The reality of human existence is the reality of loss. Russell Banks wrote in the voice of a character, "Certainly, terrible things happen in every family, death and disease, divorce and blood feuds... (Banks pg. 223). Is it possible for anyone to live a full life without the realization of loss, and not become a stronger person because of it? Be it the loss of a person, the loss of dreams, or the loss of one's identity, it is essential for humankind to deal with loss. In the novels, The Sweet Hereafter, by Russell Banks, and The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver, several characters confront a loss of something of value, and must come to terms with the reality of their losses in order to continue their lives in a meaningful manner. The authors of both novels write in a style which allows the reader to become aware of the circumstances under which each character faces a loss, and how that loss will be dealt with. The setting of both The Bean Trees, and The Sweet Hereafter, is a small town atmosphere in the United States of America, which affects how the characters deal with loss. Banks and Kingsolver use symbols throughout their novels to develop the sense of loss, and the characters use the objects which hold underlying meanings as a way of dealing with their losses. The characters of The Sweet Hereafter, and The Beans Trees, are the victims of terrible losses, and must deal with the grief caused by them. Because the characters are able to deal with the losses, they become stronger people.
In The Sweet Hereafter, Banks tells the story of a bus accident which kills fourteen children and affects the entire town of Sam Dent, from the view point of several different characters. Similarly, in The Bean Trees, Kingsolver focuses on several characters who all experience different types of loss throughout their lives. Russell Banks and Barbara Kingsolver develop the theme of loss, and the need for realization of loss, throu