Bean Trees Questions

Topics for Discussion:

  1. The Bean Trees deals with the theme of being an outsider. In what ways are various characters outsiders? What does this suggest about what it takes to be an insider? How does feeling like an outsider affect one’s life?
  2. How and why do the characters change, especially Lou Ann, Taylor, and Turtle?
  3. In many ways, the novel is “the education of Taylor Greer.” What does she learn about human suffering? about love?

Chapter 1

  1. What accident happened to Newt’s Hardbine’s father?
  2. How does the accident affect the narrator?
  3. Who is the narrator’s father?
  4. What is the narrator’s given name and what is she called?
  5. What in particular does Missy avoid in her school?
  6. Who is Paul McCartney?
  7. How does Hughes Walter change Missy’s life?
  8. Why does Medgar Biddle say Missy “dressed like an eye test”?
  9. What is Missy’s mother’s husband’s name?
  10. What does Missy’s mother mean when she says, “The only difference between one that stands up good and one that blows over is what kind of stick they’re stuck up there on”?
  11. What lesson does Missy learn after she asks Mr. Walter for the hospital job?
  12. What does Missy’s conversation with Jolene reveal?
  13. How tough is Missy? How do you know?
  14. What two things does Missy respect about her mother?
  15. How long does Missy work at the hospital?
  16. Whom does Missy date and why is he considered a “high-class catch”?
  17. What does Missy do with the money she initially saves from her job?
  18. In what state does Missy grow up?
  19. What is Missy’s plan?
  20. What is the first promise to herself that Missy keeps when she leaves Pittman County?
  21. What is the second promise she makes but which she breaks?
  22. Where does her car give out?
  23. What is ironic about her breaking down in the land of the Cherokee?
  24. What is given to Taylor?
  25. Why does Taylor decide to stay at the Broken Arrow Motor Lodge?
  26. What simile does Kingsolver use to describe the way the child clings to Taylor?
  27. When Taylor takes off the child’s clothes, what does she find?

New Characters

  • the narrator, Missy, Miss Marietta Greer, Taylor Greer
  • Mama (Alice Greer)
  • Newt Harbine
  • Newt Harbine’s father
  • Norman Strick
  • Jolene Shanks Hardbine
  • Mr. Hughes Walter
  • Lynda Walter
  • Earl Wickentot
  • Medgar Biddle
  • Foster Greer
  • Foster Greer’s mother
  • Henry Biddle
  • Eddie Rickett
  • Doc Finchler
  • Nurse MacCullers
  • Sparky Pike
  • Bob Two Two
  • Taylor’s great-grandpa on her mother’s side
  • Earl
  • Mrs. Hoge (the lady at the Broken Arrow Moter Lodge)
  • Turtle (the Indian child)

The Setting: Imaginary Places

  • Pittman County
  • Greenup Road or Steam-It-Up Road
  • Pittman County Hospital
  • the Mustang Motel
  • the Broken Arrow Motor Lodge
  • Floyd’s Mill Road

Cultural and Historical Allusions

  • Paul McCartney
  • candy stripers
  • Stephen Foster
  • “My Old Kentucky Home”
  • Bobbie Brooks
  • Old Grand Dad
  • the Jackson Purchase
  • ’55 Volkswagen bug
  • Budweiser
  • Plymouth
  • rocker arm
  • silo
  • Polaroid memory
  • the Cherokee Tribe
  • the Cherokee Nation
  • the Trail of Tears
  • “head rights”
  • Oral Roberts University
  • Kenny Rogers
  • “A Rose for Emily”
  • Psycho
  • Norman Bates

Natural and Geographic Allusions

  • lunker
  • Jesus bugs
  • peas
  • marigolds
  • Hot Tamale cosmos
  • platelets
  • potato bugs
  • Homer, Illinois
  • Sidney
  • Sadorus
  • Cerro Gordo
  • Decatur
  • Blue Mound
  • Taylorville
  • Cincinnati
  • Tennesse, “the Volunteer State”
  • Missouri, “the Show-Me State”
  • Great Plain
  • Wichita, Kansas
  • Oklahoma
  • Pioneer Woman Museum
  • Ponca City
  • St. Louis, Missouri
  • St. Louis Gateway Arch
  • a blue moon
  • mud turtle
  • Kentucky Lake

Great Quotes

  • “Mama always said barefoot and pregnant was not my style.” (3)
  • “I had decided early on that if I couldn’t dress elegant, I’d dress memorable.” (5)
  • “‘[A] person isn’t nothing more than a scarecrow. You, me, Earl Wickentot, the President of the United States, and even God Almighty, as far as I can see. The only difference between one that stands up good and one that blows over is what kind of stick they’re stuck up there on.'”(5)
  • “These orderlies came in from the emergency room yelling for Eddie to get ready for a mess in x-ray.”
  • “‘[M]y daddy’d been calling me a slut practically since I was thirteen . . .'” (9)
  • “There were two things about Mama. One is she always expected the best out of me. And the other is that then no matter what I did, whatever I came home with, she acted like it was the moon I had just hung up in the sky and plugged in all the stars. Like I was that good.” (10)
  • The most amazing thing was the way that child held on. From the first moment I picked it up out of its nest of wet blanket, it attached itself to me by its little hands like roots sucking on dry dirt. I think it would have been easier to separate me from my hair.”(22)
  • “It looked like carrying blood and pee was to be my lot in life.” (22)

Essay Topics

  1. Write a complex comparison/contrast of the parents and children in the chapter. Consider the role of encouragement, violence, education, social opportunities, and social expectations in leading to the “success” or “failure” of particular characters. You will need to define what you mean by “success” in life. Note the key differences in ways characters judge success and how this also contributes to how they judge themselves and their roles in the community.
  2. Use the chapter to make an argument about whether or not people are able to overcome or not the social circumstances they are born into and the way they are raised, educated, and treated.
  3. Discuss the use of symbols in the chapter and how they introduce and reinforce the themes.

