Book Group Session 1: Emily Reed :)

The Bean Trees Book Group Session 1

· Beginning Activity—Jesus Is Lord Used Tires Video.

· Research Overview: New Historicist
o Many aspects of Barbara Kingsolver’s life affected and influenced the characters, events, and settings she put into The Bean Trees. The two articles that I found are biographies of Kingsolver. They both describe how Kingsolver grew up in Kentucky and then moved to Tucson, Arizona. Taylor Greer, or “Missy”, is the main character in The Bean Trees and, like Kingsolver, she grows up in Kentucky and moves to Arizona. Kingsolver also mentions how she goes to college to escape the future of a farmer’s wife. This is reflected back in her novel when, on page 4, Taylor talks about how she wouldn’t be tied down to life as a tobacco farmer’s wife. The first article tells how Kingsolver moved her family to a farm and they challenged each other to only eat foods that they grew themselves for a year. This relates to the scene (chapter 4, pages 81-83) where Taylor meets Bobby Bingo, a man who sells vegetables out of the back of his truck. Bobby talks about how his son, “Bill Bing”, is a wealthy car salesman who criticizes and doesn’t appreciate Bobby’s love for fresh fruits and vegetables.

· Questions
o Barbara Kingsolver goes to college in the hope not to become the typical farmer’s wife. Taylor Greer gets a job and graduates, avoiding the life of a typical tobacco farmer’s wife. Does Kingsolver write The Bean Trees as a form of mental escape from her pregnancy and insomnia, feeling a sense of freedom through Taylor’s journey?
o Taylor made sure that she would not become the tobacco farmer’s wife. When she sees Jolene Shanks-Hardbine with a bullet in her arm and her dead husband on a stretcher beside her, does this inspire Taylor to leave home and start life over, ensuring that she would not end up like Jolene?
o Do the commercialized religious beliefs (Jesus Is Lord Used Tires and 1-800-THE LORD) uncover anything about this time period’s religious beliefs or their moral code?
o Sandi, the worker at the Burger Derby, leaves her little boy at Kid Central Station, a daycare center in the mall. She leaves work on her breaks every two hours to check on her son, Seattle. Does this carelessness as a mother symbolize Taylor’s fear of becoming a bad mother like Sandi? Or does Sandi motivate Taylor to be the best mother she can be to Turtle?
o At the end of chapter 4, on page 86, Angel pours the Tug Fork baptism water down the drain. What does this symbolize? Does it symbolize Angel and Lou Ann’s marriage “going down the drain”?

· Ending Statement:
o Using the New Historicist lens to guide my thinking and questions, I have uncovered that Barbara Kingsolver’s life and past influences The Bean Trees. This gives the reader a greater understanding and knowledge of Kingsolver’s struggles and beliefs, facilitating the interpretations of the novel’s meaning.

Fishbowl II

Beginning: Few people know so clearly what they want. Most people can't even think what to hope for when they throw a penny in a fountain. Barbara Kingsolver
-Hey that’s kind of like every single character in this book.

  1. What is the significance of Taylor never having heard Turtle scream in real life but having dreamed about it more than once? What does this say about both of their mindsets?
  2. A recurring theme seems to be choosing vs. getting stuck with, making your own luck vs. destiny; people being overly picky about roommates vs. getting stuck with a baby. How does this reflect Barbara Kingsolver’s view of fate and such matters?
  3. What is the significance of Taylor and Lou Ann meeting at this point in the book, once their separate stories are already set-up? How are their stories and mentalities similar and different?
  4. “Turtle’s main goal in life, other than hanging on to things, seemed to be to pass unnoticed.” Pg. 105 What is Taylor’s main goal in life? Lou Ann?
  5. What are the similarities and differences of Taylor and her mother’s feelings about choosing names for their children and changing names? (Her mom being OK with the name change because she had always had second thoughts about Marietta, and Turtle being a temporary name) What does the semi-permanence of their names say about their lifestyles?
  6. What does their constant connection with the media (Lou Ann’s magazines and missing her TV, other magazine and TV references) say about their lives?

Ending: Barbara and her family…

Ch.8-10 Evan and Connor
Chapters 11-13 ANNA!
Rain.jpg Donation_Angel.jpgmoundville_hand_and_eye.png
Chapters 11-13

Opening Activity: Because I did symbolism as a means of annotating I chose a number of symbols significant to the chapters I read and to my questions.

1) Blackbirds are included in old superstitions; omens. It once was thought that if a blackbird nested around or by your house it is very good luck especially if two of the bird is seen together. At the end of chapter 13 Taylor ran over a blackbird. What is the significance of this detail?

2) Many of the books we have been reading in class do not have chapter titles except for The Bean Tree. Do you like this format better? Or does it give off too much of the chapter? The titles for three chapters I read were;
-Dream Angels
-Into the Terrible Night
-Night Blooming Cereus
Do you notice a pattern?

3) Lou Ann’s husband’s name is Angel but his actions show that he his anything but holy. Is Barbra once again making fun of religion? Or maybe she doubts the thought of people always watching over us?

4) Taylor’s bad luck often leads to good things. In chapter 12 Turtle may have been hurt which lead to child services, which then lead to Taylor, Turtle, Estevan, and Esperanza leaving. Could this be a good thing or will they all meat trouble on the way?

