The Poisonwood Bible By Barbara Kingsolver

1786 words - 7 pages

Explication of theme:
The Poisonwood Bible exemplifies the importance of language, especially foreign languages. It is fairly obvious that language plays a role in this work- an English-speaking white Christian family moves to a rich, multicultural society. This new society has picked up on “easy” English phrases, but also speaks French, and its native African languages.
Language can be seen as not only a sign of knowledge and scholarship, but a sign of close or open-mindedness. Language is associated with imperialism (especially in this novel, and especially relating to the United States). Readers often find that stories about other cultures view the English language as overbearing and unyielding. (English speakers feel that other cultures should learn their language).
Most importantly, however, is the transfer of meanings between languages. (Take the importance of bangala)- this also incorporates the importance of multicultural ignorance. But the transfer of meaning between languages could have helped Nathan Price potentially reach the people of Kilanga- they may have seen Tata Jesus as beloved instead of itchy!
Language plays a huge role in everyday life- connotation, denotation, etymology, idioms- all of these things come into play. We as English-speakers sometimes have trouble understanding certain expressions or accents- imagine the Price family trying to decipher French and Kilangan.
Investigation of scholarly article:
In Alison Phipps’ article “Unmoored: Language Pain, Porosity, and Poisonwood,” Phipps explores the ideas of multilingualism, the “porosity” of language learning, pain associated with language, and The Poisonwood Bible’s connection to these ideas.
Phipps explains the “moored world” as one of comfort and xenophobia: “Certainty, security, safety, steadiness. Confident in the order of things; that people and things are where they are expected to be; that the world is known and can be controlled; and can be understood.” This fear of an unmoored world prevents change- and most of all learning. When cast into the Kilangan jungle, the Price family has no idea what they are in for, but they quickly begin to pick up on the native language. The Price parents urge the children to study their French daily, as well.
Phipps affirms that language learning must be seen “as anchors being raised and raising both anchors… movement, a possible loss of control, a move into what may be unknown, however charted.” Human beings are too set in their own ways of self-control to explore the unmoored world (especially Nathan Price, who constantly refers to Jesus as itchy and unpleasurable!)
More often than not, the unmoored are “the migrants, the the refugees and asylum seekers.” The unmoored are typically forced into the process of being unmoored by some outside circumstance- such as missionary work. Unmooring is sometimes necessary for survival. We, as Americans, though, cannot understand this concept. English speakers seem to expect...

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