The Bean Trees | Study Guide

Barbara Kingsolver

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The Bean Trees | Chapter 17 : Rhizobia | Summary



Taylor drives Estevan and Esperanza to the drop-off point with the new sanctuary, at a white church in Oklahoma City. She wakes Turtle up to say goodbye, then does so herself, sharing a private moment with Estevan. Neither wants to lose the other as a friend, but both know that there is no other possibility. They discuss how Esperanza had experienced a catharsis in Mr. Armistead's office, releasing years of suppressed emotions about her daughter as she parted from her pretend daughter, Turtle. Taylor finally leaves them, thinking, "All four of us had buried someone we loved in Oklahoma." Taylor calls her mother, telling her that she had let go of someone she loved, and Mama Greer consoles her and is happy to hear the news that Taylor has legally adopted Turtle.

Taylor and Turtle wait for the adoption papers to be finalized. First, Taylor drives around a bit, then she calls 1-800-THE-LORD, the phone number she'd first seen in the bar before Turtle's aunt had approached her in with the baby in the parking lot. Taylor finds out that it's a church asking for donations, not a helpline for those in need as she'd always kept it in her mind. Taylor and Turtle head to the library, where Taylor reads about the microscopic organisms called rhizobia that keep wisteria trees alive: "a whole invisible system for helping out the plant that you'd never guess was there." Taylor compares this to the network of people that have shaped her and Turtle's life. Finally, they go to the courthouse, where they must wait some more, and Taylor calls Lou Ann. They catch up for a while, talking about Lou Ann's new dating life, before Lou Ann finally gives in to her curiosity and demands Taylor tell her what happened with Turtle's adoption. The two women celebrate the good news that Taylor has officially adopted Turtle before they hang up. After finally receiving their documents, Taylor and Turtle begin their long drive home.


Taylor has completed her transition into motherhood and adulthood as she drops off Estevan and Esperanza. Although Estevan and Esperanza think it is unnecessary to wake the girl to say goodbye, Taylor knows what is best for the child and is now certain enough of her role as mother to insist upon it. As she says goodbye to Estevan, she fully accepts the limits of their relationship. Speaking to her mother about it on the phone afterward, Taylor admits that she loves him, but that he was not hers to have. She does not give in to or even entertain girlish fantasies about keeping in touch or things changing in the future. Taylor accepts the reality that he will live his life with Esperanza, and she will not even be able to write to him directly.

When Taylor calls 1-800-THE-LORD, she does it because she no longer needs their help. Just like her mother considered claiming head rights with the Cherokee Nation as her never-tested backup plan, Taylor keeps this phone number as her never-tested failsafe. Taylor calls them at a time when she no longer needs a backup plan. She has established a life, adopted her daughter, and chosen a path without any supernatural guidance.

In the library, Taylor reads about the wisteria tree, the tree that produced the long, bean-like seed pods that Turtle calls "bean trees." She learns that these beautiful trees are kept alive by an invisible "underground railroad" of microorganisms called rhizobia. In this symbiotic relationship, Taylor finds a beautiful metaphor for her and Turtle's lives, which are sustained by a network of supportive friends, neighbors, and fellow refugees.

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