Analysis of “Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver
Difficulty pertaining to the acceptance of cultural differences is a prevalent motif throughout “Poisonwood Bible,” and is an idea that Kingsolver routinely reinforces through the implementation of allusion. The Price family, though having left Georgia to complete a religious mission in the Congo, attempted to maintain the cultural practices of a modern society, which eventually proved to be unsuccessful. While attempting to plant a garden upon his arrival in Kalinga, Nathan proceeded in using Western planting techniques, despite having been cautioned by a native woman. He disregarded her warnings and his garden was ultimately destroyed. Leah witnessed this demonstration of defiance and unwillingness to adopt African practices and observed, “He stood his ground, my father, tall as Goliath and pure of heart as David” (Kingsolver 40).
Leah’s statement referenced the Biblical story in which, a young man, David, conquered a giant, Goliath, in battle. Nathan regards himself as “David,” a single man attempting to reform the entire way of thinking regarding Christianity in Kalinga, his “Goliath.” In this instance, despite believing wholeheartedly in the correct nature of his ideology, Nathan was unable to overcome the “Goliath” that is the Congo through Western practices alone, as demonstrated through the flooding of his garden, as well as his Poisonwood rash; regardless, he refused to adhere to Congolese culture. Furthermore, Orleanna too struggled to adapt, but more so in terms of leaving behind the conveniences of modern amenities that were readily available in the United States. As she attempted to bake Rachel a birthday cake from a box from Georgia, she realized that the humid environment solidified the mix making it impossible to properly prepare. In the notice of the cake mix’s solid appearance, Leah revealed, “In the powerful humidity, the powdered mix got transfigured like Lot’s poor wife who looked back at Gomorrah and got turned into a pillar of salt” (65).
In the book of Genesis, angels ordered Lot to leave his city. Lot’s wife looked back as she was leaving and was turned into a pillar of salt. Orleanna intended to “look back to” familiar practices and to maintain as close to an American lifestyle as was possible. American tradition, however, was unable to survive the trials of a Congolese lifestyle, and American products were often turned useless which was used to warn against constant looking to the past. Kingsolver strategically incorporated the aforementioned Biblical references to reveal that despite having been immersed in an entirely new culture for which traditions have been shaped to conform to the Congolese way of life, the Prices, primarily Nathan, remained attached to Western culture, believing it superior to any other.
The standard of living varies greatly between Africa and the United States. In the Congo, mounds must be formed in gardens to prevent flooding due to heavy rainfall, and boxed food is ineffective as a result of the more extreme climate. The Price family must repeatedly realize through circumstances of trial and error, that several aspects of Western culture do not translate effectively into Congolese culture and environment. The entire family exhibited a great reluctance to stray in any way from what was familiar. A great irony was revealed through these allusions as the Prices were clearly hesitant to incorporate aspects of Congolese culture, yet forced their own cultural practices onto the local people as a result of their mission. Nathan’s misunderstanding of many parts of Congolese culture, primarily as a result of lackluster effort, influenced the effectiveness of his mission. He was unable to truly overcome the cultural barrier in order to get across to the people, which was partially revealed through his attempts at gardening. Slowly, the Price family began to give into the Congolese way of life, with Nathan building the mounds and Orleanna cooking using native ingredients and adjusting to limited household resources. However, thus far, members of the Price family continue to hold on to Western culture rather than completely acknowledging the importance of Congolese culture not only to their own survival but to the nation’s people as well.
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