The Poisonwood Bible


The poisonwood Bible is a novel written by Barbara Kingsolver during 1998. The author deploys the use of the contextual complexities of the family set up to pass across her major themes in the book. The principal focus is the clash of cultures whereby the author goes ahead to describe the first hand experiences of the family members of Mr. Price, who had arrived in Congo during 1959 on a missionary work (Fulkerson 12). At this time there were intense political upheavals in the Republic of Congo. Orleanna Price and the four daughters of the Mr. Price family are faced with the challenge of coping up with the harsh conditions in Congo, while their father, Mr. Nathan Prices succumbs to madness during his actions of trying to convince the inhabitants of Congo villages to practice the doctrines of Christianity. The troubles that the Mr. Price family is facing is so intense that it reached to a life threatening level due to the fact that the Congolese were fighting for their independence from two colonial powers, Belgium and the United States of America. The author manages to integrate the colonial politics in the context of the family set up in order to bring his key themes of the book (Hamilton and Jones 56). This essay researches on the theme of the western cultural superiority in the Poisonwood Bible.

The Poisonwood Bible narrates the political upheaval that rocked Congo during the 60s and later times. The theme of western cultural superiority is one of the fundamental themes evident in the plot development of the novel, in the sense that many other themes can be drawn from the development of the theme of western cultural superiority (Kingsolver par. 6). Western cultural superiority, in the context of the Poisonwood Bible, can be defined as the arrogance of the culture of the western countries with respect to the cultures of the Congolese. The theme of western superiority can be highlighted by a critical analysis of the overall perceptions of the western ideologies towards the African traditions, and an analysis of the character actions in the novel. The cultural arrogance of the west in the Poisonwood can be described as an ardent indictment associated with the western colonialism and the durations after the period of colonialism. Nathan Price is the principal driver of the theme of western cultural superiority as evident in his actions and perceptions towards African religious views (Linda 88). Nathan motive, as developed in the plot of the novel, was to overturn the religious traditions of the Congolese people and have them replaced by his views on what religion should entail. Almost all the non-African characters in the book portrayed some element of western cultural superiority in their actions. For instance, Lea’s preliminary certainty in the activities of her father and negative perceptions of Africa, each of the character portrayed in the book have some element of confidence that their coming to Africa was meant to bring a superior way of life to the inhabitants of the continent. The western attitudes are presented through the wife and daughters of Mr. Price, who is the chief character in fostering the aspect of superiority of the western culture. Nathan’s attitude towards the Congolese people can be seen as cultural arrogance and a misunderstanding of the West towards the African way of life (Thomas 56).

Western hegemony is one of the principal themes in the Poisonwood Bible. The western cultural superiority aspect can be viewed from two fundamental aspects, whereby the author explores the theme from a local level and at the political level. At the local level, the author poses a debate concerning the merits associated with the identification of the western perceptions on religion and integrating them into the African cultures. These differences between the African approach to the religion and the western ideologies on the same are greatly evident on Mr. Nathan Price struggles on imposing the doctrines of Christianity on the Congolese villagers. On the other hand, the Congolese villages perceive the aspect of religion in a more practical manner as opposed to mere preaching, that was being done by Mr. Price. A typical scenario of the practicality concept of African religion is depicted by how the people of Kilanga decide on the gods that they worship depending on the effectiveness of the gods protection from diseases, floods and any other disasters. Mr. Price cannot seem to have an understanding of the religious views of the Congolese, especially due to the fact that the Congolese villages perceive the matters of food and survival are being of ultimate importance compared to what Mr. Nathan refers to as eternal life (Thomas 67). The superiority of the western culture is evident in this case because Nathan overlooks the religious concepts of the Congolese villagers and aims at converting them to adapt the doctrines of Christianity. According to Mr. Price, this approach to religion is vague. Nathan is portrayed to be ignorant of his present context, and he proceeds to preach what is morally and religiously right according to him, what Nathan does not take into account are the underlying conditions that the Africans are facing that have an effect on their perceptions of what true religion is, that is, the god that tends to their needs. At the political level, the author provides an overview of the superiority of the western methods of governance in the traditional African context, despite the fact the African are not ready for such systems of governance. The Congolese people are accustomed to the rich cultures and traditions that are passed on from generation to generation, and that is what keeps them going. The Congolese find it difficult to adapt to a democratic system, whereby the majority are given an opportunity to rule, while the opinions of the minority population are not put into consideration (Hamilton and Jones 89). The outcome of these differences due to western homogeneity is the increase in the levels of dictatorships as the United States and Belgium force their way to have control of Congo, while the Congolese are resisting such attempts in order to gain independence. The help of the western cultural superiority in the Poisonwood Bible is when the United States government felt that they were entitled to assassinate the Congo’s president, and replace him with their own puppet ruler. This openly denotes the way in which the western colonial powers perceived cultures and governance system of the Africans as ineffective, and thus they have an entitlement to deploy their systems of governance, which they perceive as superior to the people of Congo (Kingsolver par. 4).

As a critique to the western ways of life, the author introduces Brother Fowles, a character that the author uses to criticize the perceptions that the western way of life is more superior to others. Fowles represents an alternate approach to religion in the sense he acknowledges that the Congolese are more religious, only that it is usually hard to notice. In addition, Fowles is a representation of pantheism, holding the view that all creatures have the same divinity, and that the Congolese are divine in their own way. The difference between Brother Fowles perceptions towards religion and that of Nathan Price brings out the theme of western superiority. According to Nathan Price, Christianity is based on the aspect of the Protestant work ethic established by social theorist Max Weber, who suggested that Protestantism focused on working for salvation (Linda 89). This approach differed with the African approach to religion in the sense that working for salvation was not a key requirement, a theory that Nathan Price deployed during his preaching’s. Therefore, Nathan can be perceived to have undermined the aspect of pantheism associated with the African religion, while perceiving his approaches to religion as being superior to the African views on religion. At the end of the book, Leah and Anatole pose their imaginations regarding how Africa would be if the Europeans had not explored the continent, according to them they perceive Africa as being characterized by an economic utopia. This economic ideal was the state of affairs at the Kilanga area, where the Price family had resided, however, the western ideologies coupled with the colonial rule shattered this economic system (Linda 91).

Another way to view the theme of western cultural superiority in the Poisonwood bible is to analyze the struggle for religion in the African context. As a fact, Christianity did not receive a favorable welcome from the Congolese villages because it was perceived to be a religion that suited the ways of life for the western people. The religious struggles are depicted when Nathan Price attempts to introduce the religious ideologies of the west in the Congolese context. This struggle is further evident by a language misunderstanding of Mr. Nathan Price that results to his shifting of the blame to his interpreter. The underlying argument is that Christianity was not suited to meet the needs of the Congolese villagers, and despite this, Nathan could not stop at his quest to introduce western religious aspects such as his attempt to baptize children in a river that is well known to be full of crocodiles. Such an ordeal serves to undermine the African needs at the expense of trying risky ventures for the sake of fostering western religions on the people of Congo (Kingsolver par. 6).


The theme of western cultural superiority to other cultures has been evident almost in every plot development of the novel. The author presents this theme by focusing from a religious and political perspective, whereby Nathan Price’s objective was to overturn the aspects of African traditions without having a critical analysis of the needs of the African people. The political perspective of the theme is fostered by the colonial powers in their quest to change the government and the economic system of the people of Congo. Despite the cultural differences, most of the characters in the book opted to adapt to the African way of life, contrary to upholding the western culture, which did not seem to blend well in the African context

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