John Howard Griffin's novel, Black Like Me, and Barbara Kingsolver's novel, The Poisonwood Bible, describe journeys made by white Americans into black societies in the early 1960's. Griffin, a white journalist for Sepia magazine, took medication to darken his skin and entered the United States' Deep South to experience the plight of African Americans (Bain 195). His book is a true account of his experiences as a black man. Kingsolver writes of a man who, in many ways, made a similar journey. Nathan Price, a white Baptist missionary in The Poisonwood Bible, moves his wife and four daughters to the Congo of Africa with hopes of spreading the teachings of Christianity and baptizing many. Although Kingsolver's story is fiction, her development of the Congo's history and culture are based on recorded history and her own experiences there as a child (Kingsolver ix). John Griffin and the Price family leave a world in which their race automatically constitutes them with the rights of voice and choice; and discover a world in which those rights are limited.
Being that their professions are journalism and ministry, John Griffin and Nathan Price are accustomed to the use of words, whether written or spoken, to reach out to others and relay information. Once they cross over into the new territories, their abilities to be heard accurately or at all become difficult. In this new setting, Griffin finds the opportunity to speak to a white person does not present itself because it is preceded by a silent language spoken by whites. He first encounters this silent language outside a "Whites Only" restaurant as he is reading the menu in the window. He says, "I looked up to see the frowns of disapproval that can s...
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...e the Congo, for all of Africa, the heart of light" (Kingsolver 184). Through the courage of such leaders to provide a voice, the oppressed blacks in these novels begin to experience liberation from the constraints placed on their rights to make their own choices.
Bain, Robert, Joseph M. Flora, and Louis D. Rubin, Jr., eds. Southern Writers: A Biographical Dictionary. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1979.
Cruse, Harold. Plural but Equal: Blacks and Minorities in America's Plural Society. New York: William Morrow, 1987.
Griffin, John Howard. Black Like Me. New York: New American Library, 1962.
Kingsolver, Barbara. The Poisonwood Bible. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1998.
Williams, Juan. Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Year, 1954-1965. New York: Viking Penguin, Inc., 1987.
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