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The Bean Trees | Study Guide

Barbara Kingsolver

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The Bean Trees | Chapter 15 : Lake o' the Cherokees | Summary



Taylor takes Turtle, Estevan, and Esperanza on a short vacation to go see Lake Oologah and Grand Lake o' the Cherokees. As they drive toward the lake, everyone begins to relax, thanks to the beautiful surroundings and the distinctly decreased chance that they will be stopped and questioned about Estevan and Esperanza's immigration status because they blend in easily with Cherokee people. Taylor convinces them to rent a cottage by the lake, and the group shares a picnic and a lovely day together. Turtle plants her dolly in the ground and calls it Mama, at which point Taylor realizes that she has seen her mother buried. Before they go to sleep, Taylor asks Estevan and Esperanza if they will do something for her, and they agree.


Taylor's emotional reaction to finding the beauty in Cherokee land represents the flowering of her relationship with Turtle. Most of this chapter describes Taylor's trip to Grand Lake o' the Cherokee as a kind of relief and homecoming that offers her some optimism, particularly because it restores a vision of the land of the Cherokees that her mother had always shared with her. Inspired by the land around her, Taylor is pleased to find that her mama's backup plan "really did have a few diamonds in it." Taylor's experience of the land, however, will be passing. It is her relationship with the living legacy of the Cherokee Nation, Turtle, that has and will continue to shape Taylor's life. Taylor says that she knew "I would never really claim my head rights"—that is, the claim to tribal land that she retains by being 1/8 Cherokee—but she is overlooking the fact that Turtle becomes, in a sense, the element of her Cherokee heritage to which Taylor claims unreserved custody.

Turtle, meanwhile, is coming closer to processing the trauma that she endured on the land she is now revisiting. In this chapter, Cynthia's analysis is proven correct; Turtle buries the doll and calls it Mama, which is how Taylor realizes that Turtle's mother has died and the child saw her mother buried. As troubling as this knowledge may be, it allows Taylor to imagine that Turtle's mother has left the child in Taylor's care and to more fully accept the responsibility of caring for the child: "The way things turned out is that she left you with me."

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