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Griffin's Black Like Me And Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible

2505 words - 10 pages

    John Howard Griffin's novel, Black Like Me, and Barbara Kingsolver's novel, The Poisonwood Bible, describe journeys made by white Americans into black societies in the early 1960's. Griffin, a white journalist for Sepia magazine, took medication to darken his skin and entered the United States' Deep South to experience the plight of African Americans (Bain 195). His book is a true account of his experiences as a black man. Kingsolver writes of a man who, in many ways, made a similar journey. Nathan Price, a white Baptist missionary in The Poisonwood Bible, moves his wife and four daughters to the Congo of Africa with hopes of spreading the teachings of Christianity and baptizing many. Although Kingsolver's story is fiction, her development of the Congo's history and culture are based on recorded history and her own experiences there as a child (Kingsolver ix). John Griffin and the Price family leave a world in which their race automatically constitutes them with the rights of voice and choice; and discover a world in which those rights are limited.

 

Being that their professions are journalism and ministry, John Griffin and Nathan Price are accustomed to the use of words, whether written or spoken, to reach out to others and relay information. Once they cross over into the new territories, their abilities to be heard accurately or at all become difficult. In this new setting, Griffin finds the opportunity to speak to a white person does not present itself because it is preceded by a silent language spoken by whites. He first encounters this silent language outside a "Whites Only" restaurant as he is reading the menu in the window. He says, "I looked up to see the frowns of disapproval that can speak so loudly without words. The Negro learns this silent language fluently" (Griffin 46). The sight of his skin color immediately eliminates a chance for any spoken dialogue. Often times, this silent language communicates such loathing that some blacks would refer to it as the "hate stare" (Griffin 53). His communication with blacks, on the other hand, is an opportunity to hear the voices that have been stifled by society and to speak with those he would not ordinarily be able to speak with as a white man. His language, however, when speaking with other blacks is changed to be more obscene than usual. He finds this dialogue, which is considered by whites to be insulting, to be the common dialogue between blacks (Griffin 131). Griffin truly comes to realize how great the disparity is between the blacks and white's right to voice after he returns to his natural skin tone. He states, "I, as a man now white once again, could say the things that needed saying but would be rejected if black men said them" (Griffin 172). Fortunately, the voices of many blacks, including John Griffin's voice, are eventually heard through the writing and publishing of his book, Black Like Me.

 

Nathan Price does not...

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