Chapter 2

Some Opening Comments and Ideas to Reflect on about Chapter 2

  1. There is a shift in narrative voice. This chapter is now in the third-person, not the first-person. The characters are all different. This may seem initially upsetting or confusing, but I recommend you try to think of the book like a fun puzzle. These stories are being contrasted for a reason. How are the two women, Taylor and Lou Ann, different? How are they similar? What can you predict for the future of the book? Will these two women meet? How? When?
  2. Angel Ruiz is one of the rather complex male figures we meet in the novel. There are clues he has a history of substance abuse problems–(1) his nickname “Dusty” from the PCP or “Angel Dust” drugs he was involved with in his rodeo days and (2) his obvious drinking problem that led to his DUI accident and amputated leg. On the other hand, his mother-in-law is racist, which makes us feel sympathetic towards him. Also Ruiz’s false leg jingles–and although the narrator and Lou Ann do not mention it, adjusting such false limbs can cost a great deal of money per visit and involve lots of paperwork. Angel’s pride as the male breadwinner has been undermined. Still Ruiz abandons his pregnant wife and future child with no effort to provide child support. His behavior can be compared to the other fathers and husbands who have abandoned or abused their children in the novel so far–consider Newt Hardbine’s father, Foster Greer, the man with Turtle, and Joline’s dad for example.
  3. The title of the chapter is a clue to a main theme of this chapter–the way some cultures are hostile to women. How is the Chinese culture hostile to women? How do some women themselves perpetuate cultural oppression of themselves? Consider Lee Sing, the women who work at Fanny Heaven, and Mrs.Logan. Discuss the sexual harassment that Lou Ann deals with on the bus when not pregnant. What does this say about her as a person? What kind of people try to sexually fondle a woman on a bus? Why can’t Lou Ann defend herself from these people?
  4. Notice also how both Lou Ann and her brother married people of other races despite their racist mother. If Lou Ann is treated badly for having married a Hispanic man, her mother feels her brother’s wife, an Eskimo, is more animal than human. How does race compound the problem of sexism?
Review Questions
  1. What narrative point of view is used in Chapter One? Chapter Two?
  2. Where is Lou Ann Ruiz from and whom did she marry?
  3. On what day does Angel leave Lou Ann? On what day did he have his accident?
  4. What is Lou Ann’s method of dealing with issues?
  5. What simile does Lou Ann use to describe herself during arguments with Angel?
  6. What is the name of Lou Ann’s cat?
  7. What does Lou Ann’s mother think of Angel?
  8. What are some of the advantages of being pregnant, according to Lou Ann?
  9. What two establishments are oddly juxtaposed?
  10. What is Lee sing’s attitude to having a girl child?
  11. What reveals more to Lou Ann about Angel than all their years of marriage?

New Characters

  • Lou Ann Ruiz
  • Angel “Dusty” Ruiz
  • Lee Sing
  • Snowboots/Pachuco (the cat)
  • Dr. Pelinowsky
  • Mrs. Logan
  • Tania Maria, singer
  • Grandfather Ormsby
  • Lee Sing’s mother

The Setting: Imaginary Places and Bands

  • Three Bears Day School
  • Lee Sing’s Market
  • Audio Confusion (band)
  • Roosevelt Park
  • Jesus is Lord Used Tires
  • Fanny Heaven (porn shop/nightclub)

Cultural and Historical Allusions

  • Halloween
  • Christmas
  • Gumby
  • Jim Beam
  • Meat Puppets (band)
  • Gin rummy
  • Beefaroni
  • Mrs. Smith’s pound cake
  • Racism against Mexican-Americans or Hispanics
  • Catholic Baptism
  • Whittling with a jackknife
  • Bull-riding
  • Rodeo circuit
  • McCall’s
  • Black Angus Steak House
  • Around the World yoyo trick
  • Whitewalls
  • Firestones
  • Michelins
  • Yogurt
  • Macaroons
  • Eskimos
  • Frankenstein
  • Incredible Hulk
  • Mickey Mouse

Medical, Natural, and Geographic Allusions

Great Quotes

  • “In Tucson, she tried to explain to her mother, there were so many Mexicans that people didn’t think of them as a foreign race. They were doctors, bank clerks, TV personalities, and even owned hotels …. Mrs. Logan, who lived in eastern Kentucky and had never seen a Mexican, thought Lou Ann was making this up.” (27-8)
  • “‘Feeding a girl is like feeding the neighbor’s New Year pig. All that work. In the end, it goes to some other family.'” (31)
  • “In her other ear, pressed against the pillow, she could hear the blood pumping all the way down to her feet. It sounded something like the ocean, which she had seen once with Angel in Mexico. The baby nudged and poked at her with what felt like fingers, playing in waves of her blood, on the smooth, dark beach of her insides.” (33)

Chapter 3

As you read Chapter 3 . . .

