The Bean Trees | Study Guide

Barbara Kingsolver

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The Bean Trees | Chapter 16 : Soundness of Mind and Freedom of Will | Summary

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Summary

In Oklahoma City, Taylor and Turtle are with Estevan and Esperanza in the office of Mr. Jonas Wilford Armistead, a notary public. Mr. Armistead's secretary, Mrs. Cleary, assists them in preparing the documents that will transfer custody of Turtle to Taylor. Estevan and Esperanza present themselves as the parents of April Turtle Two Two, under their Cherokee aliases of Steven Tilpec Two Two and Hope Roberta Two Two. Because Cherokee children born on tribal lands were not required to have birth certificates and Steven and Hope have no official identification, Mr. Armistead and Mrs. Cleary trust Taylor's verification of their identities. Esperanza holds on tightly to Turtle, crying and stating that "[w]e love her, but we cannot take care of her." Painfully, Esperanza says goodbye to the child, giving Turtle her gold necklace bearing the image of St. Christopher, patron saint of refugees. Taylor marvels at "what astonishing things could be made legal in a modest little office in the state of Oklahoma" and finalizes her adoption of Turtle. Together, the four leave Mr. Armistead's office.

Analysis

Taylor has orchestrated a clever and unknowingly cathartic ruse that manages to pass inspection at the office of the notary public. She knows that fewer legal documents are kept in the Cherokee Nation, and she relies upon the ignorance and systemic prejudice of white officials against Native Americans. Mr. Armistead trusts her word because she is a U.S. citizen, and he does not question whether Estevan and Esperanza are truly the child's parents because they are all Native American. Still, Estevan and Esperanza take a significant risk; detection of their illegal status would likely lead to deportation to their home country and likely their death once they arrive there. They take this risk in order to help Taylor and Turtle, with whom they feel a strong bond of friendship and gratitude.

The scene in the office is perhaps most believable because of Esperanza's attachment to Turtle, largely developed in the backseat of the car in recent days, and her emotional reaction to being asked to say goodbye. Esperanza, although she is close to Turtle, expresses the true emotion of a mother parting from her daughter. Her own daughter, Ismene, was taken from her by force by the government in her home country in an effort to make Esperanza and Estevan reveal the names of the other members of their teacher's union. Esperanza seems to be reliving that separation in Mr. Armistead's office as she pretends to give up her nonexistent role as Turtle's mother. On this occasion, she has an opportunity to say goodbye, to tell the child she is loved, and to send her off with a token of her affection: the protective medal of Saint Christopher. For Esperanza, reenacting a farewell that she never had the chance to have with her daughter stimulates a kind of catharsis, a release of her strong, repressed emotions. She is able to come to terms with the child's departure from her care, saying, "We will know she is happy and growing with a good heart," a statement that clearly conveys her wishes for her own daughter, Ismene.

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