The Poisonwood Bible Essay, Research Paper
Adah Price: the Embodiment of Congo
She says she spent thirty years waiting for the wisdom and maturity to dare write this book. Never has such patience been more rewarded (Forster 3). Yes, Barbara Kingsolver has every right to thirty years of contemplation before attempting to create such a complex political novel as The Poisonwood Bible, and yes, never has such patience been more rewarded, for the novel has opened the eyes of citizens and politicians alike. It is a novel predominantly about the Congo about what first the Belgians, then the Americans have done to it, and what better way to portray such views than through the embodiment of the Congo through a child (1). The child s name is Adah Price, and she represents the Congo before and after the influence of America. Why did Kingsolver choose a child to represent this nation? Simple, she chose a child because a child can be molded while in youth, but as maturity comes, so does the realization of the effects of such molding and the decision of whether such molding is good or evil. Adah Price is the perfect embodiment of a developing nation vulnerable to foreign influence in Barbara Kingsolver s The Poisonwood Bible.
In the beginning of the novel, Adah describes herself as a handicapped child: My right side drags. I was born with half my brain dried up like a prune (Kingsolver 33). The condition she has is called hemiplegia, and, as a result, she is presumed to be deaf or feeble-minded (33). However, Adah s condition has allowed her to have a different
perception on life. She establishes an individual character unmatched by anyone in the novel. The only match can be seen in the Congo, for the Congo s perception on life also differs from surrounding countries due to its condition. Rachel, her younger sister, explains that Used to be, Adah was the only one of us in our family with something wrong with her. But here nobody stares at Adah except just a little because she s white. Nobody cares that she s bad on one whole side because they ve all got their own handicap children or a mama with no feet, or their eye put out (53). Disability is common in the Congo. This similarity between Adah and the Congo allows Adah to relate with the Congolese and show that she is, in fact, a representation of the Congo. Adah s individualism is obvious in the things she does and thinks. For example, when she finishes reading a book from front to back, she read[s] it back to front (57). This individualism, aside from its obvious literal relevance, is parallel to the Congo s unique individual character and history prior to the intrusion of America and the Belgians. Before the intrusion of Western civilization in the form of these two countries, the Congo has its own customs and traditions, and that gave them the opportunity to be different and contribute to the world in their own unique manner. However, as the Belgians and, predominately America, bring their influence, the same change as seen in Adah can be seen in the Congo.
The change in Adah begins as she moves back to America to begin a new life free from the evil domination and oppression of Nathan, her father. Once back, Adah enters a medical school, where she is re-diagnosed as someone whose disability is a habit learned in infancy rather than the result of neurological damage (Aull 2). With the loss
of her condition, she also loses her individualism. This loss is obvious to her because when Adah loses her limb-impaired slant as well as her ability to perceive the world in a palindromic framework, she is not thrilled but ambivalent . (2). She no longer has Ada, the mystery of coming and going (Kingsolver 492). Adah realizes her loss because as she lost her split-body drag, she also lost her ability to read in the old way (492). Adah has lost a significant part of herself, and she knows it. In the same way, the Congo has the same realization of the potential effects of American imperialism, which causes the struggle for independence in the novel. Only Adah can see the effects of her loss of individualism, and only the Congo can see the potential effects of American imperialism: No one else misses Ada, and no one else misses the ancient Congo except those directly involved and affected (492). Adah resents the arrogance of the able-bodied and wishes she could just be herself, and have that be all right (493). She says, Don t the poor miserable buggers all want to be like me? Not necessarily, no (493). If everyone were the same, then there would be no individual purpose in life. Everyone would be a whole, but Adah wonders, How can I explain that my two unmatched halves used to add up to more than one whole? (493). Individuality is a greater treasure than uniformity. Just think of the effects of American imperialism. All treasured customs and traditions of the Congo are minimized and in some instances destroyed. The history of the Congo would be erased. Both Adah and the Congo realize that such individualism is not worth giving up.
Adah s time in medical school is limited as she begins to realize the hypocrisy involved in her pursuing such a career. Doctors, such as Albert Schweitzer, go to the Congo to save the children and others that are ill (528). How can Adah, who represents the Congo, go to heal such a place of what made it special and different when she resents her own healing? For this reason, she [leaves] the healing profession (528). After realizing her hypocrisy and abandoning it, Adah moves her focus to the study of African parasites, for as parasites feed on Adah, so is America planning to feed on the Congo s resources. Through Adah s research, she begins to understand the importance of the partnership between the parasite and the host. She sees that if you could for a moment rise up out of your own beloved skin and appraise ant, human, and virus as equally resourceful beings, you might admire the accord they have all struck in Africa (529). In the same way, the West has built a path to its own door and thrown it wide for the plague (530). Adah realizes that America s involvement with the Congo is a God-sent partnership, and it is the illusion of this relationship we call civilization, that is the pavement under our feet, our purpose in life (532). At this point in the novel, Adah s view of American interaction with the Congo evolves from one of skepticism to one of understanding. As the misprinted Bibles Adah collects are a symbol of the multiple errors in the texts of America s religion because of the dominance Christianity holds as a religion in the United States, so is America [coming] in [the Congo] stamped with such errors we can never know which ones made a lasting impression (533). However, the mistakes are part of the story, a part of God s ultimate plan for this world, and no person has the right to fight such a plan (533). Both Adah and the Congo must learn to accept
the fact that although it may bring about the loss of individualism, the relationship between different species and nations is part of God s plan and, therefore, will not be altered.
Barbara Kingsolver, a literary genius, creatively portrays the Congo metaphorically through the life of Adah Price in The Poisonwood Bible. Adah begins with individualism unmatched by any other character in the novel. Through her handicapped condition, she is able to perceive life in special ways. After moving back to America and being subject to American views and influence, Adah loses her condition and, as a result, her individualism. Initially, she realizes and regrets the loss, ridiculing the able-bodied as arrogant and emphasizing the greater treasure she found in her two unmatched halves. However, later analyzing the relationship between host and parasite and between the West and the Congo, she realizes that such relationships are a part of God s plan and must be accepted, not fought. On the other side of the metaphor, the Congo begins as a very unique country, holding its own ancient customs and traditions. As America attempts to bring its imperialism to the Congo, the Congo sees the potential results of allowing such influence and, as a result, fights for its independence. However, the Congo, like Adah, must understand the necessity of such interaction with America, for it is a part of the story, a part of God s plan, and learn not to fight it. Adah is the embodiment of the Congo in The Poisonwood Bible, and the politics involving the Congo are seen through her. Essentially, this is the political issue confronted in the text of The Poisonwood Bible: the value of preservation of national individualism as opposed to the necessity of progress as a result of imperialism.
Aull, Felice. Kingsolver, Barbara The Poisonwood Bible. 17 May 2000: n.pag. On-line. Internet. 8 Oct. 2000. Available WWW: http://endeaver.med.nyu.edu/lit-med/lit-med-db/webdocs/webdescrips/kingsolver1686-des-.ht .
Forester, Margaret. Way Out of the Congo: The Poisonwood Bible by: Barbara Kingsolver. n.pag. On-line. Internet. 8 Oct. 2000. Available WWW: http://www.litreview.com/reviews/1999/02/FORSTERONKINGSOLVER.html.
Kingsolver, Barbara. The Poisonwood Bible. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1998.