  1. Contrast the attitude to bugs of the stange man at the abandoned gas station and that of Mattie. What does this contrast reveal about Mattie’s character?
  2. Note all the images associated with Mattie and her shop. What connotations do many of these images have–all the flowers, Jesus, the bunny mug, etc.? What does Mattie’s shop suggest about her character?
  3. Consider the types of people Taylor describes living downtown. How does society judge these groups? Do the artistic people and the homeless people get along? What does Taylor’s experience in the art gallery tell us about the relationship of the various groups?
  4. Note other signs of how social and economic status is unequal and troubled in America presented in this chapter. Consider the contrast between the unwed, minimum-wage employed mothers and the shopping mothers at Kid Central Station. Consider also the contrast between poor Kentucky and the wealthy racing community of Kentucky.
Review Questions
  1. What simile does Taylor use to describe the pink clouds of Arizona?
  2. Why does Taylor decide to live in Arizona?
  3. What does Taylor call the native child and why?
  4. Describe the woman at the used tire store? What is her name?
  5. How does Taylor feel around all the tires?
  6. Who named the tire store?
  7. When Taylor watches Mattie attend to Roger’s tires, how does she feel?
  8. What colour are the bean plants?
  9. How does Tuscon differ from Pittman County?
  10. Where do Taylor and Turtle take up residence?
  11. What is the name of the prostitute with the Reynolds Wrap miniskirt?
  12. What is the “other group” Taylor refers to?
  13. Why does Taylor start to go a little bit crazy as she walks around the gallery?
  14. What is the name of the girl who works at the Burger Derby?
  15. What is Sandi’s boy named after?

New Characters

  • Irene, Mrs. Hoge’s daughter-in-law
  • guy on street in Tuscon, no name given
  • Mattie, Matilda
  • Samuel
  • Roger
  • Sandi
  • the woman working at the art gallery
  • the priest
  • Cheryl
  • Seattle

The Setting: Imaginary Places

  • Burger Derby
  • Hotel Republic
  • Kid Central Station

Idioms, Slang, and Difficult Words

  • reticent
  • even steven
  • the dickens
  • jillion
  • towhead
  • doohickey

Cultural and Historical Allusions

Medical, Natural, and Geographic Allusions

  • Hail
  • Texas Canyon, Arizona
  • Tarantula
  • Ants
  • Bean vines
  • Nasturtiums
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Downtown Tucson
  • Phlebotomist
  • dynasaurs
  • turds
  • elephants
  • hippopotomus
  • Las Vegas
  • retardation
  • turnips
  • plasma

Great Quotes

  • “I never could figure out why men thought they could impress a woman by making the world out to be such a big dangerous deal. I mean, we’ve got to live in the exact same world every damn day of the week, don’t we?” (38)
  • “I wondered how many other things were lurking around waiting to take a child’s life when you weren’t paying attention. I was useless. I was crazy to think I was doing this child a favor by whisking her away from the Cherokee Nation. Now she would probably end up mummified in Arizona.” (45)

Chapter 4
Ideas to Reflect on When Reading Chapter 4

  1. Consider the power relationships between the generations of women in Lou Ann’s family. The text specifically mentions “the power of mothers and grandmothers” (54). What is this power? Is it healthy or not? How does the irrationality and racisim of Granny Logan affect your judgement of this power?
  2. The marriage of Lou Ann is clearly a problem here. Why does she try to hide this from her family? Why can she tell Bobby Bingo about her problems but not her own family? What do Bobby Bingo and Lou Ann share in common? Think about how conditional the love of Bingo’s son is–he supposedly loves his dad, but yet his actions and words hurt his father. How do they differ in values? How is this situation parallel to Lou Ann’s? What is the meaning of his warning, “`Whatever you want the most, it’s going to be the worst thing for you'”? Do you agree with this view? Why or why not? Is it too pessimistic? What is the cost of loving someone whose values you despise?
  3.  Consider the symbolism of baptism and the jar of water for the baptism. What does Angel do with the water? What is the symbolism of the water’s fate? What is important about Lou Ann’s memories of her own baptism? What does Lou Ann’s inability to feel her childhood feelings imply or suggest?
  4. The last five paragraphs of this chapter indicate a future direction for Lou Ann and her relationships to Angel and Dwayne Ray. What do these paragraphs imply about the future relationship of Lou Ann and Angel? of Lou Ann and Dwayne Ray? What is Kingsolver trying to tell us about family and marital relationships?

Review Questions

  1. Who are Grandmother Logan and Ivy Logan?
  2. Why does Ivy Logan’s humming bother Lou Ann?
  3. What is Lou Ann’s boy called?
  4. Why does Angel move back into Lou Ann’s house?
  5. Why do Lou Ann’s mother and grandmother show up for a visit?
  6. What question does Lou Ann almost ask her mother?
  7. On what day is Dwayne Ray born?
  8. What gift does Granny Logan give to Lou Ann?
  9. What is the name of the man who sells good tomatoes?
  10. What advice or wisdom does the vegetable man give Lou Ann?
  11. As Angel moves around the house, what conclusion does Lou Ann come to?

