In The Bean Trees, what does "bean" symbolize and how do the other characters react to Turtle's communication?
Turtle, the baby Cherokee girl, is on the developmental level of a two-year old when she is in fact biologically about three years old. When Turtle finally begins to express herself, through Taylor Greer's attention and care, her first sound is a laugh. Everyone who knows Turtle and Taylor are overjoyed.
Turtle's first real word is "bean." The symbolism behind "bean" relates to the theme of nurturing that is central to the story. Beans are part of a horticultural tradition and are in facts seeds of the next bean trees. As do all horticultural endeavors, beans need nurturing to grow and thrive in order to fulfill their destiny of nurturing others and/or producing the next generation of bean trees.
Taylor's return to Pittman as a teen mother--but without the pregnancy--illustrates that Kingsolver seems to be suggesting that teen pregnancy, like any other pregnancy, is all about nurturing and can be redeemed by nurturing. Though there may be merit in the truth of this theme of redemption through nurturing but this ideology, of course, evades the thorny issue of avoiding teen pregnancies that will need redeeming.