The Bean Trees | Study Guide

Barbara Kingsolver

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The Bean Trees | Chapter 13 : Night-Blooming Cereus | Summary



Turtle is recovering from the attack in the park and, after a few weeks, has resumed speaking as predicted by Lou Ann and the social worker, Cynthia. Cynthia gives Turtle a doll to play with, which Turtle proceeds to try to bury. While Taylor thinks she was trying to plant them like her bean seeds, the social worker, Cynthia, is worried about a fixation on death and burial. Taylor continues to remain somewhat detached from Turtle and is hesitant to fight back when Cynthia informs her that the state has decided to place Turtle into a foster home because Taylor has no documentation to support her guardianship of the child. Lou Ann is furious and tries to convince Taylor to fight the decision. Mattie offers Taylor some perspective, suggesting that Taylor shouldn't worry about whether she can always protect the child, since that is impossible. Instead, Mattie suggests that all a mother can do is try.

Taylor then asks Cynthia what she could do to try to retain custody of Turtle, and Cynthia suggests that she needs the child's guardian to sign over custody and gives her the name of someone in Oklahoma who could help her. Taylor decides that she will try to obtain these papers and, at the same time, drive Estevan and Esperanza to a safe house in Oklahoma. The night before they are set to leave, Virgie Mae comes to Lou Ann and Taylor's door, inviting them over to see the once-annual bloom of her and Edna's night-blooming cereus; Taylor takes the beautiful flowers as a good omen for their journey.


Taylor is surprised that Turtle has bounced back so quickly, especially since Taylor is having a difficult time doing so. Taylor is still caring for Turtle and taking her to see the social worker, but she has lost her optimism about offering the child a better life than she would have had if Taylor had not taken her from her aunt. The incident in the park has made Taylor feel helpless and unable to protect Turtle, challenging Taylor's previous view that she could conquer whatever the world threw her way. When combined with her inability to help Estevan and Esperanza, Taylor sinks into a depression and struggles to find the strength of character that has, until now, defined her personality. When the social worker suggests that the state will take Turtle, Taylor does not feel justified in fighting for the child because she has not been able to protect her. Mattie, who functions almost as a surrogate mother for Taylor, is the only one who can get through to her, telling her that no one can always protect a child. This starts to help Taylor move past the guilt that she feels for the park incident and inspires Taylor to try.

Taylor begins by asking Cynthia what she can do and, with her advice, begins to formulate a plan. In this way, Taylor regains some of her previous, problem-solving independence. She assesses the situation, finds a solution, and then goes one step further. Offering to transport Estevan and Esperanza is an unnecessary addition to the already difficult objective of gaining legal guardianship of Turtle. However, for Taylor, helping her friends is as essential as helping Turtle. The Taylor who exerts her will to achieve her goals has returned. No longer helpless, depressed, or lacking control, this Taylor takes on the world, even when it frightens her.

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