New Characters

  • Ivy Logan
  • Dwayne Ray Ruiz
  • Bobby Bingo
  • Bill Bing
  • Manny Quiroz

The Setting: Imaginary Places

  • Burger Derby
  • Hotel Republic
  • Kid Central Station

Idioms, Slang, and Difficult Words

Cultural and Historical Allusions

Medical, Natural, and Geographic Allusions

Great Quotes

  • “‘Let me tell you something, tomato lady. Whatever you want the most, it’s going to be the worst thing for you.'” (62)
  • “She turned her head in time to watch him leave the room, his work shirt rolled up at the elbows and dirty from doing something all day, she did not know exactly what. For a brief instant, no longer than a heart-beat, it felt strange to be living in the same house with this person who was not even related to her.
    But of course he’s related. He’s my husband. Was my husband.” (64)
  • “The baby’s sucking at her felt good, as if he might suck the ache right out of her breast.” (64)

Chapter 5

  1. What simile does Kingsolver use to describe the railroad track?
  2. How long does Taylor last at the Burger Derby?
  3. According to Taylor, what was the favorite TV show of the really high-stung horses?
  4. How impressed is Taylor by the establishment run by F-E-I?
  5. How does Taylor react to Lou Ann?
  6. What is one of Turtle’s normal positions?
  7. Why is Lou Ann smiling at the end of the chapter?
  8. What is the significance of the title of this chapter, “Harmonious Space”?

New Characters

  • Jerry Speller
  • Jessie
  • Aimee
  • the father of Sandi’s baby
  • Fei
  • La-Isha
  • Timothy

Idioms, Slang, and Difficult Words

  • gussets
  • punked-out
  • being flex

Cultural and Historical Allusions

  • Train whistle
  • tea kettle whistle
  • Bob Seger
  • plane crash into the D.C. river
  • Dixie
  • Kermit the frog
  • Miss Piggy
  • Knox gelatin
  • paisley
  • boxcars
  • Ripley’s Believe It or Not
  • Lazyboy recliner
  • army cot
  • Mr. Ed
  • jockey cap
  • the madonna
  • Virgo
  • wind chimes
  • beachcomber
  • sarong
  • Beach Blanket Bingo
  • clarinet

Medical, Natural, and Geographic Allusions

  • Tucson train station
  • albino
  • soybean curd
  • teething
  • homeostasis
  • newborns with flat heads
  • nitrates
  • split personality
  • artery
  • chest cavity
  • auricles
  • ventricles
  • hardened artery

Great Quotes

  • “‘You’ll have to excuse Timothy; he used caffeine yesterday and now his homeostasis is out of balance.’ I presumed they were talking about his car, although I was not aware of any automotive uses for caffeine.
    ‘That’s too bad,’ I said. ‘I wouldn’t do anything with caffeine but drink it.'”

Chapter 6

  1. How do Taylor and Mattie react to the first killing frost on St. Valentine’s Day?
  2. What are the advantages for Taylor of going to work with Mattie? What are the disadvantages?
  3. What seem to be Turtle’s two main goals in life?
  4. Apart from selling tires, what else does Mattie do with her place?
  5. What kind of belt buckle does Father William wear?
  6. What simile does Taylor use to describe Mattie and what does she mean by it?
  7. Once Taylor accepts that the explosion of an ordinary tire will not kill her, what phase or motto does she use to continue working at Mattie’s?
  8. How does Taylor’s mother react to the new name?
  9. What is the world like for Lou Ann?
  10. Why is Taylor angry about the way the house arrangements with Lou Ann have developed?
  11. What is Lou Ann’s greatest fear?
  12. What illusion about marriage does Lou Ann hold?
  13. What is Taylor’s philosophy about men?
  14. What does Lou Ann say that probably confirms for her that Taylor and she are better friends than she and Angel ever were?

Idioms, Slang, and Difficult Words

  • up the kazoo
  • pulling your leg
  • speaking in tongues

Cultural and Historical Allusions

  • John Wayne
  • Maze
  • “You are old, Father William”
  • Reader’s Digest
  • borscht
  • M-16
  • José Cuervo
  • “Skip to My Lou”
  • toilet flapper ball
  • Washington Monument
  • Cleopatra
  • pipe wrench
  • caulking gun
  • angle drill
  • battery-head cleaner
  • Ladies’ Home Journal
  • frisbee
  • Wick ‘N’ Candle
  • communist
  • Blondie and Dagwood
  • grits
  • prom queen
  • Old MacDonald Had an Apartment House
  • Tony Lama boots
  • slot machine
  • the No-Evil monkey brothers
  • love beads
  • hillbilly

Medical, Natural, and Geographic Allusions

  • Star sapphire
  • Shooting stars
  • Meteor shower
  • Sweet peas
  • June bugs
  • brussels sprouts
  • Heimlick Maneuver

Great Quotes

  • “The first killing frost of the winter came on Valentine’s Day. Mattie’s purple bean vines hung from the fence like long strips of beef jerky drying in the sun. It broke my heart to see that colorful jungle turned to black slime, especially on this day of all days when people everywhere were sending each other flowers, but it didn’t faze Mattie. ‘That’s the cycle of life, Taylor,’ she said. ‘The old has to pass on before the new can come around.'” (77)
  • “I though of another one of Mama’s sayings: ‘Hogs go deaf at harvest time.’ It meant that people would only hear what they wanted to hear.” (87)
  • “‘So one time when I was working in this motel one of the toilets leaked and I had to replace the flapper ball. Here’s what it said on the package; I kept it till I knew it by heart: “Please Note. 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 of my parts.'” (88)

