The third novel by Barbara Kingsolver, Pigs in Heaven is a warm, humorous, and thought-provoking story of the conflict between an adoptive mother and a Native American tribe over the destiny of an adopted Cherokee girl. The novel covers a time span of about six months and is divided into three parts: “Spring,” “Summer,” and “Fall.” Generally, Kingsolver uses a third-person-limited point of view. Each scene is presented in the author’s folksy third-person voice, and the view of the action is usually limited to the perspective of one of the five main characters, Alice, Taylor, Jax, Annawake, or Cash. At times, however, Kingsolver presents a scene from the perspective of a minor character (such as Annawake’s coworkers Jinny Redbow and Franklin Turnbo) or briefly enters into the consciousness of a second character (such as Turtle or Lucky Buster) in a scene that is described mostly from a major character’s point of view.
Pigs in Heaven is an unusual and provocative sequel that calls into question the moral certitudes of Kingsolver’s first novel, The Bean Trees (1988). In that book, as the plucky young protagonist Taylor Greer drives southwest from Kentucky, she has a three-year-old girl thrust upon her during a stop on Cherokee land in Oklahoma. In this earlier novel, Taylor’s act of accepting and rearing the girl seems unquestionably heroic, since the girl’s mother is dead, Taylor has no desire to acquire a child, and, particularly, since it is revealed later in the novel that the girl has been sexually abused. Much of The Bean Trees focuses on the special, nurturing love that develops between Taylor and the Cherokee girl, whom Taylor names Turtle because the girl attaches herself to her new mother with the tenacity of a turtle’s jaws.
Pigs in Heaven, on the other hand, presents a different and unexpected perspective on the situation: that it might be better for Turtle (now six years old) to be taken from Taylor (who has...
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Tracing the lives of Taylor and Turtle Greer, protagonists of Barbara Kingsolver’s earlier novel The Bean Trees (1988), Pigs in Heaven leads a reader to reconsider the meaning of family, community, motherhood, and belonging. On an Easter vacation trip with Taylor, her adoptive mother, six-year-old Turtle sees a young man, Lucky Buster, fall into a spillway at the Hoover Dam; her seeing him leads to his rescue and her own celebrity. Turtle and Taylor appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show with other children who have saved lives. Rescuing Lucky Buster, however, leads to discovery and change for Turtle and Taylor because a young Cherokee attorney, Annawake Fourkiller, sees Turtle and hears her adoption story on television.
The ensuing struggle between Annawake and Taylor drives the plot and underlies the theme of identity through relationship. Taylor fears losing Turtle to the Cherokee Nation and flees with her daughter. Taylor’s mother, Alice, leaves her husband, Harland, because she wants more than a dead marriage and flies to Las Vegas to help Taylor and Turtle. After giving Taylor her savings, Alice travels to the town of Heaven on Cherokee Nation land to stay with her cousin and investigate her rights with the tribe of her grandmother. Her time on the Cherokee land does not lessen her commitment to her daughter and granddaughter, but does help her understand Annawake’s quest.
Taylor loses much of her...
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Pigs in Heaven, Kingsolver’s third novel, is a sequel to The Bean Trees, which ended at the time of Turtle’s adoption. Pigs in Heaven is set three years later.
After a freak accident leading to a heroic rescue, Turtle is pushed into the spotlight with an appearance on a national television talk show. With this exposure, Turtle and her adoptive mother come to the attention of Annawake Fourkiller, an activist attorney for the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. Fourkiller, whose own twin brother was adopted out of the tribe and is now in prison, feels strongly that Indian children need to grow up surrounded by tribal culture. The Indian Child Welfare Act makes removing children from the tribe illegal without the tribe’s consent.
Kingsolver gives both sides of the issue equal time. The Cherokee Nation feels that community and culture are crucial to a child’s identity and well-being, even though Turtle is clearly well loved by her white mother. Establishing contact with the Cherokee people opens Taylor and Turtle to new possibilities.
Other themes in the story include the high price of helping someone more desperate than yourself, a theme explored when Taylor befriends Barbie, another woman on the run. Taylor’s mother, Alice, claims that it is a family trait of women to be on their own. This solemn statement almost proves to be true, until the barely believable but hopeful ending. Cash Stillwater’s appearance in the story suggests a positive outcome. A grieving, sensitive man who is Turtle’s grandfather, he falls in love with Alice, and readers envision a new circle of caring.
After stops in western Arizona and Las Vegas, Taylor and Turtle settle temporarily in Seattle. Amazed at the amount of rain, Taylor exclaims, “This isn’t a city, it’s a carwash!” Kingsolver’s heroine retains her wry view of the world despite continued setbacks and disappointments. A single mother’s struggles to provide a home for her child provide contrast to the realities of family and neighborly help in the rural Oklahoma Indian community.