Depiction Of America In 1950s In The Poisonwood Bible

Is America an exceptional country? America cradled democracy by pointing out the nation's failures, injustices, and founding inequities with regard to race or class. Exposing the falsehood of popular exceptionalism, particularly the falsehood of the notion that America is the 'land of the free.' In the book, Poisonwood bible readers face many issues such as racism, sexism, culture, and religious beliefs. To be an exceptional country we are meant to be different, more specifically unique. The 1950s was not a time that I believe America was an exceptional country.

During the time period that this book was being written, a lot of feminist and post-colonial literature was being acknowledged. Feminist literature is both nonfiction and fiction that supports women by defending political, economic and social rights for women. Many works of feminist literature depict strong-willed women who stand up for themselves and work their way into having equal rights with men.

Early on in the story, the second eldest daughter Leah points out the lack of equality between men and women. 'We wore our best dresses on the outside to make a good impression. Rachel wore her green linen Easter suit she was so vain of...'. Here Leah describes what the girls are all wearing to make a 'good impression.' She never once mentions what her father is wearing, however. This lends itself to assert that a woman must dress up to make a good impression, whereas men make good impressions with their words and presence. Leah’s mother Orleanna believes that there are many more opportunities for women who aren't told the constraints of being a woman. Since gender roles suggest a limited range of occupations for women, there would be more room to grow with less gender bias if one is not told their 'purpose'. Women are taught from an early age to work their lives away that's all they’ll ever be accustomed to. Girls are expected to be prim and proper while the boys have no responsibility to uphold. Women do all the heavy lifting work while men just get the respect and applaud of the women's work.

The 1950s was a decade of new American experiences, then at first glance, it also seems to be a decade lacking in any major ideas. However, many have claimed that the 1950s was necessary for the social revolution of the next decade to happen; and, while it is important to resist the temptation to read history as teleological (in which everything is a potential foreshadowing of future events), more recent trends suggest that the decade was one of the defining periods of the twentieth century, prefiguring the materialism of the 1980s, the media control of the 1990s, and the ascendancy of the Right in the early twenty-first century.

The United States had secretly sabotaged the Congo's hard-won shot at independence by masterminding a coup that would end in the assassination of the elected President Patrice Lumumba and the installation of the dictatorial and thieving military leader Joseph Mobutu in Lumumba's place. Outraged by what she considered devastating acts motivated purely by greed. Identity crisis in Kalinga 'At one point in time Kalinga was a regular mission with four American families and a medical doctor who visited once a week. Now it had gone into a slump, they said' (Kingsolver 17). The period of the 1960s is known as the Congo crisis, “The Belgians and American business brought civilization to the Congo! American aid will be the Congo's salvation. You'll see'.

The Price family enjoys all the conveniences of life as a white citizen in the United States. In the Congo, however, the Prices’ new community is defined by black Africans — a novelty for a white American family used to (heavily segregated) 1950s Georgia society. While a few of the Prices make an effort to get to know their African neighbors, racial differences continue to remind the Prices of the broader differences between African and American life, and of the family’s perpetual “outsider” status in the Congo. Nathan Price, the preacher who brings his family to the Congo, thinks of the Congolese as ignorant, “unenlightened” children — a disturbing example of how his Christianity acts as a mask for his racism.

Americans faced cultural misunderstanding creating problems with people from other cultures. Nathan a newcomer to the land, insults the native’s culture his daughter Leah becomes ashamed of him. She no longer considers her father to be a holy man. Even though she was raised around his teachings she no longer considers him to be of pure intentions. Since “Nathan is arrogant, inflexible, and passionately committed” he never attempted to learn society's needs he just wanted to create Christian clones for his own selfish salvation. Americans were not aware of their influence at the time, but the outcome nonetheless was drastic.

The author shows that cultural ignorance creates problems. With her chosen syntax, point of view, and time gap of each narrator Kingsolver exposes how close-mindedness creates unfulfilled results because individuals can not adapt to cultural changes.

Kingsolver’s fiction does not engage directly with the problems of identity politics or “multiculturalism” but Kingsolver writes out of the context of liberal reactions against the supposedly divisive effects of identity politics, so inflamed during the “culture wars” of the 1980s and 1990s. Kingsolver’s agenda of writing about the difference by advocating political and cultural interrelatedness. Kingsolver’s attempt to represent something of the diversity of American society in her fiction resonates with advocating amidst the culture wars of the late 1980s and early 1990s of “a conversation among different voices.”

American Exceptionalism; the term refers simply to 'the ways in which the United States varies from the rest of the world'. American exceptionalism not only claims that America is different but rather unique, and generally that kind carries with it a unique moral value and responsibility. Culture and social identity were destroyed as Western ideas were brought over by missionaries. This brought conflict between Nathan and the villagers, due to their own cultural beliefs that brought them to wanting the villagers to conform to.

