Balancing the Individual with the Community in Barbara Kingsolver's The Bean Trees

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In an interview with Barbara Kingsolver by David Gergen, editor-at-large for U.S. News & World Report, Kingsolver states, I think everything I write is about the idea of community and about the special challenge in the United States of balancing our idealization of the individual, or glorification of, of personal freedom and the individual with the importance of community, how to balance those two offices. (Qtd. by Gergen) I found this idea of Kingsolver's to be the basis of her book The Bean Trees. Kingsolver develops the story of a strong young woman, named Taylor Greer, who is determined to establish her own individuality. The character learns that she must balance this individualism with a commitment to her community of friends, and in doing this, her life is immeasurably enriched. Many books speak of family, community, and individuality. I believe, however, that the idea that Barbara Kingsolver establishes in her book, The Bean Trees, of a strong sense of individualism, consciously balanced with a keen understanding of community as extended family, is a relatively new idea to the genre of the American novel. The balance of the individual and community is a prevalent theme throughout The Bean Trees. Kingsolver organizes the book by first introducing us to Taylor's unique individuality and then combining that with the community ideal. The first chapter of the book takes place in Kentucky where Taylor lives with her mother. Through the incidents in Taylor's early life, we come to recognize her strong resolve to be individual. In her book Barbara Kingsolver A Critical Companion, Mary Jean DeMarr agrees with me when she tells us Taylor is "a strong character who usually knows what she wants and what she wants to do and goes about getting and doing it" (45). Taylor refers to herself when she was younger, along with a neighbor boy, as "dirty-kneed kids scrapping to beat hell and trying to land on our feet" (TBT 2). Her independence is also evident in the way she dressed. When teased that she dressed like an eye test for color blindness, she reveals she was actually flattered. "I had decided early on that if I couldn't dress elegant, I'd dress memorable" (TBT 6). Taylor was also determined not to accept what was considered the "norm" for the girls in her town. She decided that she would finish school, and no matter what, she would not get pregnant.

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