August 9, 2004
Economics in Literature
Title: The Poisonwood Bible
Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Copyright Date: 1998
Economic Concepts: International economics and the developing world Appropriate Grade Level: 11-12, or college level
The Poisonwood Bible is a book about a Baptist family that moves to the Congo in late 1950s, before independence. They are on a mission to spread the word of God to the impoverished nation and planned to live there for one year but end up staying much longer than expected. The four daughters must struggle growing up without makeup, boys and Barbie, while the mother wallows in guilt for allowing her obsessed husband to keep them there. All the while, the family learns of disease, hardship and dire poverty in a country struggling for independence and a voice in a new international order. They learn how to value things in life in terms of necessities versus wants and desires, and how globalization can affect them even in a small village in the Congo.
There are many economic concepts throughout the book that deal with economic decisions determined by extreme poverty, but the two attached chapters address them most prevalently. In the first chapter, Orleanna describes the marketplace that takes place every five days in the village. Women place their precious commodities in pyramid-shaped piles: bananas, oranges, sticks and charcoal. The larger the pile, the more wealth the vendor has. In this type of market, a barter system replaces the use of currency. The Price family trades goods or services for items at the marketplace, such as eggs for beans. But because of the lack of medicine and sanitation practices, the Price family has to disinfect their food as much as possible, which is a tedious task compared to what they did to eat back home. In the chapter Orleanna debates what is most precious to her, ‘bleach,...