Chapter 7

  1. What are the names of the couple from Guatemala?
  2. Whom does Esperanza remind Taylor of and why?
  3. What affects Esperanza so strongly?
  4. What is sad or poignant about Turtle asleep and dreaming?
  5. What almost causes an accident and why does Taylor almost feel like crying?
  6. What are Turtle’s first words?
  7. What is Lou Ann’s attitude to her looks and her hair?
  8. Who comes over to Lou Ann’s and brings a portable TV?
  9. How have Lou Ann and Taylor worked out their household duties?
  10. How does Taylor explain or define Lou Ann’s fears?
  11. What colour does Edna Poppy wear?
  12. What does Mattie’s interview on TV concern?
  13. What Anglicized names does Estevan use?
  14. What job does Estevan have?
  15. What is Virgie Parsons’ attitude to immigrants and refugees?
  16. Summarize Estevan’s South American story about heaven and hell. What is the point of the story?

New Characters

  • Esperanza, Hope
  • Estevan, Steven
  • Edna Poppy
  • Mrs. Virgie Mae Parsons

Idioms, Slang, and Difficult Words

  • discombobble
  • plumb
  • blowsy
  • pruneface
  • gypped
  • picayune
  • blanched

Cultural and Historical Allusions

  • People Magazine
  • tom boy
  • Tube top
  • Sherman tank
  • Guatemalan embroidery
  • Russian Matryoshka dolls
  • Mohawk haircut
  • Navy-Bean soup
  • Hungarian goulash
  • “Blue Bayou”
  • Star Trek
  • Captain Kirk
  • shingled hair cut
  • Dorothy Hamill hair cut
  • wok
  • cheongsam, qipao, or banner dress

Medical, Natural, and Geographic Allusions

  • Guatemala City
  • rutabaga
  • yak
  • lizards
  • desert canyons
  • desert streams
  • Cottonwood trees
  • Mesquite trees
  • quails
  • hypochondriac
  • Sciatica
  • Roseola
  • hives
  • Frankfort, Kentucky
  • Acarophobia, fear of itching or of the insects that cause itching
  • Acerophobia, fear of sourness
  • Acrophobia, fear of heights
  • stretch marks
  • douches

Great Quotes

  • “It was a sweet sight. With the cottonwood shade rippling over them they looked like a drawing from one of those old-fashioned children’s books that show babies in underwater scenes, blowing glassy bubbles and holding on to fishes’ tails.” (94-5)
  • “Turtle always had desperate, active dreams. In sleep, it seemed, she was free to do all the things that during her waking life she could only watch.” (95)
  • “‘I ought to be shot for looking like this,’ she’d tell the mirror in the front hall before going out the door. ‘I look like I’ve been drug through hell backwards,’ she would say on just any ordinary day. ‘Like death warmed over. Like something the cat puked up.'” (99)

Chapter 8

  1. To whom is Taylor’s mother getting married?
  2. What is the name of the woman Lou Ann’s brother married?
  3. Whom does Taylor like?
  4. What is the name of the vine on the trellis in Roosevelt Park? Why does Taylor refer to these vines as “The Miracle of Dog Doo Park”?
  5. What is Taylor’s mother’s full name?
  6. What important question does Taylor ask Lou Ann? What is Lou Ann’s answer?
  7. How does Estevan describe the way Americans think?
  8. In what sense is Mattie’s store a sanctuary?
  9. Why do some of the people who seek refuge at Mattie’s have cigarette burns on their backs?
  10. When faced with the medical bureaucracy, Taylor discovers a word which satisfies all the paper pushers. What is it?
  11. What do the X-rays of Turtle reveal?
  12. What condition does Dr. Pelinowsky think Turtle is suffering from?
  13. What does Angel intend to do?
  14. What does Lou Ann think Turtle’s real name might be?

New Characters

  • April “Turtle” (discovery of Turtle’s name)
  • Alice Jean Stamper Greer
  • Rachel
  • Harland Elleston
  • Ernest Jakes
  • Terry
  • Jill
  • Dr. Pelinowsky
  • Granny Logan
  • She-Wolf Who Hunts by the First Light

Idioms, Slang, and Difficult Words

  • constitutional
  • tutti-frutti
  • in a tither
  • constellation
  • scenario

Cultural and Historical Allusions

  • General Hospital
  • Marlboro man
  • “X and Y Sitting in a Tree”
  • Eleanor Roosevelt
  • foster care
  • foster mother
  • wing-tip shoes
  • skateboards
  • Burpee’s Catalogue
  • “Blue Bayou”
  • Bermuda shorts
  • Blazer with four-wheel drive
  • succotash

Medical, Natural, and Geographic Allusions

  • Sugar peas
  • EKG
  • Wisteria vines
  • torture by cigarette
  • measles
  • scabies
  • polio
  • x-rays
  • spiral fibular fracture
  • “Failure to Thrive” syndrome
  • cactus
  • duck
  • senile
  • arthritic
  • seahorse
  • knucklebone
  • cartilage
  • carpals
  • metacarpals
  • psychomotor development
  • blackbirds
  • macaw
  • Tucson Zoo

