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A list of all the characters in The Bean Trees
So yes, what we are saying is that Barbara Kingsolver is kind of a big deal. Which means that The Bean Trees, as her very first novel, is pretty up there too.
So. The Bean Trees is set in the early 1980s, a decade in which the United States gave financial and military support to governments and other forces enacting fierce violence in Central American countries. In the meantime, concerned American citizens were to give refuge to Central Americans who were fleeing for their lives.
The Bean Trees is a book readers have taken to their hearts
Getting sidelined by the unexpected is exactly what happens to Taylor Greer, the twenty-something protagonist of Barbara Kingsolver's The Bean Trees. Having grown up poor and female in rural Kentucky, Taylor has made a point of never ending up barefoot and pregnant in anybody's kitchen. Which was pretty typical in rural Kentucky in those days, if you didn't get that.
Barbara Kingsolver published The Bean Trees in 1988. It was her , and her first big break as a fiction writer. Since then, the novel has become an American classic, and—as you may have guessed—a familiar selection for high-school English curricula.
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In the meantime, to fill you in on your Kingsolver background, after publishing The Bean Trees she went on to become one of the biggest names in contemporary American writing. President Clinton presented her with a National Humanities Medal, Oprah praised her novel (1998), and her books were nominated for .
In 1993, five years after The Bean Trees was published, Kingsolver followed it up with a sequel called . Which may sound like a super bacon-y breakfast or a certain type of mud bath the hogs can't stop raving about, but as far as sequels go, this one's worth a read. There are some folks who'd say that the story in The Bean Trees just isn't complete without it. Think Star Wars without The Empire Strikes Back. Inconceivable, right?
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As scholar Patricia Stuelke , The Bean Trees is "the most famous fictional representation" of that solidarity movement. Which means that, for those who read the book as an indictment of American imperialism, its sympathy for Central American refugees is a clear marker of Barbara Kingsolver's commitment to social justice.
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Back to The Bean Trees: this is a book that confronts its readers with piles of provocative questions to consider. It asks you to think about issues like ethics, citizenship, violence, and empire, and those questions alone could fuel raging debates and intense discussion for hours (um, yes, we could Game of Thrones).
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So, tying these issues together, The Bean Trees has some powerful things to say about the responsibility that human beings have for one another—even when it seems that, as individuals, the whole seven billion of us are worlds apart.
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But wait! Let's look on the flip side, where there are plenty of reasons to question The Bean Trees' commitment to social justice. As Patricia Stuelke argues (yes, we'll link ), the novel takes on a whole different tone if we ask what injustices it takesfor granted, and therefore fails to address or expose.
In other words, even though The Bean Trees seems to be critical of American imperialism, it could be argued that the book's central plot relies on an imperialistic perspective.
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Set in the early 1980s, The Bean Trees tackles a whole slew of topics that you can go ahead and file under the heading "social justice issues." Front and center?
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So why doesn't The Bean Trees mention such a crucial aspect of its cultural and political context? Sure, the novel's sequel, Pigs in Heaven, clears this context right up, but not one single person in The Bean Trees ever asks if Taylor is right to take Turtle away from Cherokee Nation territory. Not to mention the problems of naming a human "Turtle."
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