Survival in The Bean Trees
In 1859, Charles Darwin published his most famous work, On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection (Encarta 96). This book explained Darwin's theory of natural selection, a process not unlike separating the wheat from the chaff, where the least fit are eliminated, and only the fittest survive. An extension of this theory known as Social Darwinism emerged in the late 19th century. "Social Darwinists believed that people, like animals and plants, compete for survival and, by extension, success in life" (Encarta 96). Under this theory, the individuals who acquire the power and wealth are deemed the fittest, while those of lower economic and social levels are considered the least fit (Griffin Lecture). This appears to be a theory that Barbara Kingsolver sets out to disprove in her novel The Bean Trees. In a review in The Women's Review of Books, Margaret Randall observes that this is a novel not about "middle-class America, but real middle America, the unemployed and underemployed, the people working fast-food joints or patching tires, Oklahoma Indians, young mothers left by wandering husbands or mothers who never had husbands" (Randall 1). Ultimately, it is about survivors -- women such as Taylor Greer who sets out from Kentucky to find a better life and finds responsibility for another life; Mattie whose survival is wrapped up in her role as savior to all in need who enter Jesus Is Lord Used Tires; Lou Ann Ruiz who is afraid of life and in need of finding her strength; and Esperanza whose child was taken from her in a political struggle and who needs to find the will to live -- who pool their resources, both financial and emotional. These women have courage, humor and each other, resources that assure their survival.
The first character introduced in the novel is Marietta Greer, a.k.a. Taylor Greer. When Marietta leaves her native Kentucky, for parts unknown in search of a better life, she decides that a new life deserves a new name so she drives until she runs out of gas and takes the name of the place where this occurs. Taylorville becomes Taylor. Taylor has been raised only by her Mama who arms her with self esteem, " she always expected the best out of me . . . 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" (TBT 10), and a practical approach to life by making sure she knows "how to handle anything that might come along " (TBT 11). The latter proves to be fortunate, because a great deal comes along, and Taylor takes it in stride.
At first glance, Taylor may seem to be a little flighty; after all, venturing out cross-country in a 1955 VW that must be push-started and has no windows hardly seems responsible. However, as the novel progresses, Taylor is revealed as "a sort of down-home superwoman -- bright, articulate, innately fair and decent, tough as they come" (Butler 15), and...