The Poisonwood Bible as a Catalog of Romanticism
In The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver, the romantic standards that are associated with literature during the American Renaissance are evident. This popular novel, a New York Times Bestseller, embodies the concept of Romanticism with its gothic darkness, themes of loss and nostalgia, and a strong captivity narrative. The presence of a wise child and recurring double language are essential to the plot of the story. Nathan Price's misguided mission to save souls in the Congo is transformed into an evil that invades a type of Paradise and so, the reader realizes immediately that this twisted attempt to Christianize the savages will result in a fall of epic proportions. The impending fall and the results are set against a backdrop of revolution and oppression and the Gothic element permeates the narrative as well as the lives of characters throughout The Poisonwood Bible. If analogy and metaphor are the standard trope of Romanticism, this book could serve as an encyclopedic text. Each page is packed with figurative language that transforms and mystifies while using romantic imagery that creates alternately a 'Paradise' and a 'Hell'. "There's a majesty, a 19th-century-novel echo to this sweeping vision of nature doing its thing independent of the human will" (Kerr 7). American Romanticism, as a pattern for successful literature, resounds throughout this modern text.
The Poisonwood Bible is a novel about an American family in the early 1960's. Nathan Price, a Baptist missionary, takes his wife and four daughters to a remote village in the Congo, Kilanga. His fervor for bringing souls to Christ is tempered with ingrained habits of racial superiority. Even though the setting is entirely on another continent, this book very much follows the tradition of American Romanticism. Much like Natty Bumpo in The Last of the Mohicans, Nathan sets out to expand the boundaries, not of America, but of Christianity. His inroads into the frontier have destructive repercussions that are disguised as progress. Just like James Fenimore Cooper, this author deals with the "ideal boundary" that is the "frontier" and the difference between the "civilized and cultivated" and the "wild and Lawless" (Fiedler 179). Kingsolver adds to this list, however, the 'Christian and heathen' in much the same way. Nathan Price refuses to see the beauty of the system that is in place and struggles to bend Africa to his will; however, the real story lies in the women.
Captivity is a strong theme running throughout American Romantic literature. This novel is a wilderness romance with strong undercurrents of captivity and escape. Not long after arriving in the Congo, their minds are already focused on escape. The jungle is a paradise, but a dark, gothic one where evil lies in wait - in the form of venomous snakes, flesh eating ants, and the poisonwood tree. Just as surely as the slaves in Uncle Tom's Cabin...