domestic—and more pessimistic—than Taylor, but she provides Taylor with friendship and support, and...
(The entire section is 541 words.)
One of Kingsolver's greatest gifts as a novelist is characterization, and this skill is already firmly in place in The Bean Trees, her first novel. Though characters in her later novels show more depth and are more likely to be a complex mix of positive and negative traits, each and every person who appears in The Bean Trees is a unique individual with his or her own quirks and habits, with a history and a story to tell.
Taylor is a somewhat idealized character, but this is in keeping with the tradition of the quest narrative: a virtuous innocent thrust out into the world. Though raised poor by a single mother, Taylor possesses a great deal of self-confidence and courage. We can see that Taylor's mother helped form Taylor's feelings of self-worth, because in all of their interactions, her mother is positive, loving, and proud. Taylor has a strong, but undeveloped, sense of social justice, which by the end of the novel has turned into social activism. One of Taylor's most appealing traits is her humor. Her Kentucky-flavored narration shows the positive way she faces the world, and in her dialogue we see how she uses "smart remarks" both to diffuse difficult situations and to deflect emotions.
Despite their similar backgrounds, Lou Ann Ruiz is very different from Taylor. Lacking self-esteem, she constantly makes negative comments about her own appearance and is continually cutting her hair to find a style she will be satisfied...
(The entire section is 537 words.)
Taylor Greer's wise, colorful voice narrates the novel, and she serves as its central consciousness. A smart and spirited young woman who drives across the country alone to escape the monotony of her hometown, Taylor knows who she is and what she wants, but she is no rugged individualist—she needs other people to be part of her world. Born Marietta Greer in Pittman County, Kentucky, Taylor possessed a strong sense of identity even at a young age. While she was growing up, her Mama cleaned houses for wealthy people, and she heard her Mama call her employers "Miss this or Mister that." At the age of three Taylor knew she too deserved that kind of respect; she insisted on being called "Miss Marietta," and then "Miss Marietta" evolved into "Missy."
When Taylor leaves Pittman County for good as a young woman, she decides "that I would get myself a new name" for her new life, and she chooses the name Taylor because her broken-down '55 Volkswagen bug runs out of gas in Taylorville, Illinois. By fleeing her home, Taylor intends to escape the seemingly narrow life that her peers in Pittman County lead. But ironically, in her new life in Arizona she ends up with a child and employed at a used tire repair shop. She tells Estevan that "I spent the first half of my life avoiding motherhood and tires, and now I'm counting them as blessings." Taylor is a survivor and makes the best of her circumstances. She values loyalty and community, and in spite of her...
(The entire section is 396 words.)
Turtle is a silent, needy Cherokee toddler Taylor has foisted upon her by a frightened woman—Turtle's aunt—in the parking lot of a roadside bar in Oklahoma. The woman seems to want to save Turtle from something; she is nervous and appears to be afraid of a man who waits for her in his truck while she gives the baby to Taylor with no explanation: "Just take it," she begs Taylor. Taylor resists at first, telling the woman that "you can't just give somebody a kid," but she finally feels she has no choice, so she takes the baby. Taylor names her Turtle because of "the way that child held on." She tells the baby, "You're like a mud turtle. If a mud turtle bites you, it won't let go till it thunders."
Taylor soon discovers that Turtle has been badly abused and decides that she will keep her and take good care of her. Turtle begins to flourish under Taylor's care. In the dry Arizona weather, she grows and begins to talk, and all of her talk centers on growing things: flowers and vegetables. She loves Mattie's huge garden, learns the names of everything in the seed catalogs, and pretends that she is planting and tending to her own gardens. Taylor eventually must face the fact that she is keeping Turtle illegally, but by then the two feel like a real mother and daughter, so Taylor decides to adopt Turtle. The adoption process Taylor undertakes is unorthodox and not really legal, but it works, and the pair is able to stay together.
(The entire section is 264 words.)
The social worker who informs Taylor that she has no legal claim to Turtle but encourages her to try to adopt the little girl.
Esperanza, Estevan's wife, speaks little English and is silent throughout much of the novel; she also has a sad, distant quality about her, which makes Taylor wonder what has happened to her in the past. Upon meeting Esperanza for the first time, Taylor feels Esperanza's depression and notes that she "took up almost no space." Eventually Taylor learns that her sadness is due mostly to the fact that the small daughter she and Estevan had in Guatemala was taken from them by the government in a raid on their neighborhood. Esperanza's brother and two of their friends had also been killed in this raid.
Taylor's daughter Turtle reminds Esperanza of her own lost daughter, and Turtle's presence often seems to be painful for Esperanza. When Esperanza tries to kill herself while at Mattie's, and Estevan comes to tell Taylor about the suicide attempt, Taylor learns for the first time from him of the violent political events in Guatemala that led to their escape to the United States. Following this conversation, Taylor begins to see Esperanza and Estevan in a new light, saying that "All of Esperanza's hurts flamed up in my mind, a huge pile of burning things that the world just kept throwing more onto."
A gentle, handsome young English teacher who fled...
(The entire section is 1511 words.)