The Bean Trees: Metaphor Analysis
In The Bean Trees, plants are everywhere. Turtle's most prominent vocabulary has to do with vegetables, and Mattie grows a wonderful garden. The plants serve as a running metaphor for the lives of the people. Like people, plants cannot flourish if they are not nurtured. Taylor points out that Roosevelt Park is pretty much all dead. The plants and the earth have no life to them, and the vines around the arbor seem as dead as everything else. Yet, in the spring, they bloom into wisteria vines with beautiful flowers that later become beans (119 and 151). Kingsolver juxtaposes this description with the doctor's explanation that Turtle suffered failure to thrive when she was not nurtured. Like the plants, Turtle needs the right environment and then she too blossoms.
Taylor learns that both plants and people can blossom when the time and conditions are right. She gets to see a night-blooming flower that comes to life only once a year. Being in the desert, she realizes many plants are like that. Mattie tells her that "all the things that looked dead were just dormant. As soon as the rains came they would sprout leaves and grow" (170). She gives Turtle a similar opportunity by providing the right nurturing. Taylor, too, changes when she has the right circumstances of friends and a child to love. Like the plants in the desert, she sprouts leaves and grows.
Taylor is terrified of tires because she once saw one blow a person into the sky. However, much of her life is decided by vehicles. She was conceived in an automobile in Marietta, which is why she has that name. And that is just the first time a car decides her life. She worked and saved money to buy a car, saying "In this car I intended to drive out of Pittman County one day and never look back, except maybe for Mama" (11). This is just what she does, taking her fate into her own hands by buying the car. The car represents freedom and control over her life.
However, automobiles are not always without their risks. The movement and change they represent can be fraught with danger. Turtle, for instance, is born in a car. Without a permanent home, she is born into a situation that is destined to be fleeting and difficult. She is fortunate that she happens to land in Taylor's car, which is headed in the right direction, metaphorically. If she had remained where she was, she would have been hurt more, so the key for Turtle is finding a vehicle going the right way.
This is the way it is with all cars in this book. Cars can be wonderful for attaining freedom, as long as someone responsible is at the wheel. Driving Mattie's car, Taylor brings her friends to safety, but the journey is terrifying because it is illegal and could bring them all to harm. Fortunately, they have a caring driver and a safe automobile that is headed in the right direction.