Barbara Kingsolver’s Feminist Attitude in Bean Trees

September 24, 2021 by Essay Writer

The Bean Trees, written by Barbra Kingsolver, is a novel that explores the life of modern day women in Tucson, Arizona. The two main characters, Taylor and Lou Ann, navigate through their unconventional lives with the support of their family and friends. In a patriarchal world, the women face numerous challenges, however, their friendship strengthens them as they overcome the struggles of daily life.

Throughout the book, the author voices that women are not restricted by oppressing societal norms that requires the relinquishment of their independence and freedom; in The Bean Trees, Barbra Kingsolver uses elements of fiction to develop a theme that women are strong and independent human beings who need not follow any social standards.

The first way that Kingsolver uses elements of fiction to show that women are strong and independent human beings is by the characterization of the main character, Taylor Greer. Within the book, Taylor is portrayed as a woman who is strong, independent, and feisty. During one of Taylor and Lou Ann’s exchanges about Fanny Heaven, the text says, “Lou Ann shuddered. ‘That door’s what gets me. Like a woman is something you shove on and walk right through. I try to ignore it, but it still gets me.’ ‘Don’t ignore it, then, ’ I said. ‘Talk back to it… What I’m saying is you can’t just sit there, you got to get pissed off’” (Kingsolver 202). In this context, Fanny Heaven represents the sexual abuse of women. Lou Ann becomes upset with the fact that the door symbolizes the act of devaluing and ignoring women.

However, she does not have enough courage to act upon her distress. According Stella Bender, a writer of the Colorado Springs Gazette, ‘Often a woman is not taken seriously by… society in general. It’s said she has… an unimportant voice. But also, … too often a woman doesn’t have faith in herself. She tells herself she can’t do it all and feels guilty if she nurtures herself. Lacking self-esteem, she doesn’t speak out, articulate her feelings or assert herself” (Bender). However, Taylor teaches Lou Ann that it’s okay to be angry at the injustice of the world. She encourages Lou Ann to speak out and nurtures Lou Ann’s faith in herself, reminding her that she has an important voice. The author characterizes Taylor as tough and unwavering in her opinions, a symbol of feminism. She does not feel afraid to voice her thoughts or challenge the societal norms. She is a symbol of female strength through the way she confronts social discrimination with a bold spirit. The second way that Kingsolver uses elements of fiction to show that women are strong and independent human beings is by the characterization of the supporting character, Mattie.

As a business owner and member of the Sanctuary Movement, Mattie is a powerful woman and mentor of the women-centric community that Taylor becomes a part of. Taylor looks up to Mattie in every aspect and for the women in their community, Mattie becomes the symbol of womanism. She empowers the women through her words and actions. In the text, Taylor in admiration says, “I had never seen a woman with this kind of know-how. It made me feel proud, somehow.

In Pittman if a woman had tried to have her own tire store she would have been run out of business. ” (Kingsolver 59) Mattie, a supporting and round character, embodies Kingsolver’s feminist viewpoints. She is an independent woman who is in control of her own life and unyielding in her strength. Kingsolver interjects a feminist viewpoint as Mattie goes to assist a customer, Taylor watches her and feels proud to see that a woman is accepts for doing a “man’s” job. In addition to characterization, Kingsolver uses literary devices to depict that women are strong and independent human beings that need not follow any social standards.

The author often uses symbols to communicate a theme of feminism. In this case, she uses Lou Ann’s hair to depict Lou Ann’s growth as a woman. The text says, “Lou Ann was going through a phase of cutting her own hair every other day” (Kingsolver 132). Lou Ann’s hair styles symbolizes her new-found independence in life. After Angel left, Lou Ann has been forced to become her own person. Her experimentation with her hair symbolizes this journey, a series of success and miss-steps. As she begins to gain her independence, she finds herself placing her own opinions equal to others and feeling a sense of validation for herself. The author illustrates Lou Ann’s independence through her use of symbolism. Likewise, the author exhibits Taylor’s independence through the application of a metaphor.

During one of Taylor’s conversations with Lou Ann, she tells Lou Ann, “‘I’ll tell you my theory about staying with one man your whole life long… Parts are included for all installations but no installation requires all of the parts. That’s kind of my philosophy about men. I don’t think there’s an installation out there that could use all my parts. ’” (Kingsolver 118). In this comment, Kingsolver seems to suggest that women do not need men in their lives. The author compares a flapper ball to the relationship between men and women. Taylor observes that though men are there for women to marry, there is no need for women to marry. She humorously suggests that there is not one man who could possibly satisfy all her needs. In this scene, the author interjects her feminist viewpoint through a metaphor. She supports her viewpoints by illustrating that the women in Bean Trees ultimately survive- even flourish- without men in their lives.

Though Kingsolver has used literary devices and characterization to depict that women are strong, independent and do not need to follow any social standards, her novel also uses plot progression to demonstrate this theme. In chapter four, Lou Ann’s Grandma and her mother visits her. Lou Ann is conflicted with herself; her pride prevents her from telling the truth to her family, but she still feels guilty while lying about her marriage to Angel (Kingsolver 75).

This conflict connects to a larger view of divorce in our society. The novel exposes the cultural pressure that dictates acceptable choices for women. At this time, divorce was viewed upon as a “failure” and Lou Ann experiences a deep shame from the end of her marriage. To fit the societal expectations of married women, she forfeits her own opportunity to be happy and independent. As a result, she is miserable and lonely, unable to confess to her own family the truth of her marriage. Only when she was able to accept the prospect of living life without needing to rely on men, did she begin to flourish and find satisfaction. Kingsolver depicts freedom, contentment, and strength in women who resist the social standards. For instance, in chapter five Taylor and Turtle moves in with Lou Ann.

Although Taylor and Lou Ann are both single moms who have been abandoned by the men in their life, they develop their own definition of family and become an unconventional family. Kingsolver portrays her feminist views through the structure of their family. In their family, everyone is equal and has a voice. They both have jobs and at home, they divide the work. Furthermore, Taylor and Lou Ann each take over aspects of traditionally masculine roles in the family. Taylor teaches Lou Ann how to let go of the societal expectations of female bodies and the judgment passed on working mothers and helps Lou Ann become a truer version of herself in the process.


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