Aveneu Park, Starling, Australia

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Biographical Connection: Barbara Kingsolver was born on April 8, 1955 in Annapolis, Maryland and during her seventh and eight years of life she spent in the Republic of Congo where her parents worked there as healthcare officials. During her time there, she kept a diary documenting how different and curious everything was compared to Maryland. She was mostly fascinated how these people could live so peacefully and happily without certain necessities that she considered necessary, such as running water, electricity, supported shelter, plumbing, and so on. She concluded that due to the different cultures one thing was not to be expected from the other; this is a continuous theme found in her novel, The Poisonwood Bible. However, Kingsolver did not learn what had really been going when she was there during the 1960’s: The United States secretly manipulated a coup where they assassinated elected President Patrice Lumumba and installed the dictator Joseph Mobutu, robbing the Congo of its independence. Enraged and betrayed, Kingsolver wrote The Poisonwood Bible after thirty years to expose the atrocities and injustices the United States imposed on the Congo, she explains in the introduction, “For hundreds of years people in the Congo Valley spoke of this beautiful, strange beast. When European explorers got wind of it, they declared it legendary: a unicorn. Another fabulous tale from the dark domain of poison-tipped arrows and bone-pierced lips… a white family finally did set eyes on the okapi…A family of them now reside in the New York Museum, dead and stuffed…” (Kingsolver 7).Historical Connection: The United States, Belgium, and the Congo Crisis of 1960 expands the incompetence of nations to disintegrate colonialism from the world. In 1960, the United States partnered up with the Soviet Union to remove Belgium from the Congo; however, that only helped increase the power of the United Nations in the Congo and help destroy the regime of Moise Tshombe. Moreover, the United States continued to replace the United Nation’s troops with Belgian forces, and nd in 1966 and 1967, The United States with Belgium organized a coup to replace President Patrice Lumumba with dictator, Joseph Mobutu. Kingsolver subtly presents the colonialism she and many other Americans took part of by stating, “In the year of our Lord 1960 a monkey barreled through space in an American rocket; a Kennedy boy took the chair out from under a fatherly general named Ike; and the whole world turned on an axis called the Congo. The monkey sailed right overhead, and on a more earthly plane men in locked rooms bargained for the Congo’s treasure. But I was there. Right on the head of that pin” (Kingsolver 8).Genre and CharacteristicsThe genre The Poisonwood Bible falls into is historical fiction and postcolonial fiction.Characteristics/Genre: Historical fiction is a literary genre in which past events are formulated from genuine, factual history, but the plot of the story and characters are merely fictional. Postcolonial fiction is a literary genre in which appropriation of colonial language thus African is integrated and colonialism subtly attributed. Also, valorization, cultural identity, and racism is often found.The work meets the criteria of these two genres since The Poisonwood Bible is a story about a white colonial family who moves to the Congo in order to impose the Baptist faith. The story  takes place in Africa during the 1960’s when the United States, Belgium, and the Congo Crisis of 1960 was occurring. The history integrated in the book is completely factual; however, the characters and plot are utterly fictional; moreover, the family are modern colonialists embarking on a journey to ‘better’ others in the name of God.Textual support “And you’ll say I did. You’ll say I walked across Africa with my wrists unshackled, and now I am one more soul walking free in a white skin, wearing some thread of the stolen goods: cotton or diamonds, freedom at the very least, prosperity” (Kingsolver 9).                            “They’re hungry as can be, and don’t get their vitamins. And still God makes them look fat. I reckon that’s why they get for being the Tribes of Ham” (Kingsolver 50).SettingThe novel mainly takes place in the Belgian Congo/ Zaire in a period of thirty years, starting in 1959 and ending in 1998. Other settings introduced include Atlanta, Georgia, South Africa, and the French Congo.”Where we are headed,’ he said, to make things perfectly clear, ‘not so much as a Piggly Wiggly.’ Evidently Father saw this as a point in the Congo’s favor” (Kingsolver 11). The primary setting of the novel, the Congo, is quickly introduced in the beginning chapters of the story.”In the year of our Lord 1960… But I was there. Right on the head of that pin” (Kingsolver 8). The time period is directly stated when Kingsolver talks about the Kennedys and the conflict of the 1960’s between the United States, Belgium, and the Congo.Title and EpigraphThe vast separation of context between the words ‘poisonwood’ and ‘bible’ signifies the imposed colonialism on the African continent. Considering they are unrelated, the title represents how wrong the pairing of Western beliefs and African culture are.Book One, Genesis: And God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and have replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. Genesis 1:28. This epigraph introduces the story about guilt but more importantly of the guilt the United States felt as a nation for the injustices they brought into the Congo.Book Two, The Revelation: And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up… If any man have an ear, let him hear. Revelation 13:19. This epigraph is symbolic of Nathan’s tyranny not only unto his family but unto the natives as well. Also, it is symbolic of the rising political imbalance the United