I am Ruth May Price, My father is a preacher and he has taken us, My mommy, my sisters and I to do missionary work in the Congo. I am only five years old and only know about the world what my daddy has told me. I am afraid of this trip because daddy read to me the bible story of the tribe of Ham. Ham was Noah’s bad son. Daddy said for the sin that Ham committed he and all his descendants have the physical mark of being dark and that a man named Jimmy Crow said that because they were dark and cursed by God we should live separately from them. I think that may be hard when we are surrounded by them. Shortly after we got to our new village I could see what Daddy meant. Oh boy are they wicked; they hardly wear clothes and that according to daddy and his book is wicked. I am wicked too sometimes, daddy tells me so, I try to be good so I don’t end up like Ham.
Dead, living, free, or in prison on the orders of the colonialists, it is not I who counts. It is the Congo, it is our people for whom independence has been transformed into a cage where we are regarded from the outside… History will one day have its say, but it will not be the history that Brussels, Paris, Washington, or the United Nations will teach, but that which they will teach in the countries emancipated from colonialism and its puppets… a history of glory and dignity. ”
— Patrice Lumumba, October 1960
Patrice Lumumba – Head of the Congo Government
In the book of Genesis, regarding Noah’s story, there appears a number of symbols like the rainbow and the dove.
Genesis 6:5-8 reveals that wickedness, evil imaginations and thinking was the condtion of people’s hearts during Noah’s day. God decided to destroy all mankind except Noah and his family.
Independence Day for the Congolese, June 30, 1960; a day of celebration yet all the ‘whites’ are planning to leave the country and their, “…dandy houses with porches and flowery yards on nice paved streets…(Kingsolver: pg.183).” Adah, the disabled daughter of the Baptist pastor has identified a red feather as the symbol for this day of celebration. The feather is considered to mean the ‘truth, which must rise (Symbols: pg. 66)’.
Methuselah, the Parrot
“The parrot left by Brother Fowles serves as a symbol for the doomed Republic of Congo. Methuselah is denied freedom for most of his life, and while he is kept in a cage and fed by his masters, he loses the ability to fend for himself. Even after Nathan liberates him, Methuselah continues to stay close to the house he has always known, dependent on humans for his food. He even sleeps in their latrine at night, for fear of predators. Inevitably, the vulnerable Methuselah is ultimately caught by a civet cat, meeting his doom on the same day that the Republic of Congo begins its own short-lived independence. Within a few months the equally vulnerable nation will also be set upon by a predator, the United States, and killed” http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/poisonwood/themes.html.
We originally wanted to take on the voices of some characters in order to convey the essence of their perspective. It became increasingly difficult to analyse the novel in light of Evil and Its Symbols. We morphed into a hybrid of ideas and paths. How ironic it is that it became difficult to gain a consensus in one direction. Is this not a example of how one’s idea might not be another’s? Does this make one idea better than another?
The Poisonwood Bible.
The story is about a Christian missionary family that go to the Congo and how they deal with the aftermath. Arrogance, guilt, self-righteousness, ethnocentricity and love are some of the main themes.
One of the main themes in Christianity is guilt, the idea of original sin as introduced in the beginning of Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bibile chapter The Genesis – Book One.
This book symbolizes western arrogance over the African culture. From a position or arrogance the westerners actually believe they are doing good. Pastor Price also believes he is doing good. The Price family symbolizes America. They go there to save the souls of the people by ministering to the fallen. It’s an ‘us vs them’ attitude. That is why Preacher Price is becoming so frustrated. He doesn’t understand why the Congolese don’t care to be saved. So he trudges along and does his thing with no evil intent, but with an air of arrogance and ignorance. The end result is an evil result. We can compare this to the Native American issue.
When reading Kingsolver’s Book One: Genesis, the idea of the Bible story Noah’s Ark came to mind. Noah was the saver of good souls. Noah can be compared to Pastor Price. The ‘other’ people who didn’t believe Noah’s flood story, much like the Cogolese, died. God flooded the earth and Noah saved the rightous souls. As in Genesis, Pastor Price is like Noah, a man who demonstrated his faith when everyone around him thought he was crazy.
Ignorance can be seen by what the girls brought to Africa. They brought their worldly goods; cans of deviled ham, a plastic mirror, a stainless steel thimble, a pair of scissors, pencils, band aid’s, Betty Crocker cake mix. These things don’t have any meaning in the Congo in 1959. It is shows how ignorant they are of their surroundings, the ignorance of the realities of the Congo. Pastor Price was ignorant by thinking that all he needed was the Bible to the point of delusion.
Throughout the story an ‘us vs them’ attitude is apparent. Pastor Price’s attitude towards women also is an example of the ‘us vs them’, or ‘othering’ attitude. Pastor Price’s attitude towards women is sexist. He feels that a woman’s place is in the home, being a wife. As well as his reaction towards the bare breasted Congolese women. He states, “They are living in darkness. Broken in body and soul, and don’t even see how they could be healed (Kingsolver: pg: 53).”
The idea of ignorance is also represented in the garden that Pastor Price tries to grow. He can’t understand why the Congolese don’t grow the food to feed their families. As he tell’s his daughter Leah, ‘the Lord helps those that help themselves’. Leah helps him with the garden. They hoed and flattened the soil and planted the seeds. All his clothes were stained with the red mud…’like the blood of a slain beast (Kingsolver: pg:38)! ‘ He is introduced here to the Poisonwood plant. Their Congolese Kilanga helper, Mama Tataba, advises them that this tree bites. He arrogantly shuns her knowledge by not using her idea of making his garden in hills due to the torrential down pours flooding the ground sweeping away anything in their path. He again shows his attitude towards all women.
He refuses to accept his errors in judgement and believes God must be testing him. He blindly moves forward. He gets bitten by the Poisonwood plant and welts appeared all over his body where the sap had touched him. He compares himself to ‘Job’ from the Bible story and notes his perseverance. He feels that he has been “singled out for a life of trial, as Jesus was (Kingsolver: pg:41)”. Again, it’s his ignorance and arrogance that shines through.
He tries saving souls by organizing a Baptism. He finds that the Congo people are adamantly not forthcoming with the idea of being dunked into the river. He feels that they don’t have the interest in being saved, an unwillingness to be washed in the Blood of the Lamb. Only after 6 months of preaching the Baptism she is told by a villager that a little girl from the village had been eaten by a crocodile in the river a year back and that the villagers don’t allow any of the children down to the river.
He finally lets the parrot Methuselah out of his cage. That bird was the reminiscence of Brother Fowles, the missionary who came to Kilanga 6 years ago and who supposedly went crazy and wedded a Congolese villager. Pastor Price’s attitude towards this interracial marriage is of disgust. He calls Brother Fowls a true Catholic! This is to be an insult.