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The Bean Trees | Study Guide

Barbara Kingsolver

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The Bean Trees | Chapter 9 : Ismene | Summary



One weekend, Esperanza tries to commit suicide by taking a bottle of baby aspirin, but Mattie finds her and takes her to a clinic in South Tucson. Estevan comes to Taylor's house to tell her what happened, and she tries to comfort him. They talk long into the night, covering topics ranging from the mundane to the highly personal. Taylor tells Estevan about her past as a poor child in Kentucky, cracking walnuts to pay for school clothes and being made fun of for the dark stain it left on her hands. Estevan confides in Taylor about his and Esperanza's past in Guatemala. Estevan and Esperanza had a child named Ismene, but the government took her to try to get her parents to identify other members of their teacher's union, which the government viewed as a threat. Eventually, Estevan and Taylor fall asleep, and when Taylor wakes, she moves to sleep in her own bed.


Although Taylor has known for a long time that Estevan and Esperanza were fleeing from a difficult past in Guatemala, she has not learned the specifics until this chapter. Taylor views her own life as pretty difficult, and she is humbled to hear how much more difficult her friends' lives have been. Estevan's description of their life and the way they lost their daughter, Ismene, offers an explanation for Esperanza's previous unease at being around Turtle and at Estevan's assertion that they do not have children. In sharing their pasts and comforting one another through a difficult time, Estevan and Taylor draw close to one another, physically and emotionally. They both stop short of following up on their implied desire for one another.

Kingsolver withholds the most difficult elements of Estevan and Taylor's pasts until this moment, creating a strong juxtaposition of their two stories. Taylor grew up poor in a place with few opportunities, so she sets out west to search for a better life. Estevan struggled to live the life he wanted in his home country and was no longer safe there, so he sets out north to search for a better life. In this light, both Taylor and Estevan are immigrants to Tucson, but while Taylor can live whatever life she wants there, Estevan risks imprisonment or deportation every day. Their two life stories juxtapose the freedom of movement within a country with the restricted movement across national borders, even in life and death situations.

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