Summary and Analysis
In Chapters 9 and 10, Taylor is confronted with issues concerning people who suffer through no fault of their own. At the beginning of Chapter 9, Estevan shows up on Taylor’s doorstep to tell her that Esperanza has tried to commit suicide. Taylor notes that Estevan is deeply troubled, that “something inside this man [is] turning inside out.” Nervous and not knowing how to respond, she warns Estevan that she will either “shove food at [him] or run on at the mouth.” Trying to console Estevan (and herself), she tells Estevan about a boy she knew in high school who killed himself with electrical wires. He had been a misfit, not belonging to any of the “in” groups in school. Taylor also discusses a group of school kids condescendingly referred to as Nutters, a group of poor kids who picked walnuts to earn money, were not a popular group, but “had each other.” By having Taylor discuss the many contentious social groups commonly found in high schools, Kingsolver emphasizes the interdependency between people and how necessary it is to be a member of a community.
Kingsolver presents much of the political background surrounding Estevan and Esperanza. Estevan tells a shocked Taylor about how he was tortured in Guatemala with the electrical wires in field telephones made in the United States. He also explains that Turtle looks like Ismene, Estevan and Esperanza’s daughter, who was kidnapped during a raid on their village. Taylor finds it incredible that Estevan and Esperanza chose to save the lives of seventeen other people and leave Guatemala rather than risk their lives or the lives of others to find Ismene.
Faced with the atrocities that Estevan describes, Taylor cannot even imagine having to make such a horrific decision as Estevan and Esperanza have had to make. To think that she lives in the same world in which these atrocities take place is almost too much for her to bear. She had never paid attention to what was going on outside her own life. She now realizes that the things she’d tried her hardest to avoid — exploding tires and motherhood — have become blessings because she’s met Mattie and has Turtle.
Although Taylor is attracted to Estevan, she respects his marriage to Esperanza and treats him as a friend. During the night, as she sits on the couch with Estevan, Turtle, and the cat, Taylor is reminded of the paper dolls she’d played with as a child — the Family of Dolls. The Family of Dolls was the “perfect” family. It crosses Taylor’s mind that they could have been the Family of Dolls in a different life. The tone is sad because she realizes that a Family of Dolls is not within her reach: She knows too much about the world around her. Here, in these chapters, Taylor discovers a new awareness within herself. There is no such thing as a “perfect” family; the families that she’s been part of — first with her mother and now with an extended, nontraditional family — might not be picture-perfect, but they provide the emotional support that she needs to live a successful life.
When Taylor goes to see Esperanza in the room above Mattie’s, she is unsure of how to console Esperanza. She talks about Turtle and Turtle’s capacity for understanding even though she appears to be in her own little world. Importantly, she also tells Esperanza that she knows about Ismene. Taylor’s character has become more complex as she has gained awareness of the atrocities that occur in the world around her. Discussing how hard it is to lose a loved one, she intuitively says to Esperanza, “Some people never have anybody to lose, and . . . that’s got to be so much worse.”
Taylor’s new perceptions of the world also include the people immediately around her. For example, she discovers that Edna Poppy is blind and has been for years, which is why Edna always dresses in red — Edna never has to worry about her clothes matching — and why it appears that Edna always looks over the top of the head of the person she talks to. Edna has learned that, to survive, she must depend on other people. She depends on Virgie Mae daily, and she depends on Taylor to tell her what she is buying in Lee Sing’s market. By recognizing that she cannot survive alone, she has rendered her disability unnoticeable.
The important and necessary interdependency among people is evident in the relationship between Taylor and Lou Ann. Taylor’s independent, tough-acting personality tends to rub off on Lou Ann, who is generally timid and meek. For the first time, Lou Ann steadfastly maintains her own opinion when she and Taylor discuss what they think a bird is saying. And when Taylor is upset because Lou Ann had to endure sexual harassment in a recent job interview, Lou Ann comments that Taylor never lets anyone take advantage of her. Taylor is a positive influence on Lou Ann. She won’t allow Lou Ann to be put down by anyone, nor will she allow Lou Ann to put herself down.
Despite the suffering that people endure, miracles do happen. For example, while Taylor, Turtle, Lou Ann, and Dwayne Ray are sitting under the arbor in Roosevelt Park, Turtle looks up at the wisteria flowers and says, “Beans.” Taylor and Lou Ann try to explain that the buzz is from a bee. Turtle points and says, “Bean trees.” She is right. The wisteria flowers that have gone to seed look just like beans.
caste system divisions within a society based on differences in wealth, occupation, or inherited position.
disintegrated broken apart.
conjecture a conclusion arrived at by guesswork.
ipecac a shrub whose roots are used as a medicine that induces vomiting.
“La Bamba” a Mexican song made popular in the U.S. by Ritchie Valens.
beef shingles on toast a dish in which dried beef is cooked in a gravy and then poured over toast.
before you can say Jack Robinson an expression to reflect that an event happened quickly.
wainscoting wooden paneling.
croup a type of laryngitis marked by difficulty in breathing and a hoarse cough.
higgledy-piggledy confused; in disarray.
flotsam and jetsam a phrase used to describe objects either floating or washed ashore; an image of chaotic mess.
hex a jinx or an evil spell.