The Poisonwood Bible: Exposing Cultural Arrogance Through Narration & Character Analysis

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Kelsey Schiffer
English 102-037
Holihan Smith
February 18, 2009
The Poisonwood Bible: Exposing Cultural Arrogance Through Narration & Character Analysis In the year 1959 Nathan Price, a Baptist minister from the heart of the southern United States, volunteers himself along with his wife and four daughters to travel into the heart of the treacherous African Congo on a mission to convert non-Christian natives of the small village, Kilanga. From the beginning of The Poisonwood Bible, a novel by author Barbara Kingsolver the reader sees the underlying theme of guilt told through the eyes of the wife and daughters of the Price family, which can be linked to the cultural arrogance of American society of both the past and present. Orleanna, Nathan’s wife, not only explains her personal guilt, but through it provides a reflection of the author’s commonly shared perspective about the colonization of Africa. She says, “Sometimes I pray to remember, other times I pray to forget. It makes no difference” (Kingsolver 89). The individual stories of each Price girl, each with its own distinctive tone and language intertwine to define the dynamics of the Price family as a whole, and therefore serves as aid to relate to the Price family, their personal struggles and most importantly to many facets of societal perspectives associated with Africa. This cultural arrogance is portrayed through the unique style of narration for each character and are also expressed extensively through the certain American characters found in the novel. It is evident through the varying approaches of narrating the novel, that each one of the five women portray different stereotypes, which combined presents many American attitudes towards colonized nations such as Africa. Orleanna, the wife and mother, has complete unwavering duty and trust in her husband, which in the end causes her to live the rest of her life with tremendous guilt. Fifteen-year-old Rachel is the typical teenage beauty and drama queen who resents being taken away from a normal life. She is so consumed with herself and this fact that she is unable to develop an appreciation or open mind about Africa which is maintained throughout her entire life. Fourteen-year-old Leah is initially certain of her father’s mission, but in the end makes the most drastic change brought about by her love and appreciation of the African countryside and it’s people. Leah's twin, Adah, who walks with a limp and has trouble speaking, is therefore out casted by her own society but in Africa her disability seems to go unnoticed. Due to the extremely intellectual nature she develops because of her physical and verbal hindrances, she observes life through a witty, cynical, and sarcastic eye, which allows her to understand and relate to African culture in ways the others cannot. Five-year-old Ruth May brings the innocence and arrogance of American society during the 1950s. She gives a raw impression of the racial discrimination and deeply embedded racial arrogance of many white Americans. Her innocence, however, also allows her to connect with the African culture and its people in personal ways her family cannot. Despite their vast number of differences all five women enter Africa confident that they are from a more civilized culture superior to the one existing in Kilanga, a functioning society that has been present for centuries. Although Orleanna is seemingly a static character, the experiences she has in Africa transform her signifying the negative, guilty consequences of colonialism. Orleanna, throughout the novel is wracked with guilt which the reader comes to know is due to the death of her youngest daughter, Ruth May. Orleanna comes to Africa seemingly the picture perfect 1950s American housewife. She is dutiful, quiet, and entrusts her husband fully. However, as her husband and his mission become exceedingly more radical she begins to develop doubts. Despite these doubts she decides...
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