Symbiosis In Nature In Barbara Kingsolver's Novel The Beans Trees

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Symbiosis in Nature in Barbara Kingsolver's novel the Beans Trees


Barbara Kingsolver's style is poetic. She blends realism with lyricism, interspersed with humor, to create what critics have called a “southern novel taken west.” Kingsolver accurately depicts the lives of common, everyday people (most of them women) by creating vivid images that provoke thoughts, feelings, and moods. For example, we hear the air gun as Taylor works on tires at Jesus Is Lord Used Tires, and we feel the same tingling in our fingers that Lou Ann feels after dicing hot chilies in a packing line at Red Hot Mama's salsa factory. Kingsolver describes the neighborhood where Taylor and Lou Ann live in Arizona as being “a little senile, with arthritic hinges and window screens hanging at embarrassing angles . . . transformed in ways that favored function over beauty.” This image, which is both humorous and serious, gives readers a clear picture of Taylor's physical surroundings.

Symbiosis in Nature in Barbara Kingsolver's novel the Beans Trees

Symbols in The Bean Trees enrich the themes found in the novel and, oftentimes, suggest Kingsolver's extensive background in biology. A symbol functions literally as a concrete object and figuratively as a representation of an idea. Symbols allow writers to compress complicated ideas or views into an image or word. Some symbols, such as a dove as a representation of peace or winter as a representation of death, are well known; they are called public symbols. Many times, writers invent their own symbols. When Kingsolver creates symbols, she has her own definite meanings for the symbols. However, because each symbol has a myriad of interpretations, she prefers that her readers interpret the symbolism as it relates to their own life experiences.

Much of the symbolism found in the novel is biological in nature, as Kingsolver repeatedly employs birds, plants, and animals. For example, the symbiotic relationship between the rhizobia and the wisteria vines represents the theme of the interdependency between people in a community. The “bean trees,” or wisteria, that are able to thrive in non-fertile soil and the bird that builds its nest in a cactus (“You just couldn't imagine how she'd made a home in there”) may symbolize the resiliency and ability to thrive that human beings (like Turtle) possess.

Kingsolver's native southern Kentucky dialect contributes to the realistic representation of the simple, ordinary life lived by her characters. Taylor and Lou Ann both grew up in rural Kentucky and consider them hillbillies. They feel comfortable with each other because they talk alike, using expressions such as “I'll swan” and “ugly as a mud stick fence.”

Numerous examples of humor throughout the novel prevent the tone from becoming too serious and sad. For example, Lou Ann thinks that her cat has a split personality because “the good cat wakes up and thinks the bad cat has just pooped on the rug.” And Taylor imagines Lou Ann going to a job interview and saying, “Really ma'am, I could understand why you wouldn't want to hire a dumb old thing ...
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