The Bean Tree Essay, Research Paper
The Bean Tree
Write a composition based on the novel you have studied discussing the basis for and impact of individual choices. What idea does the author develop regarding choices?
Living is about making choices. The choices people make shape their lives for better or worse. Even the decision not to choose has its effects, often not wanted. But the individual who chooses to make positive choices and to act accordingly is more likely to see his or her life reflect his or her beliefs and desires. Usually the individual who chooses to take action is also willing to face the risks and obstacles that such choices involve.
“The Bean Tree,” by Barbara Kingsolver, is a warm, funny story about a personal journey of self-discovery, commitment, and risk-taking which illustrates these facts. Its spirited protagonist, Taylor Greer, grows up poor in rural Kentucky. In her town some families “had kids just about as fast as they could fall down the well and drown,” and a boy with a job as a gas- meter man was considered a “high-class catch.” Simply avoiding pregnancy was a major achievement for Taylor. She needed to get away from there to get ahead, and when she goes, she leaves almost everything behind, including her real name. Taylor is the name she adopts at the place where her car runs out of gas, in Taylorville, Illinois.
However, what starts out as a commonplace search for personal opportunities soon turns into a test of her character and beliefs, and of her ability to face and overcome obstacles. On her way west with high hopes and a barely functional car, she acquires a completely unexpected child. The baby girl is given to her outside a bar, by a desperate Indian woman. Taylor moves on to Tucson, Arizona, with Turtle, as she calls the little girl. There she makes new friends, finds work, and settles down to a new life. However, since Turtle is not her legally adopted daughter, Taylor finds herself at risk of losing her to the state authorities in Arizona. She must formalize her relationship with her new-found daughter. She chooses to do what it takes to adopt Turtle. She has to find a way to contact Turtle’s relatives in order to get their signatures to adoption papers. She decides to take her out of state, back to Oklahoma, along with Estevan and Esperanza, a refugee couple from Guatemala.
However, when she arrives in Oklahoma there is no trace of Turtle’s parents or her family. There appears to be no hope of Taylor adopting her without the permission of Turtle’s family. Because Taylor loves and can not imagine losing Turtle, she turns to Estevan and Esperanza as her last hope. Feeling that she has no other choice, she asks them to help her by posing as Turtle’s parents and signing the adoption papers. Although there is risk involved for them too, Estevan and Esperanza agree without hesitation to do so. If they get caught, however, Taylor will lose everything she wants. Turtle will be taken away and so will Estevan and Esperanza, since they are in fact illegal immigrants.
Circumstances have forced Taylor to face some difficult decisions, but her upbringing
and strength of character help her move forward. Despite some moments of hesitation and self doubt she makes her choices with full knowledge of what she is doing and why. Being neither her real mother or legal guardian, if Taylor gets caught Turtle will certainly be taken away from her and put into the custody of foster parents. But, if she does nothing she will lose Turtle anyway.
In the same way, she agrees to take Esperanza and Estevan to Oklahoma. Before she makes this decision too, she knows there is much risk involved. If she does not help them move on from Arizona they are likely to be deported, and could face death in Guatemala. But she is breaking the law by taking illegal immigrants out of Arizona. Yet her conscience and her heart are involved. She cares for these people, and must take them to where they will be safe. Love and concern for others as well as her own self-respect allow her to act with a good conscience. She knows the nature of the risks she is taking, but goes ahead anyway.
For everything Taylor now does involves breaking the law, in taking Turtle and these illegal immigrants out of Arizona to Oklahoma. She has to decide between keeping or breaking the law. Her heart tells her to break the law because it is the right and humane thing to do. For Turtle she will do anything to ensure a better future. She is also in love with Estevan even though she can not have him because he is married to Esperanza. She feels she must help them in any way she can. That is why she is even able to break the law with a clear conscience.
She could have avoided all that by doing nothing for these three people. At one point she is in fact discouraged enough to feel she can do nothing to avoid losing Turtle, but her friend Lou Ann helps restore her usual self-reliance. Rather than passively give in to the obstacles facing Turtle she investigates her options and decides to act even though it involves risk to herself.
In the end, things work out for Taylor and the others, but the effects of even courageous choices are not always foreseeable. Unexpected events can arise, but choices made with some understanding of the alternatives will usually work out better than leaving matters to chance. Also, if choices are made with the welfare of others in mind they are more likely to be the right ones. In particular, if there is a problem to solve that involves conflict between the law and conscience, the best solution may be to follow one’s heart. If a decision is guided by conscience, no one can better tell one what to do, or how to do it. That is how Taylor is able to take her loved ones out of Arizona, even though it means breaking the law. She feels she can not do otherwise, and the law has to take second place. Someone else might not do the same. Everything depends on both conscience and courage, but not everyone has these qualities in the same degree. Nonetheless, if even breaking the law must sometimes be considered, it can best be done by an appeal to common humanity, conscience, and the heart. That is exactly what Taylor does here. But, like Taylor, people must be prepared to live with the possible consequences of their choices and actions. Knowing clearly, however, why one’s choices are made, makes such risks or obstacles acceptable.