Summary and Analysis
Taylor’s commitment to Turtle becomes a priority in her life. Returning home from a picnic in the desert, Taylor has to stop the car quickly because a mother quail and her babies are crossing the road. Kingsolver includes this episode to emphasize the responsibilities of motherhood and how Taylor is beginning to accept them. Taylor feels as proud as any parent when Turtle laughs and smiles for the first time after turning a somersault when the car stops quickly. And later, when Taylor and Turtle are in Mattie’s garden planting seeds, Turtle says her first word, “bean.” Taylor hugs Turtle and tells her — as her own mother told her — that she is “just about the smartest kid alive.” Here, Taylor supports Turtle as her mother supported her while she was growing up in Kentucky. Her “smartest kid alive” comment suggests that she will succeed in raising Turtle to be a self-sufficient woman, just like her mother raised her.
Turtle, whose real name Taylor and Lou Ann discover is April, is as “healthy as corn,” a metaphor that likens Turtle to a vegetable, which is the only class of words that Turtle seems able — or willing — to say. However, taking her role as a mother seriously, Taylor thinks that because of the abuse Turtle endured, Turtle should be examined by a doctor. Taylor takes her to Lou Ann’s doctor and learns that Turtle is close to three years old, not two as she’d guessed. The doctor points out the many bones that have been broken and healed in Turtle’s little body. Because this information is more than Taylor can bear, she stares out the window that the x-rays are propped up against. Seeing a bird’s nest in a thorny cactus, she wonders how the bird ever “made a home in there.” The bird’s nest in the cactus symbolizes the miracle of Turtle’s survival. Somehow, Turtle made a “home” within herself and survived.
Although the doctor tells Taylor that turtle has a condition called “failure to thrive,” wherein a physically or emotionally deprived child stops growing, he admits that the condition is reversible. Taylor knows that turtle is growing physically because she buys her new, larger-sized clothes, but Taylor does not take sole responsibility for turtle’s emotional and psychological progress and well-being. Here, the themes of family and community are evident: without the help of her “family,” including Lou Ann, Taylor would not be the mother she’s learned to become.
Taylor’s extended family also includes her elderly neighbors, Edna Poppy and Virgie Mae Parsons. She and Lou Ann leave the children with Edna and Virgie Mae whenever they have an emergency or whenever neither one can be at home to care for the children. Gradually, Taylor and Lou Ann grow to depend on Edna and Virgie Mae to baby-sit. By introducing the two older women, Kingsolver again emphasizes the community of women needed to raise children. Note the irony in the differences between the two elderly women: Edna is a kind woman who always dresses in red from head to foot. Her sweet nature makes up for Virgie Mae, who is a prejudiced, narrow-minded person. However, together the women survive by serving as balancing forces for each other.
Taylor also meets Esperanza and Estevan, a young married couple from Guatemala City, who are living with Mattie. Estevan taught English in Guatemala and is now washing dishes in a Chinese restaurant in Tucson (something Taylor doesn’t quite understand), and Esperanza spends her time upstairs at Mattie’s. Esperanza reminds Taylor of Turtle: She sits very still, as though she’s in her own world. Kingsolver hints that Esperanza might have survived traumatic times also. When Esperanza first meets Turtle, she looks and acts shocked and can’t stop looking at her. Later, Estevan explains that Turtle reminds Esperanza of a child they knew in Guatemala.
Working at Jesus Is Lord Used Tires, Taylor can’t help but observe the people living at Mattie’s. She begins to understand that Jesus Is Lord Used Tires is more than a tire shop; it is also a hiding place for refugees. People come and go quietly. A doctor named Terry comes on a bicycle and treats the people who are sick or hurt. Mattie explains that, many times, the people have been burned with cigarettes. Taylor soon realizes that these people have been tortured. Many times, Mattie goes away for weeks at a time, claiming that she’s “birdwatching.” Taylor understands that Mattie’s missions are related to the people living in the rooms above the tire shop. However, Kingsolver does not yet explain the details surrounding the reasons refugees like Estevan and Esperanza seek political freedom in the United States.
