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Essay about Interpretation of "The Poisonwood Bible" in the Humanities

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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, ...


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...contradictions within Strehle’s article and the novel leave gaps that must be filled in. Readers can effectively say that American exceptionalism is a dominant theme in The Poisonwood Bible, however themes such as guilt, imperialism, homeland comfort, and family issues lead the reader to believe that the novel cannot be summed up in the narrow topic of American exceptionalism as Strehle suggests.



Works Cited
"Altruism." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2008. Merriam-Webster Online.
27. Mar. 2011.
Kingsolver, Barbara. The Poisonwood Bible: a Novel. New York: Harper Flamingo, 1998. 18+. Print.
Strehle, Susan. "Chosen People: American Exceptionalism in Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible." Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 49.4 (2008): 413-428. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 27 Mar. 2011.


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