Interpretation Of "The Poisonwood Bible" In The Humanities

2005 words - 8 pages

Since its 1998 publication, The Poisonwood Bible has primarily been seen as a statement against American exceptionalism. Upon analyzing the novel it is obvious that subjects such as imperialism, religion, the burden of guilt, and the use of, or lack thereof, voices, contribute to multiple points and themes found in the novel. In Susan Strehle’s current article on American exceptionalism explicitly relating to The Poisonwood Bible, she manipulates the topics and themes found in the novel to support her opinion. Unlike Strehle’s one-sided view, multiple themes and motifs in The Poisonwood Bible combine to form a complex and involved plot, further developed by the use of symbolism and both internal and external conflicts of the characters.
In her article, “Chosen People: American Exceptionalism in Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible,” Strehle maintains, “The Poisonwood Bible shows the historical impact of U.S. intervention in the Congo largely through the retrospective narration of Orleanna” (Strehle 415). In other words, Strehle believes that Orleanna’s voice is symbolic of the voice of the Congo. Much like the Congolese inhabitants Orleanna has no control of her own destiny, being such a free spirit in her younger days; this limited control manifests itself within internal conflicts. After marrying Nathan, a Southern Baptist Minister, at such an early age she loses her voice and power of choice. In this same way the reader sees that the Congo is ultimately powerless against its conquers, as the country is forced to shape and define itself by the new laws and restrictions that are in place. In Orleanna’s opening narrative she states, “Maybe I'll even confess the truth, that I rode in with the horsemen and beheld the apocalypse, but still I'll insist I was only a captive witness. What is the conqueror's wife if not a conquest herself?” (Kingsolver 18). Orleanna’s use of foreshadowing in the quotation alludes to her guilt in two different aspects. Much like Strehle suggests, Orleanna internally houses the guilt of the American wrongdoing that is targeted towards the Congo, in the same manner the overwhelming guilt of Ruth May’s untimely death proves too much for her to handle, triggering Orleanna’s reclaim to power. By calling herself the conqueror’s wife Orleanna admits to having a hand in her husband’s actions. In some cases such involvement may have brought benefits; however the burden of guilt greatly outweighs any benefits that come from being the wife of a conqueror. Orleanna also shows guilt metaphorically by equating herself to nothing more than a dependency of the United States. Symbolically speaking Orleanna masks her own selfish indulgences by pledging loyalty and responsibility to her own nation. This attitude later proves beneficial to the safety and longevity of the family. Orleanna uses her “American mentality,” otherwise defined as selfishness, to save herself and her remaining girls. Reviewing the two-sided argument it is clear...

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