Survival in The Bean Trees

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Survival in The Bean Trees

In 1859, Charles Darwin published his most famous work, On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection (Encarta 96). This book explained Darwin's theory of natural selection, a process not unlike separating the wheat from the chaff, where the least fit are eliminated, and only the fittest survive. An extension of this theory known as Social Darwinism emerged in the late 19th century. "Social Darwinists believed that people, like animals and plants, compete for survival and, by extension, success in life" (Encarta 96). Under this theory, the individuals who acquire the power and wealth are deemed the fittest, while those of lower economic and social levels are considered the least fit (Griffin Lecture). This appears to be a theory that Barbara Kingsolver sets out to disprove in her novel The Bean Trees. In a review in The Women's Review of Books, Margaret Randall observes that this is a novel not about "middle-class America, but real middle America, the unemployed and underemployed, the people working fast-food joints or patching tires, Oklahoma Indians, young mothers left by wandering husbands or mothers who never had husbands" (Randall 1). Ultimately, it is about survivors -- women such as Taylor Greer who sets out from Kentucky to find a better life and finds responsibility for another life; Mattie whose survival is wrapped up in her role as savior to all in need who enter Jesus Is Lord Used Tires; Lou Ann Ruiz who is afraid of life and in need of finding her strength; and Esperanza whose child was taken from her in a political struggle and who needs to find the will to live -- who pool their resources, both financial and emotional. These women have courage, humor and each other, resou...

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...nd in strength, and they do survive.

Works Cited

Butler, Jack. "She Hung the Moon and Plugged in All the

Stars." The New York Times Book Review. April 10, 1988: 15.

FitzGerald, Karen. "A Major New Talent." Ms. XVI.10 (1988):


Griffin, Joan. Lecture. English 3230. Metropolitan State

College, Denver. 7 Oct.1999.

Gale Literary Databases: Contemporary Authors. "Barbara

Kingsolver." 11 November 1999: 3.


Kingsolver, Barbara. The Bean Trees. New York:

HarperPerennial, 1992.

Kingsolver, Barbara. Letter. Contemporary Literary Criticism

Yearbook. Vol. 55. (1988): 68.

Randall, Margaret. "Human Comedy." The Women's Review

of Books. V.8 (1988): 1.

"Social Darwinism." Microsoft Encarta96 Encyclopedia. CD

ROM. Microsoft Corporation. 1995.

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