Leah's most fatal flaw is her unquestionable faith in her father throughout the majority of the book. Leah basically worships her father early in the novel and longs for his approval: 'I know that someday when I've grown large enough in the Holy Spirit, I will have his wholehearted approval'. Her father's approval is vital to Leah, and she respects him enough to claim, 'I haven't contradicted my father on any subject, ever'. Of course, Leah grows more and more hostile towards Revered Price as the novel progresses, but she tolerates his neglect and abuse for a significant portion of the story.

Leah loses faith with the loss of her father gradually; by the end of the book, she states: 'But that exacting, tyrannical God of his [Reverend Price] has left me for good'. She notices the racism and injustice in the Congo and goes on to marry Anatole. Leah shows her acceptance of African culture and rejection of American and White culture with the statement: 'I am the un-missionary, as Adah would say, beginning each day on my knees, asking to be converted'. After her loss of faith in her father, Leah becomes loyal to Anatole and Africa.

However, her other sisters were close-minded and already had their own thoughts made up about Africans without getting to know them. Ruth May's point of view is extremely revealing in this section because of what it exposes about the culture in which she was raised. In her innocence, she betrays the deep-seated racism of the United States in the 1950s, speaking of Africans as the cursed Tribes of Ham, and babbling confusedly about 'Jimmy Crow.' She believed that African Americans were bad people due to their dark skin.“God says the Africans are the tribes of ham.......Ham was the youngest one, like me, and he was Noah cursed all Ham's children to be slaves forever and ever. that's how come them turn out dark.” These laws not only kept blacks socially segregated from whites but also kept them economically inferior and politically powerless. By calling attention to American racism, Ruth May connects the obscure and little known injustices our country perpetrated in Africa to prominent and well- known injustices our country perpetrated at home. By establishing a pattern of abuse, Kingsolver's indictment of the United States government becomes that much stronger. When viewed in connection to domestic racism, the U.S. machinations in the Congo cannot be dismissed as unfortunate slips in morality and good judgment. Far from unusual 'slips,' these actions, when viewed in the light of Jim Crow laws, can only be seen as a natural outgrowth of a calloused attitude toward certain segments of the world population. In addition to strengthening the indictment against the United States, the invocation of domestic racism also further calls attention to our collective guilt as a nation. Ruth May was only 5 years old she didn't know much she only knew what others taught her to believe. Her father was the biggest influencer on her, the racism was often displayed by Nathan Price, who sees the Congolese natives as inferior and unintelligent animals. Throughout the novel, Kingsolver portrays Nathan as a bigot; he believes that his way is the 'correct' way, and he never sees the Congolese as people. To him, they are uneducated savages without morals.

The Price family also faced an enemy this enemy was a disease that was passed around by mosquitoes. Malaria is a tropical disease spread by mosquitoes that is nonexistent in wealthy nations but strikes hundreds of millions of people a year in developing nations killing over a million each year. The disease is caused by sporozoan parasites that are transmitted through the bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito; marked by paroxysms of chills and fever. 'This morning I pulled back the mosquito netting that's tucked in tight around our beds because mosquitoes here give you malaria, a disease that runs in your blood which nearly everyone has anyway but they don't go to the doctor for it because there are worse things like sleeping sickness or the kakakaka or that someone has put a kibáazu on them, and anyway there's really no doctor nor money to pay one, so people just hope for the good luck of getting old.” They believed that the disease causes fatal cases of diarrhea, but that wasn't the case there were more side effects. The village is struck with a fatal digestive bug called kakaka and Orleanna, in her terror for her children's safety, institutes a new rule that requires her daughters to spend all afternoon in bed, away from their infectious neighbors.,Malaria was affecting the Price kids due to the lack of wealth the country has, they rely on mosquito nets to protect them from getting bitten which doesn't do much. However Leah comes down with a mild case of malaria, she begins to have exotic dreams that leave her “wide awake below the waist.” Leah wasn’t the only Price kid who feeling ill. As Ruth May become sicker they decided to move her bed into the main room so her mother could keep an eye on her. What they soon became to realize is that Ruth was never taking pills and what made her sick was Malaria. If 'malaria' isn't an African word for 'death,' it should be. Ninety-one percent of deaths from malaria are in Africa, accounting for almost 600,000 deaths, 86% of them in children.

This overview of The Poisonwood Bible significantly concludes that the Congolese people were misheard and ultimately mistreated to the point where they begged for independence amongst themselves. The insight on both character and conflict analytically helps readers begin to realize how crucial and unsustainable it was for the Congolese people in Kilanga to live free from all disruption. So, therefore, I do not believe that America is an exceptional country. To be an exceptional country we must be unique compared to other nations. The missionaries visited a different country, they were a guest in Kilanga who treated the people of Kilanga poorly. They committed an act of racism, sexism, disrespected their culture and religious beliefs.

Works Cited

  • Byers, Thomas B. 'A City Upon a Hill: American Literature and the Ideology of Exceptionalism.' Arnevican Studies in Scandinavia, Vol. 29, 1997, University of Louisville, Year, pp. 1-33.
  • Kingsolver, Barbara. The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel. New York : HarperPerennial, 1999, c1998. Print.
16 August 2021
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