Great Quotes

  • “All winter Lou Ann had been telling me they were wisteria vines. They looked dead to me, like everything else in the park, but she always said, ‘Just you wait.’
    And she was right. Toward the end of March they had sprouted a fine, shivery coat of pale leaves and now they were getting reading to bloom. Here and there a purplish lip of petal stuck out like a pout from a fat green bud …. You just couldn’t imagine where all this life was coming from. It reminded me of that Bible story where somebody or other struck a rock and the water poured out. Only this was better, flowers out of bare dirt.” (114)
  • “‘Can I tell you something?’ I said. ‘I think you talk so beautifully. Ever since I met you I’ve been reading the dictionary at night and trying to work words like constellation and scenario into the conversation.'” (117-8)
  • “In the dark negatives I could see Turtle’s thin white bones and her skull, and it gave me the same chill Lou Ann must have felt to see her living mother’s name carved on a gravestone. I shivered inside my skin.” (123)
  • “There was a cactus with bushy arms and a coat of yellow spines as thick as fur. A bird had built her nest in it. In and out she flew among the horrible spiny branches, never once hesitating. You just couldn’t imagine how she’d made a home in there.” (124)

Chapter 9

  1. Why is the hospital Mattie takes Esperanza to an issue?
  2. Why does Taylor say about Estevan that this “man was way beyond me”?
  3. Who is Ismene?
  4. Why were Esperanza’s brother and two friends killed?
  5. Why do the police simply hold Ismene instead of killing her?
  6. What excruciatingly difficult choice did Estevan and Esperanza make?
  7. In comparison to Estevan’s experience, how does Taylor define her life?
  8. Why does Taylor think of her Family of Dolls?
  9. How did the Nutters get their nickname?
  10. Why does Taylor go to her own bed to sleep?

New Characters

  • The Greasers
  • The Nutters

Cultural and Historical Allusions

  • 4-H Club
  • India’s caste system
  • The Untouchables
  • The stolen, lost, disappeared children of Guatemala
  • Time-Life books
  • Levi’s

Medical, Natural, and Geographic Allusions

  • Suicide by asprin
  • Fig tree
  • Torture by electricity
  • Walnuts
  • Walnut trees
  • syrup of ipecac

Great Quotes

  • “It was after sunset and the moon was already up. A fig grew by the back door, an old, stubborn tree that was slow to leaf out. The moon threw shadows of fig branches that curled like empty hands across Estevan’s face and his chest. Something inside this man was turning inside out.” (131-2)
  • “The schoolgirl nerves that had possessed me half an hour ago seemed ridiculous now; this was like having a crush on some guy only to find he’s been dating your mother or your math teacher. This man was way beyond me.” (135)
  • “It’s hard to explain, but a certain kind of horror is beyond tears. Tears would be like worrying about watermarks on the furniture when the house is burning down.” (136)
  • “There was no way on earth I could explain what I felt, that my whole life had been running along on dumb luck and I hadn’t even noticed.” (137)
  • “All of Esperanza’s hurts flamed up in my mind, a huge pile of burning things that the world just kept throwing more onto. Somewhere in that pile was a child that looked just like Turtle. I lifted Estevan’s hand from my ribcage and kissed his palm. It felt warm. Then I slid off the sofa and went to my own bed.”

Chapter 10

  1. Why does Turtle name the wisteria vines “bean trees”?
  2. What astonishes Taylor at the Lee Sing Market?
  3. In Mattie’s living room, what characterizes the children’s drawings and why?
  4. What are the two meanings of “esperanza” in Spanish?
  5. How does Taylor try to console Esperanza or to encourage her to go on?
  6. What advice does Taylor have for Lou Ann at the end of the chapter?

Idioms, Slang, and Difficult Words

  • higgledy-piggledy
  • flotsam
  • jettison
  • jetsam

Cultural and Historical Allusions

  • “La Bamba”
  • transients
  • beef shingles
  • bungalow
  • Elvis Presley’s movies
  • wainscoting
  • Superball
  • evil eye
  • Tom Selleck
  • mosaic tile
  • Guatemela death squads
  • convenience store

Medical, Natural, and Geographic Allusions

  • bird sounds
  • woodpecker
  • pigeon
  • cobwebs
  • wisteria vines
  • wisteria pods
  • San Diego
  • apopletic
  • marijuana
  • “The Big One,” a severe earthquake in California
  • blindness
  • white cane
  • croup

Great Quotes

  • “Even a spotted pig looks black at night. This is another thing Mama used to tell me quite often. It means that things always look different, and usually better, in the morning.” (141)
  • “I stood for a minute staring, trying to reorganize things in my mind the way you would a roomful of furniture.” (145)
  • “I noticed that practically all the kid’s drawings had guns in them somewhere, and huge bullets suspended in the air, hanging on the dotted lines that flowed like waterfalls out of the gun barrels. There were many men in turtle-shaped army helmets. One picture showed a helicopter streaming blood.” (146)

Chapter 11

  1. Where does Lou Ann get a job?
  2. What are the working conditions at this factory?
  3. Why is Lou Ann so worried about Dwayne Ray?
  4. Although Lou Ann may worry too much about Dwayne Ray, what is the positive side to the worry?
  5. What evidence is there that Lou Ann is a very good employee?
  6. Why does Sal Monelli strike terror into Lu Ann’s heart?
  7. Why are Esperanza and Steven to be moved to a safe house in Oregon or Oklahoma?

