Summary and Analysis
The level of suspense and tension increases as Taylor, Turtle, Estevan, and Esperanza leave Tucson in a car. Esperanza rides in the backseat with turtle. Esperanza’s long hair is flowing free of the braid she usually wears, ironically portraying a “brave show of freedom.” At the New Mexico border, they are stopped by immigration officers for a routine car check. Because Taylor is guilty of transporting illegal immigrants and Estevan and Esperanza are illegal immigrants, they are all extremely nervous. However, their interaction with the patrol officer turns out to be routine and uneventful. Note that when the officer asks who the parents of turtle are, Estevan claims her as his and Esperanza’s.
Throughout the trip, Taylor feels increasingly uncomfortable about the relationship developing between Esperanza and Turtle. She has to do all the driving, so she is grateful that Esperanza plays with Turtle, but as she watches them in the rearview mirror, she thinks that she hears Esperanza call Turtle “Ismene.” Kingsolver creates a sense of foreboding as Taylor begins to get upset about the affection that Esperanza and Turtle apparently have for each other.
The dialogue between Taylor and Estevan in the car emphasizes the issue of social injustice and the themes of family and community. Much of their discussion is about national symbols. Estevan asks if the alligator on his shirt (the Izod logo) is a symbol of the United States, and Taylor insightfully thinks that it could be an appropriate symbol because the United States is as capable of hurting people as an alligator is. Estevan tells Taylor that the national symbol of Guatemala is a bird called the quetzal. The quetzal dies if it is kept in a cage, similar to the Central American people who are dying because they do not have personal freedoms. Estevan also talks about the atrocities that the police are guilty of in Guatemala — how they burn villages and crops in order to wear down the people. The people become so tired from moving and starting over that they can no longer fight for freedom. Discussing what “home” means, Estevan feels unwanted everywhere. Here, Kingsolver makes it clear that home is wherever you settle and develop interdependent relationships that form a community.
When they reach Oklahoma, Estevan and Esperanza decide to spend an additional day with Taylor and Turtle while Taylor looks for Turtle’s relatives. Taylor is experiencing internal and external conflicts. She is scared. A part of her doesn’t want to find Turtle’s relatives because they might want Turtle, but if she doesn’t find them, she’ll lose Turtle anyway. She has no choice. Because Taylor doesn’t know what to expect and doesn’t know what to think of the situation she finds herself in, she thinks about what is safe, secure, and predictable. She misses her old, beat-up car and Lou Ann. She misses home. When she finally locates the restaurant where she first received Turtle from Turtle’s mysterious aunt, she courageously goes inside and soon realizes that finding any of Turtle’s relatives will be impossible. She wishes that Lou Ann were with her, telling her not to give up hope. Ironically, she’s now emotionally dependent on Lou Ann much like Lou Ann is on her. More and more, Taylor is realizing her need for and dependence on a sense of “home,” which Lou Ann represents.
At the lush-green Lake o’ the Cherokees, where the group takes a one-day vacation, Taylor realizes that she has adapted to the Arizona desert but still misses the green foliage and the mountains of her native Kentucky. However, note that she doesn’t contemplate moving back to Kentucky; Tucson is now her home.
At the lake, something changes in Esperanza. Incorporating a metaphor about spring in Alaska — the rivers beginning to run and huge chunks of ice breaking apart and shifting — Kingsolver describes Esperanza: Her eyes look clear, and when she speaks, she looks directly into Estevan’s and Taylor’s eyes.
During their picnic at the lake, Taylor sees Turtle burying her doll. She explains to Turtle that dolls don’t grow when they are planted. When Turtle says “Mama,” Taylor finally realizes that Turtle must have seen her mother buried. (Recall that earlier in Chapter 15, as Taylor drove past a cemetery, Turtle pointed at the cemetery out of the car window and said, “Mama,” although at the time Taylor didn’t understand the significance of Turtle’s action.) Finally realizing the deep emotions that Turtle no doubt experienced when her mother died, Taylor determines to “try as hard as I can” to keep Turtle. She makes a commitment to Turtle and acknowledges that she will fight for her no matter what.
Kingsolver heightens the novel’s suspense as Estevan and Esperanza agree to risk their lives for Taylor and Turtle.
culottes loose-fitting women’s shorts cut below the knee, resembling skirts.
Border Patrol a U.S. federal agency that works to keep illegal immigrants out of the country.
Aesop’s Fables a collection of morality tales often read to children.
Parkinson’s disease a progressive disease, marked by shaking, that affects the nervous system.