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Politics in Poisonwood Bible

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Maddie Murphy

on 16 December 2013

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Transcript of Politics in Poisonwood Bible

"When a government comes crashing down, it crushes those who were living under its roof" (Kingsolver 163).
"Next to him is a crafty lookin Patrice Lumumba... The magazine is dated February, 18, 1961 Lumumba was already a month dead" (Kingsolver 447).
" In return every grant for foreign aid goes straight to Mobutu himself. We read he's building himself a castle... I open my door and look out, I see a thousand little plank-and-cardboard houses..." (Kingsolver 448) .
" There's nothing like living as a refugee in one's own country to turn a generous soul into a hard little fist" (Kingsolver 501).
Curiously exempt from the Reverend's rules was Methuselah, in the same way Our Father was finding the Congolese people beyond his power. Methuselah was a sly representative of Africa itself, living openly in our household" (Kingsolver 25).
"Not having noticed, for a wife is beneath notice, that is exactly what our mother did when she killed all the chickens" (Kingsolver 30).
"In a burst of light Methuselah opened his wings and fluttered like freedom itself, lifting himself to the top of our Kentucky Wonder vines and the highest boughs of the jungle that will surely take back everything once we are gone"(Kingsolver 44).
"Until that moment I'd thought I could have it both ways: to be one of them, and also my husband's wife. What conceit! I was his instrument, his animal. Nothing more. How we wives and mothers do perish at the hands of our own righteousness. I was just one more of those women who clamp their mouths shut and wave the flag as their nation rolls off to conquer another war. Guilty or innocent, they have everything to lose" (Kingsolver 89).
"These people can't even read a simple slogan: Vote for Me. Down with Shapoopie! An election! Who out here would even know it happened?" (Kingsolver 74).
Since no one can read, every candidate is designated by a symbol. Wisely these men choose to represent themselves with useful things—knife, bottle, matches, cooking pot" (Kingsolver 77).
"Mr. Patrice will be the Prime Minister of the Congo now and it won't be the Belgian Congo anymore, it will be the Republic of Congo. And do you think anybody in this hip town we live in is actually going to notice?" (Kingsolver 79).
The Judges
"...his [Lumumba] loyalty is with his countrymen. He believes in a unified Congo for the Congolese, and he knows that every Katanga diamond from the South can may a teacher's salary in Leopoldville, or feed a village..." (Kingsolver 230).
"He said Devil One was supposed to get his so-called operatives to convince army men to go against Lumumba. Supposedly this Devil One person was going to get one million dollars from the United States to pay soldiers to do that, go against the very person the all elected" (Kingsolver 294)
"Always they say: as good as dead. Pratrice Lumumba. The voice on the radio said it many times. But the name the two men spoke out loud to each other was The President. Not Lumumba. President: Eisenhower, We Like Ike. Eki Ekil Ew. The King of America want a tall, thin man in the Congo to be dead" (Kingsolver 297).
Bel and the Serpent
"Lumumba was taken to Thysville prison...finally beaten so savagely they couldn't return the body to this widow without international embarrassment" (Kingsolver 323).
Jesus Christ lost 11-56" (Kingsolver 334).

Politics in Poisonwood Bible

Lumumba is a hero to most of the Congolese people, but the American powers see the Congo as vulnerable and take the opportunity to gain control. President Eisenhower however worried that he was too communistic. Instead he wanted a leader in charge that would listen to the Western powers wants so they could exploit them for their minerals. Mobutu was the perfect leader for that job, so they had to take Lumumba out of power. We see a really saw a different perspective from Adah, since we got to see the negative and often secret side of American politics. We do not learn about these acts in our history books or on the news, but instead we sweep it under the carpet. Lumumba was the type of country-loving leader the Congo needed, but America did not let that happen. This single act by America held the Congo and it many aspects the Congo will never recover. The Price girls are some of the only people who will ever really understand the evil nature of the American actions towards the Congo.
Maddie Murphy, Aliah Bowman, Sierra Raghunath, Emily Evans
Barbara Kingsolver
Song of Three Children
" No other continent has endured such an unspeakable bizarre combination of foreign thievery and foreign goodwill" (Kingsolver 528).
" Some fellow thinks he's going to be the master of Africa and winds up with his nice European-tailored suit rumpled in a corner..." (Kingsolver 515).

