The Bean Trees | Study Guide

Barbara Kingsolver

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The Bean Trees | Chapter 7 : How They Eat in Heaven | Summary



After an unseasonably warm winter, March brings wildflower blooms, and Mattie takes Taylor, Lou Ann, and the children on a picnic outside Tucson. Mattie brings along two other friends named Estevan and Esperanza, two Guatemalan Native Americans. Esperanza is shocked at the sight of Turtle, and Estevan explains that Turtle looks like a girl they had known in Guatemala. The group passes a pleasant afternoon together, and on the way home, Turtle speaks her first sound, a laugh that escapes when she tumbles forward off the back seat as the cars brake for a quail family crossing the road.

Soon after, Mattie invites Taylor and Turtle to help her plant her summer garden. To the surprise of everyone, Turtle speaks her first word: bean. Taylor gives the child more bean seeds to play with, and Turtle happily plants them.

Later, Mattie is scheduled to speak on television, so Lou Ann invites Estevan and Esperanza to the house to watch together. She also invites her neighbors, Virgie Mae Parsons and Edna Poppy, because they have a portable TV and Angel had taken hers. Taylor is surprised when Estevan and Esperanza introduce themselves to the two older ladies as Steven and Hope. Taylor manages to see a piece of Mattie's interview, where Mattie talks about the Guatemalan and Salvadoran immigrants leaving their countries in fear for their lives and how only a fraction of a percent of the people who apply for asylum are granted it. She suggests that the United States has an obligation to help all of those people who are running for their lives. At the dinner table, Estevan brings out chopsticks from the Chinese restaurant where he works; Virgie Mae responds with a series of anti-immigrant remarks about how people "stay put in their own dirt" rather than coming to America.


The events of this chapter reveal the nature of Mattie's extracurricular activities to both the reader and to Taylor, which have only been hinted at in previous chapters. In Chapter 6, Taylor observes that a number of Spanish-speaking people are living in Mattie's upstairs rooms, and they seem to stay or go over varying periods of time, but Taylor has not met any of these people. Mattie tells Taylor in Chapter 6 that her house was a kind of sanctuary for people, but Taylor doesn't seem to understand what exactly that means.

In this chapter, Mattie's true cause is revealed, both through the introduction of Estevan and Esperanza and through her television interview. Estevan and Esperanza are Guatemalan, and they are fleeing the violence that Mattie refers to during her interview, although their immigration status has not yet been explicitly stated. Taylor is surprised when they introduce themselves to Virgie Mae and Edna as Steven and Hope, and she is upset when hearing Virgie Mae disparage immigrants of every kind. Here and throughout the novel, Estevan and Esperanza are Taylor's introduction to the difficulties that immigrants to America face, both in their home countries and in their adopted one.

In this chapter, Turtle begins to speak, first with a laugh and then with a vegetable-focused vocabulary. At the same time, the reader meets a second character, Esperanza, who does not speak and appears to be traumatized by the sight of Turtle and the mention that she and Estevan do not have any children. In later chapters, Taylor learns the cause of her strong reaction to Turtle; Estevan and Esperanza had a daughter, but she was taken by the Guatemalan government, and Esperanza has not healed from this experience.

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