Cultural and Historical Allusions

  • salsa
  • sweatshop
  • cigar box
  • Keno girl
  • Gypsy
  • yurt
  • Mongolia
  • Siberia
  • Mongol nomads
  • hot-air blimp
  • Immigration Services
  • Navajo Reservation
  • deportation
  • plugged nickel

Medical, Natural, and Geographic Allusions

  • Chilies
  • garlic cloves
  • cilantro
  • Liberty, Kansas
  • Siamese twins
  • frontal lobes
  • double rainbow
  • squash
  • underwater earthquake
  • cicadas
  • Pekinese
  • salmonella
  • pinewood

Great Quotes

  • “‘Is it better to be totally retarded and deformed and miserable, or just plain old dead?’
    ‘I honestly couldn’t say,’ I said. ‘Not having been either one.’ Although, when I thought about it, being dead seemed a lot like not being born yet, and I hadn’t especially minded that.” (153)
  • “I didn’t want to believe the world could be so unjust. But of course it was right there in front of my nose. If the truth was a snake it would have bitten me a long time ago. It would have had me for dinner.” (159)

Chapter 12

  1. Why do the natives celebrate New Year’s Day in the desert around Tuscon?
  2. What amazes Taylor about the desert?
  3. Mattie says “all things that looked dead were just dormant. As soon as the rains came they would sprout leaves and grow.” Whom might this be true of?
  4. How do Taylor and her friends react to the rains?
  5. What is the rattler a reminder of?
  6. What tells Taylor that something is terribly wrong with Turtle?
  7. Who saves Turtle and how?
  8. What is the physical damage to Turtle? What may be the psychological damage?
  9. With what words does Lou Ann try to comfort Taylor?
  10. Why does Taylor avoid Turtle the evening of the assault?
  11. Why has Taylor stopped eating?
  12. Why does Taylor start crying?
  13. Why is Taylor so depressed?

New Characters

  • the detective
  • the social worker
  • the medical examiner

Cultural and Historical Allusions

  • Christopher Reeve
  • Quickdraw McGraw
  • Snow White
  • Lone Ranger
  • McDonald’s

Medical, Natural, and Geographic Allusions

  • thunder
  • lightening
  • Tucson Valley
  • Saguaros
  • Ocotillos
  • Greasewood bushes
  • pink and red clouds
  • owl hoots
  • sheep baas
  • spadefoot toad
  • rattlesnake
  • song sparrow
  • catatonic
  • sexual molestation
  • asphyxiation
  • pedophilia
  • perpetrator
  • deviant
  • maleficent

Great Quotes

  • “The three of us had no idea where we were headed, or why, but the air had sparks in it. I felt as though I had a blind date with destiny, and someone heard a rumor that destiny looked like Christopher Reeve.” (160)
  • “The sloped desert plain that lay between us and the city was like a palm stretched out for a fortuneteller to read, with its mounds and hillocks, its life lines and heart lines of dry stream beds.” (161)
  • “As the storm moved closer it broke into hundreds of pieces so the rain fell here and there from the high clouds in long, curving gray plumes.” (162)
  • “I’d skipped dinner; I wasn’t eating much these days. When I was young and growing a lot, and Mama couldn’t feed me enough, she used to say I had a hollow leg. Now I felt like I had a hollow everything. Nothing in the world could have filled that space.” (170)

Chapter 13

  1. Does Turtle recover from her assault?
  2. Who is Cynthia?
  3. Why does Taylor now feel that her advice to Esperanza was ridiculous?
  4. What other bad news deeply disturbs Taylor?
  5. Who or what could make a legal claim to Turtle?
  6. How does Lou Ann react to this news?
  7. What conclusion does Taylor come to when she recalls the woman who made a fortune reading tea leaves and chicken bones?
  8. According to Mattie, what is the right question for Taylor to ask herself?
  9. What does Taylor need to make a claim for Turtle?
  10. What plan does Taylor make regarding Turtle?
  11. Is Mattie pleased that Taylor wants to help Estevan and Esperanza?
  12. What is special about the night-blooming cereus?
  13. Who first notices the cereus is blooming?

Symbols in the Chapter

  • Turtle buries the anatomical rag dolls (p. 172)
  • Cynthia’s (real, not plastic) cameo pin (pp. 174, 180-1)
  • Bonita Jankenhorn (p. 175-6)
  • The Pittman County woman who reads tea leaves and bones (pp. 177-8)
  • Jewel’s son with dyslexia (p. 181)
  • Lou Ann reads Daughter of the Cheyenne Winds (pp. 181, 182)
  • Aztec Man (Popocatepetl) carrying the passed out (dead) woman (Iztaccihuatl) (p. 182)
  • The night-blooming Cereus (pp. 185-7)
  • The dead blackbird (p. 189)

Themes in the Chapter

  • Sadness vs. depression
  • What is the proper role of a therapist?
  • Child abuse is bad and common
  • Helping immigrants versus obeying government law
  • The law of children’s services vs. what is good for the child
  • Orphanages vs. adoption
  • Behavior, action, confidence vs. inaction, low self-esteem
  • The failure of systems, such as schools, government, etc.
  • Making life heaven by helping each other vs. making life hell
  • What is a good mother?