One evening, Taylor and Lou Ann learn that Mattie is going to be on the evening news, and they invite Esperanza and Estevan, who have become their friends, and Edna and Virgie Mae to watch Mattie on the news and have dinner. Because Angel took Lou Ann’s television when he left, Edna and Virgie Mae bring their television. Surprised, they listen as Mattie discusses human rights, the legal obligation of the United States to help people whose lives are in danger, and the fact that most Guatemalans and Salvadorans are not granted asylum — that is, they are not allowed to stay in the United States legally.
Unfortunately, the situation at Taylor and Lou Ann’s is rather chaotic, and Lou Ann completely misses the broadcast. When she asks what Mattie said on television, Virgie Mae replies that it was just about “some kind of trouble with illegal aliens and dope peddlers.” Aware of how culturally prejudiced Virgie Mae is, Estevan introduces himself and Esperanza to Edna and Virgie Mae as “Steven” and “Hope.” They do not reveal their real names, and Taylor begins to understand the seriousness of the Sanctuary movement. Note that when Estevan comments that he and “Hope” have no children, Esperanza reacts as though she has been slapped. Here, Esperanza’s reaction and her behavior toward and around Turtle are mysterious — as mysterious as her and Estevan’s identities.
Virgie Mae makes it quite clear that as far as she is concerned, foreigners should stay in their own countries because they are not welcome in the United States. Taylor is appalled at Virgie Mae’s rudeness, but ironically, Estevan doesn’t appear to be bothered. Instead of being offended, he tells a story about people helping each other, which is symbolic of the interdependence among people from all walks of life.
Taylor’s relationships with her newfound extended family and community continue to strengthen as she shares experiences with them. For example, when she apologizes to Estevan for Virgie Mae’s unkind words, Estevan comments that he understands — because he has obviously encountered before — the older woman’s racism: “Americans . . . believe that if something terrible happens to someone, they must have deserved it.” Insightfully, Taylor responds, “I guess it makes us feel safe.” Here, Kingsolver uses Taylor and Estevan’s conversation to bring awareness to readers about social issues such as human rights and discrimination. She reinforces the fact that bad things do happen in life; however, people have to be prepared to help each other, not stand on the sidelines and hope that other people’s misfortunes won’t affect them.
Taylor and Lou Ann talk freely to each other. Sitting in Roosevelt Park (also known humorously as Dog Doo Park) under the arbor of wisteria vines, they discuss the upcoming marriage of Taylor’s mother. Taylor can’t imagine her mother getting married. Once again, Kingsolver portrays certain feminist views regarding men as Lou Ann comments that Taylor characterizes men as “hangnail[s].” Taylor denies Lou Ann’s accusations and admits to liking Estevan. Lou Ann talks about Angel and admits that she’d go back to him if he asked her. Ironically, Angel does show up, but rather than ask for a reconciliation, he asks for a divorce. As Taylor and Lou Ann sit in the park, a child peddles by on a tricycle. Here, Kingsolver suggests future events as the child tells the two women to beware of “the bums” and “go straight home.”
In these two chapters, Kingsolver once again uses her background in natural history to create poetic images. For example, the miracle of Dog Doo Park is “a purplish lip of petal stuck out like a pout from a fat green bud” — the beautiful flowers that sprout from the wisteria vines out of bare dirt. At the hideaway in the desert, white rocks protrude from the water’s surface like “giant, friendly hippo butts,” and cottonwood trees “cooled their heels” in the water.
rutabagas root vegetables, similar to turnips, with white- or yellow-colored flesh.
Sherman tank a large, armored military vehicle that runs on treads instead of wheels.
Jesus bugs insects that skim across the top of water.
discombobble confuse or upset.
hypochondriac needlessly worrying.
Tortolita Spanish, meaning little turtledove.
mange a skin disease, common to mammals, characterized by lesions, itching, and hair loss.
succotash a corn and lima bean dish.
Burpee’s catalogue Burpee is a company that sells plants and seeds to gardeners through a catalogue.
constitutional a walk taken for health reasons.
midi-skirt a skirt that reaches mid-calf.
Eleanor refers to Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), activist, humanitarian, and wife of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
scabies a contagious rash caused by mites.
spiral fibular fracture a type of break in the fibula, a bone running from the knee to the ankle.