Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Bean Trees, Barbara Kingsolver’s first novel, was greeted with critical acclaim. Following a chronological structure, with past episodes related only as memories, the story moves swiftly along by virtue of the charm and spirit of its main character. Structure and style reinforce the pedestrian atmosphere of the novel, where no miracles happen except those that happen every day—finding the strength of love, discovering commitment, and feeling that one belongs somewhere. The comedy of humanity plays itself out with a warmth and reverence that are a pleasure to read.

Kingsolver’s favorite themes of family and relationships also appear in her other work. Homeland and Other Stories (1989) was published in the year following The Bean Trees and carried on the earlier book’s fresh and hopeful outlook. Animal Dreams (1990) expressed Kingsolver’s concerns for humanity and the environment. Pigs in Heaven, published in 1993, was a sequel to The Bean Trees. Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983 (1989), a work of nonfiction, revealed Kingsolver’s continuing interest in human rights and women’s issues. Many critics have praised Kingsolver’s fiction as “poetic”; not surprisingly, she has published poetry in a number of magazines and in a collection.