New Characters

  • the social worker, Cynthia
  • Bonita Jankenhorn
  • Miss Myers
  • Mr. Jonas Wilford Armistead

Cultural and Historical Allusions

  • child protection services
  • ward of the state
  • adoption
  • cameo
  • Silas Marner
  • Lincoln
  • gristle

Medical, Natural, and Geographic Allusions

  • night-blooming cereus
  • depression
  • strawberry blonde
  • dyslexia
  • lionness
  • blackbird

Great Quotes

  • “There is no point in treating a depressed person as though she were just feeling sad, saying, There now, hang on, you’ll get over it. Sadness is more or less like a head cold–with patience, it passes. Depression is like cancer.” (173)
  • “I watched Turtle roll from her side to her stomach and back again. Her eyes rolled back and forth under her eyelids, and sometimes her mouth worked too. Whoever she was talking to in her dream, she told them a lot more than she’d ever told me. I would have paid good money to be in that dream.” (182)
  • “The petals stood out in starry rays, and in the center of each flower there was a complicated construction of silvery threads shaped like a pair of cupped hands catching moonlight. A fairy boat, ready to be launched into the darkness.” (186)

Chapter 14

  1. What bothers Taylor at the border patrol check?
  2. What is the national symbol of the Indian people of Guatemala?
  3. Of what ancient people are Estevan and Esperanza descendants?
  4. Who is the guardian saint of refugees?
  5. What disturbs Taylor the most about the treatment of the refugees?
  6. What is the name of Turtle’s doll?
  7. What advantage becomes obvious once they drive on to the Cherokee nation?
  8. What gives Taylor a cold feeling in her stomach?
  9. What complicates Taylor’s search for relatives of Turtle?
  10. At the end of the chapter, what does Taylor decide to do?

New Characters

  • Boyd
  • the girl at the bar

Discussion Questions

  • How are the allegator (“symbol” of Americans) and the quetzal (symbol of Mayans) different? What is Kingsolver saying about the American and Mayan cultures?
  • How does the chapter’s theme of “What is a home?” relate to Taylor, Turtle, Estevan, and Esperanza?
  • What is the symbolism of the word “Repent” carved on the sign about the volcano at Texas Canyon?
  • What is the symbolism of the Texas landscape looking like a place left unfinished when God went on strike?
  • Why is St. Christopher, the saint of refugees, mentioned in the book? How is St. Christopher related to the discussion of oppressed Indians?
  • What is the significance and role of Shirley Poppy?
  • What theme is suggested by the changes to Irene Hoge?
  • What has changed at the place Taylor was given Turtle? What is the significance of these changes?
  • How does Taylor’s opinion of the Cherokee Nation change?
  • What is the role of the Cherokee Nation in the book?

Cultural and Historical Allusions

  • Izod shirts (alligator logo)
  • Mayan
  • St. Christopher (saint of refugees)
  • Mayflower
  • Plymouth Rock
  • Magnum P.I.

Medical, Natural, and Geographic Allusions

  • quetzal bird
  • flatlands
  • Texas Panhandle
  • Parkenson’s
  • Ozark Mountains
  • Lake O’ the Cherokees
  • Oologah Lake
  • snipe

Chapter 15
Review Questions

  1. How do Estevan and Esperanza react as they drive further into Cherokee land?
  2. What starts to happen to Esperanza?
  3. As Turtle is burying Shirley Poppy, what connection does Taylor make?
  4. What promise does Taylor make to Turtle?

Discussion Questions

  • What changes in Esperanza and Estevan occur? What do these changes mean?
  • What are Taylor’s feelings about Estevan? What do you think Kingsolver is saying about relationships?
  • How has Turtle’s and Taylor’s early years differed?
  • What wishes do you think Taylor makes? What does Taylor’s refusal to wish using money say about her?
  • Would Cynthia be surprised to find out Turtle’s mother is dead? Why or why not?

Cultural and Historical Allusions

  • holy cards
  • Bible school
  • Holy Ghost
  • poncho
  • whirling dervish

Medical, Natural, and Geographic Allusions

  • Pine Needles
  • Pine Forest
  • A Scarlet Columbine Flower

Chapter 16

  1. What is Esperanza’s act of courage?
  2. How has Esperanza’s face changed?

New Characters

  • Mrs. Cleary
  • Mr. Wenn
  • Miss Brindo

Cultural and Historical Allusions

  • basketball
  • hearing aid
  • Oscar nomination
  • White-out

Medical, Natural, and Geographic Allusions

  • stork

Chapter 17

  1. Why does Taylor insist on waking Turtle up to say goodbye to Estevan and Esperanza?
  2. When Taylor says goodbye to Estevan, what does she realize about this heartache?
  3. What does Taylor’s mother think is perhaps the main influence on children?
  4. Taylor has had a number of names throughout this novel. What is the last name she claims?

New Characters

  • Reverend Stone
  • Mrs. Stone
  • Irma Ruebecker
  • Mae Richey
  • Minerva Wickentot
  • Cameron John

Idioms, Slang, and Difficult Words

  • pack rat
  • the cat’s meow
  • catharsis
  • groggily
  • horticultre
  • tempest

Cultural and Historical Allusions

  • Robin Hood
  • Underground Railroad
  • White-out
  • clapboard
  • Statue of Liberty
  • Shell gas station
  • “Give me your tired …”
  • Burger King
  • The Music Man
  • Marian the Librarian
  • chain gang
  • Rastafarians
  • Mr. T.

Medical, Natural, and Geographic Allusions

  • Oklahoma City
  • rhizobia
  • ageratums
  • legume
  • Doberman pinschers
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