"The flesh of his hands is so deeply sunken the bones of his fingers... they have assumed the shape of everything he stole" (Kingsolver 540)
The enslaved parrot Methuselah, whose flesh has been devoured now by many generations of predators, is forcing his declaration of independence through the mouths of leopards and civet cats" (Kingsolver 540)
The Eyes in the Trees
Orleanna describes the influence that the government has on everyday life in the Congo. After the death of Lumumba, Mobutu would come and gather "taxes" consisting of a ration of food and whatever money that the citizens of the Congo had. This keep the citizens helpless which makes them less likely to rebel and lines the pockets of Mobutu and his regime. This is the result of not having independence within a country, United States took that away from the Congolese, not taking into effect the reactions to their one rash action.
This idea of being a refugee in ones own country is something that Leah touches upon in this section. This quote describes how the land changes and reflects back towards the people. In the Congo, Mobutu's regime is taking over causing for a change in the land and its people due to lack of independence. Leah describes how kind heart can be hardened with a tighter grip of the government. Unlike Kilinga, where families would share food and look out for each others children, the new Congo does not have the luxury. The citizens look out only for themselves because that is all that can be managed. You cannot share food with your neighbor if your children aren't fed first. The lack of resources causes a decrease in kindness and an increase in survival.

This quote shows the danger of being a revolutionary and calling for change as well as the brutality of those who do not approve of the change taking place. The United States government felt the need to interfere to with the governments of other countries only to benefit themselves. They captured Lumumba and shot down independence for their profit. The United States at this time had been exploiting the country for its resources such as diamonds, such as the ones that Axelroot had, gold and uranium. Egocentric America felt the need to shove to the front of the line and put themselves first with no regard who gets killed along with way.
Kingsolver emphasizes how important the idea of closure is to the characters in the novel. It is seen when the mothers morn over the dead bodies of their children and when the Price family returns to the Congo to find Ruth May's grave as well as say goodbye to their mother. The fact that Lumumba's body was so savagely beaten that they could not return it not only is morally wrong but it leaves the widow unable to heal properly. The ones who beat Lumumba were so ashamed of what they had done that they could not reveal the bloodied body.