States is bringing to the Congo.Book Three, The Judges: And ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars… They shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you. Judges 2:2-3. This epigraph is symbolic for explaining that gluttony and arrogance are the original sins of human beings.Book Four, Bel and the Serpent: Do you not think that Bel is a living God? Do you not see how much he eats and drinks every day? Bel and the Serpent 1:6. This epigraph is symbolic of the guilt felt towards Ruth May’s death but also for the doomed Congo.Book Five, Exodus: … And ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you. And they took their journey… and encamped… in the edge of wilderness… He took not away with the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night. Exodus 13:19-22. This epigraph is symbolic of Orleanna taking her children and escaping the chaos of Kilanga.Book Six, Song of the Three Children: All that you have brought upon us and all that you have done to us, You have done in justice… Deliver us in your wonderful way. Song of the Three Children, 7-19 The Apocrypha. This epigraph is symbolic for concluding Orleanna’s, Leah’s, Adah’s, and Rachel’s life.Narration or Point of View- The point of view of the novel is first person using multiple central narrators: Ruth May, Adah, Orleanna, Rachel, and Leah Price.CharacterizationThe main characters include the mother, Orleanna Price and her four daughters: Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May Price.Rachel: Egotistical, materialistic, self-centered. “So: Easter Sunday in dirt-stained saddle oxfords, charmed I’m sure” (Kingsolver 43). This quote indirectly expresses in a sarcastic way how clothes and appearances are the only things preoccupying Rachel’s sanity.Adah: Brilliant, underappreciated, wry. “In my mind I invented snmyhymns, as I call them, my own perverse hymns that can be sung equally well forward or backward” (Kingsolver 72). This quote indirectly shows the brilliance and inventiveness of Adah who is constantly neglected and teased by her own family.Orleanna: Mighty, intellectual, humble. “And my husband, why, hell hath no fury like a Baptist preacher. I married a man who could never love me, probably” (Kingsolver 8). This quote indirectly explains the strength this woman endured for a long time in order to give her children the best life she possibly could.Conflict and Resolution(4)  The conflict is ‘Man vs. Society’ since the story takes place during the United States, Belgium, and the Congo Crisis of 1960, creating a lot of political upheavals.Resolution: Despite the ongoing crisis in the Congo, Leah manages to leave with her lover, Anatole, to start her life as a school teacher and a wife. Also, Orleanna escapes the Congo and her husband’s wrath with Adah where she starts a new life centered around forgiveness for Ruth May’s death, and Rachel stays with her wealthy man who buys her a luxurious hotel.SymbolsMethuselah, the parrot= The destroyed Republic of Congo. The parrot is kept in a cage by the Price family where they feed and take care of him, so when Nathan liberates Methuselah, it keeps close to the home since it became so accustomed to it, he can’t fend for himself anymore after being kept in a cage for years. Methuselah is killed by cat the day the Congo starts its independence. It is symbolic because just like Methuselah, the Congo is killed by its predator, the United States. “Like Methuselah I covered beside my cage, and though my soul hankered after the mountain, I found, like Methuselah, I had no wings. Poor Congo, barefoot bride of men who took her jewels and promised the Kingdom” (Kingsolver 201). Nathan’s demonstration garden= The family’s colonialism. Nathan brings seeds from Georgia in order to begin some substantial farming, but the soil is different in Africa and the fruit won’t grow from the flowers. They are completely out of place just how Nathan and his family are, coming into a foreign territory and trying to implant a different theory. “Mama Tataba seemed not to be listening. She pointed again at the red dirt. ‘You got to be make hills.’ He stood his ground, my father, tall as Goliath and pure of heart as David” (Kingsolver 40).The Poisonwood Bible= Nathan’s cultural supremacy. When Nathan first takes up gardening, Mama Tataba warns him about the poisonwood tree. Nathan blatantly ignores her and continually ends up with swollen arms and injuries. Moreover, due to Nathan’s ignorance in order to pronounce native words correctly, he pronounces them quickly so the natives understand that Jesus is the poisonwood bible which causes pain and death. This is symbolic to colonialists’ ignorance for native values and culture and always putting their supremacy above everything in the name of God. “My father woke up the next morning with a horrible rash on his hands and arms, presumably wounded by the plant that bites. Even his good right eye was swollen shut…” (Kingsolver 40).Message/Universal TruthExplicit Message: “For hundreds of years people in the Congo Valley spoke of this beautiful, strange beast. When European explorers got wind of it, they declared it legendary… Another fabulous tale from the dark domain of poison-tipped arrows and bone-pierced lips” (Kingsolver 7). Speaker: Orleanna Price describes the ignorant European perspective of African culture and the belittlement of their beliefs.Implicit Message: Guilt has the power to elicit forgiveness but the lack thereof blinds an individual into ignorance. In the novel, Orleanna seeks forgiveness for Ruth May’s death through escaping the Congo with Adah and leaving Nathan’s rage. On the other hand, Rachel’s egocentrism leads her to stay with her wealthy husband whom bought her a luxurious hotel. Leah seeks forgiveness through political activism in order to right the wrongs she and her family imposed in the Congo.


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