In The Republic, Socrates idealized the perfect city. One of the aspects that he deliberated on was the raising of children and family structure. The conclusion reached by Socrates is that no parent will know his own offspring or any child his parents (457 d). It was Socrate's belief that the best atmosphere would be created in a communal upbringing of the city's children. In the same sense, he believed that they should take every precaution to insure that no mother knows her own child (460 c). Not even the mother, the traditional child-rearer, would be permitted to know or have a say in the lives of her own children, but in all of the children as a whole. Likewise, Barbara Kingsolver presents many similar ideas of family in her novel, The Bean Trees. While Kingsolver values the communal family, she differs from Socrates in that her primary focus is on the maternal force that drives the family.
Socrates' idea of the collective family is evident in Barbara Kingsolver's work, as well. In The Bean Trees, Kingsolver illustrates the many different families that can be present in one's life, and the importance of that communal role. As Maureen Ryan points out, in the different world that [Kingsolver] envisions throughout her fiction, we'd all care for everyone's child (81). In Kingsolver vision, Taylor, Lou Ann, Turtle, and Dwayne Ray can live together as a family, supporting each other physically, spiritually, and mentally. Kingsolver also makes a point to include Taylor befriending Sandy, and how they help each other out by checking up on each other's kids at the mall day-care (67). Sandy is not the only on...
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...and, does not acknowledge or consider the good that is to be gained by the eternal bond of mother and child, nor does he consider this bond when speculating on the possibility of his city. Kingsolver creates a much more realistic image of an ideal family - one that is nurturing and loving, while also teaching the child the basic necessities for survival. While his idea of a communal role is emphasized, Socrates idea of how motherhood should be handled is debunked by the powerful presentation by Kingsolver in The Bean Trees.
Kingsolver, Barbara. The Bean Trees. New York : Harper, 1988.
Plato. The Republic. Classics of Moral and Political Theory. 2nd ed. Michael L. Morgan. Indianapolis : Hackett Publishing Company, 1996. 32 - 246.
Ryan, Maureen. "Barbara Kingsolver's Lowfat Fiction." Journal of American Culture 18.4 (1995) : 77 - 82.
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