The second quote describes the ones who fund foreign goodwill as well as foreign thievery who will end up with his "suit rumpled" or their hands dirty. Axelroot gets his hands bloodied when he plans to kill Lumumba. As the reader has seen in the Price family living in the Congo changes many aspects about their family, this quote describes the change that the conquer when through when trying to "tame" Africa. This is similar to the Russian in Heart of Darkness, he went to capture images of the land and ended up becoming an inhabitant of it and loosing his first world mentality and lifestyle.
No matter how civilized you are or how educated you are, in order to get to be apart of the land you have to cultrally adapt, get your elbows dirty in order to be successful in the Congo, focusing on the idea that nothing can happen without hard work out towards it. This is seen within the Price family when they first start planting their garden, Nathan was unable to adapt, to metaphorically take off his suit, leaving his garden unsuccessful.
Foster in
How to Read Literature like a Professor
touches on sickness and how it reflects a persons morality. Kingsolver uses Mobutu's sickness to reveal how his actions have been reflected into his death. His corrupt nature has caused him to rot from the inside out. His morality is shown through his fatal disease. Also in this passage, Kingsolver describes the gold rings that fall of his dead fingers. This represents all that he stole from the Congo and its people now falling to the floor, useless, taken for no good reason.
Methuselah, again being used as a symbol for the Congo, is stripped down to his bones in his death. Similarly, the Congo has been stripped of its resources and exposed to the European predators that have enslaved her. Now, after Mobutu's oppressive regime, it is time for the Congo to rise up like a Phoenix from its ashes.
Methuselah is a symbol of the Congo politically. He has been in bondage (his cage) for all of this time, then he decide to let him free. When he becomes free, Methuselah does not know how to function or live in the world. This is because he has spent his whole life depending on somebody else. He is doomed because he cannot fend for himself, so even after he is released he stays near to the house. When first given freedom, the reader is hopeful that he will finally be free. However, we see that he eventually dies.
Just like Methuselah, the Congo is politically doomed. When they first get freedom, everyone is hopeful for a brighter future. However, we see that they are unable to function on their own since they are are used to being in bondage for such a long time. Even though they are technically free, they will always depend on Western powers. This dependence will eventually bring about the failure of the politics in the Congo, because they are vulnerable. Other stronger countries see this vulnerability and kill the hopes of freedom in the Congo.
Throughout the novel, we see how patriarchal the society, especially how Nathan treats his wife and daughters. We get the notion that Nathan always wanted a son, and he does not think his daughters or wife are capable of being educated. Nathan always saw himself above his wife, not as her equal. So every time she has an original idea, he disregards it. If he decides to do what she said, he will claim all rights to the idea.
In the politics of the Price Family, Nathan is the head with all of the other girls following his lead. Orleanna takes responsibility because she never stood up for herself. We see the patriarchy of their house affect the decisions they make. When everybody wants to leave but Nathan wants to stay, they stay. As the story progresses, we see a rebellion against Nathan continue to come together with Orleanna as the leader. As he loses power, we see Nathan start to go insane and find other ways of power. This desire to baptize and lead people brings to his ultimate destruction.
International Relations
This portion of
Poisonwood Bible
is Nathan's biggest smack in the face as he sees how his actions have backfired on him. Nathan campaigns for Jesus to win the election, but as seen in the quote, He loses. The American mentality is to push democracy onto other countries, which is again what the Price family does, only if it is in their favor. Even though the Congolese have adopted their form of democracy, Nathan is still unhappy with it. This is when Nathan's hypocritical nature is seen most because he gets angry when Jesus loses the fair democratic vote.
This passage creates a comparison between the voting system of the Congolese and the American based voting system that the Price family is accustomed to. The voting amongst the Congolese is simple; people come prepared with there stones at a set location and place there stones in the basket of there choice. There isn't any election speeches or campaigns, the votes are cast based off of past opinions and actions.
Government Influence
Death of Lumumba
With the death of Lumumba everything changed for the Price family, not only did they loose Ruth May on the very same day, it was their last moment united as a family for the next decades to come. The Congo and its' citizens became uplifted with the thought of independence and soared high with delight only to be brought down by Mobutu, the United States and Devil One.
The horrific information gap between the United States and the reality in the Congo is seen in this passage. It's sad that such a prominent leader such a Lumumba who fought hard for independence. The United States citizens had not heard about his death because it did not pertain to them, much like Rachel. His death was not clearly in front of their faces, so why pay attention? Ignorance is the issue that is seen in this passage. It is also the United States showing a blind eye to the crimes that they have committed. President Eisenhower would have been one of the first people informed of Lumumba's death, yet the American public still did not know that he was death a month later.
Orleanna finally admits that she has never had the power in her family, she has simply chosen to let Nathan choose everything for her. Her and her children are the ones risking everything because they let him win. Orleanna could never be anything more than Nathan's wife as long as she lived under his roof. However, the more and more she comes to terms with how she has let Nathan control her, she becomes more independent.
Even at the conclusion of the story, we see Orleanna struggling. She regrets all the decisions she made with Nathan, but yet she is glad to have all of her daughters. She realizes the danger in being a subservient wife who does who there husbands tell them to do. While she has become stronger than she was, Orleanna let Nathan control her for such a long time that she can never fully recover or be independent like she was.
The Election
As American citizens who are just gaining their right to vote, it is easy to find the description of elections in the Congo humorous. We have fancy computer screens with lists of names to choose from. On the other hand, they simply choose a candidate by their given household item and place a rock in that bowl. We see such a lack of communication between towns that it seems silly in the first place to have elections if nobody can communicate long distances. However poorly set up however, this election is a foreboding sign of the future. The Congolese do not know how to have an election for themselves, all they know is that if you want to be "free" you have elections. These people can barely read, they certainly cannot understand the rules of an election. Since they have always been ruled by someone else, how could they possibly just come up with an idea for the rules of an election.
Another huge problem with the elections, is that it is hard for people to care about the changing of the name of their country when people are trying to survive. Orleanna does not even know about the political crisis with Lumumba because she is trying to feed her family and maybe find a way to escape. People in the Congo have a lot bigger worries and elections seem far too foreign and complicated for them to be significant to the native people. It is not that the people do not like the idea of voting, but more that if they are not doing it correctly or if they do not have proper procedures in place it will fail. Especially since they are hundreds and hundreds of years begind when other countries had their first elections.
Adah speaks of balance often, not only in terms of her crooked spine but in terms of Africa itself claiming that for one life lost there is one that is gained. This quote touches on the balance between thievery and goodwill. A balance of both creates a stagnant country with no growth. The foreign goodwill that is given to the Congo is used to line the pockets of the corrupt and wealthy encouraging foreign thievery. It creates a vicious cycle that is only broken when a new uncorrupt leader takes charge.
It is ironic that the goodwill and thievery is given by the same country. American families such as the Price's go to Congo to better the country and have a goal in mind for what they want to change. The foreign thievery comes into play when the reader is introduced to characters such as Axelroot, Eisenhower and Mobutu. The United States came to Congo to meddle with the Congolese way of life.
The Eyes in the Trees
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