5) The night-blooming cereus is also known as the Queen of the night. What significance is this to the book? The elegance of the flower draws parallels to that of a woman. Looking through a feminist perspective, what does this show? Lou Ann remarked that she has “never seen anything so heavenly”; maybe God/ the Lord resembles a motherly figure? The flower is “born” during the night, how does this juxtapose the rest of the births in this book?

6) We find out that Edna is blind. What does this show about her character? In The Village, Ivy is also blind and she proves herself to be one of the most “all-seeing” and “observant” characters. Will Edna prove herself to be the same way?

7) Why does Lou Ann lover her job so much? Do you sympathize with her or do you pity her? Will she go back to Angel?

8) The rain brought so much change. What does the rain represent in the book?

Ending Activity: Chapter 13 ended with the dead blackbird. The Beatles sang a song about the blackbird also;
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Black bird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
all your life
you were only waiting for this moment to be free

Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.

Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise,

Chapters 14-17- Bridget and Katie
Opening Activity
Legend of St. Christopher
Christopher was a Canaanite 5 cubits (7.5 ft) tall and with a fearsome face. While serving the king of Canaan, he took it into his head to go and serve the greatest king there was. He went to the king who was reputed to be the greatest, but one day he saw the king cross himself at the mention of the devil. On thus learning that the king feared the devil, he departed to look for the devil. He came across a band of marauders, one of whom declared himself to be the devil, so Christopher decided to serve him. But when he saw his new master avoid a wayside cross and found out that the devil feared Christ, he left him and enquired from people where to find Christ. He met a hermit who instructed him in the Christian faith. Christopher asked him how he could serve Christ. When the hermit suggested fasting and prayer, Christopher replied that he was unable to perform that service. The hermit then suggested that because of his size and strength Christopher could serve Christ by assisting people to cross a dangerous river, where they were perishing in the attempt. The hermit promised that this service would be pleasing to Christ.
After Christopher had performed this service for some time, a little child asked him to take him across the river. During the crossing, the river became swollen and the child seemed as heavy as lead, so much that Christopher could scarcely carry him and found himself in great difficulty. When he finally reached the other side, he said to the child: "You have put me in the greatest danger. I do not think the whole world could have been as heavy on my shoulders as you were." The child replied: "You had on your shoulders not only the whole world but Him who made it. I am Christ your king, whom you are serving by this work." The child then vanished.
Christopher later visited the city of Lycia and there comforted the Christians who were being martyred. Brought before the local king, he refused to sacrifice to the pagan gods. The king tried to win him by riches and by sending two beautiful women to tempt him. Christopher converted the women to Christianity, as he had already converted thousands in the city. The king ordered him to be killed. Various attempts failed, but finally Christopher was decapitated

Questions for Discussion:

1. When Taylor states that it bothers her when people call immigrants "illegals", she reveals more about her own character and morality. Does this disgust with common stereotypes and slang names reveal anything about Taylor? Are her feelings strenghtened by any previous experiences or emotions?
2. “He asked me if the alligator was a national symbol of the United States, because you saw them everywhere on people’s shirts, just above the heart…It occurred to me, though, that it might be kind of appropriate” (192). What about the alligator does she see as appropriate? Barbara Kingsolver is known to write all her novels with a political message in mind. What does this quote say about her beliefs?
3.“He told me that the national symbol of the Indian people in Guatemala was the quetzal, a beautiful green bird with a long, long tail. I told him I had seen military macaws at the zoo, and wondered if the quetzal was anything like those. He said no. If you tried to keep this bird in a cage, it died.” (192) In this quote you get the impression that he means for the quetzal to be not only a bird but a larger representation of himself and other people in their situation. However, it seems to me like he and Esperanza are living caged lives, always hiding out. Did he say that because he believed that they were “dying” as they hid, or because he felt like the work they did to help other people, etc kept them out of a cage?
4.“I made two American wishes on pop tops in Lake o’ the Cherokees. Only one of them had the remotest possibility of coming true” (pg 209). What do you think she wished for?
5. Esperanza says she likes the sunset most and Taylor says she likes sunrise because you have the whole day ahead of you. What does this reveal about their personalities and the different lives they have lived? For example, maybe Esperanza’s life has been lived so day by day that she prefers the ends of each day.
6. When they are doing the paperwork for Turtle’s adoption, Esperanza begins to cry and Taylor says “it was clear that, of the three of us, she was first in line for the Oscar nomination” (213). Is Esperanza really acting or are the tears entirely real. If they are, what is she crying for? Does she see this as the same as the decision they had to make to let their daughter go?
7. When Taylor and Turtle are reading the book about plants, they learn that wisteria vines thrive in poor soil because of microscopic bugs that live underground near their roots. “The rhizobia are not actually part of the plant, they are separate creatures, but they always live with legumes: a kind of underground railroad moving secretly up and down the roots” (227) What connection to the Wisteria vines and the Rhizobia have to the lives of all the characters in the book?
8.Throughout the story, Taylor experiences many situations that are easily forgotten or changed (ie occupation, where she lives, who she is around, etc.) This makes many of the events in her life seem temporary or easily altered. Has this malleability affected Taylors growth as an individual? Her ability to be successful as a mother and an individual?
9. How does calling 1-800-THE-LORD, a comercialized, impersonal, telephone hotline, affect Taylor? Does the receptionists cold and annoyed reaction reveal anythinga bout the society in which Taylor lives?

Closing Activity

Reflection about the book, research, and book group project.

Works Cited
Kingsolver, Barbara. The Bean Trees: a Novel. New York: Harper Perennial, 1988. Print.
"Saint Christopher." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 13 May 2010.