Cultural Collision – Changes in Leah’s Identity
In the historical fiction drama The Poisonwood Bible Barbara Kingsolver illustrates major development in culture through the use of vivid flashbacks, graphic imagery, and specific framework structure, demonstrating that a culture shock was inevitable because in the Congo the natives “boil us in a pot and eat us up” (Kingsolver 1). Kingsolver uses these tactics to display the change in identity Leah encounters throughout the course of the novel.
Primarily, Barbara Kingsolver utilizes flashbacks in order to tell the story of each of the girl’s experiences in the Congo. The readers were able to gain a more in depth understanding of the true feelings of the girls’ because of the utilization of the flashbacks. The readers got first-hand information about what Leah thought during all of her time in the Congo. It was very clear to see that Leah is the character who adjusted the best to all of their time in the Congo, regardless of any feelings of uncertainty she may have had in the beginning. At first, she was just like the other daughters who were unsure of what to do in their unfamiliar territory but it became evident that Leah had been the most well-adjusted. Everything was completely different in Africa than it was in America so there was a lot of adaptation that had to be done. When living in America, Leah was expected to do several things and that is what she did. She was expected to listen to her father and to praise God. She was the daughter who had the most dedication to her father and his service, which makes it that much more ironic that she was the first daughter to break away. However, when she came to the Congo and became more individualistic, her beliefs were called into question. Leah began to think for herself and realize that there were people out there who had a different set of values than her father. Due to this realization, she was the character who adjusted the most in these conditions because she was able to change. Leah was able to adapt and accept other people for what they are and that is not something the other characters had such an easy time with as as fast as Leah. Furthermore, imagery has been a major literary device throughout the whole novel. The readers were able to imagine each situation as if the readers were experiencing it themselves. Because of the graphic imagery, the readers had the opportunity to take part in the beginning of Leah’s defiance: The refusal to vote with the church. Leah had always been toting to Nathan, she did whatever was expected of her and had the closest relationship with her father. The moment that Leah did not take part in standing with God in church was a defining moment for her identity. She started to develop her own views outside of what Nathan wanted. Back in America, she lived around people who always went to church and had no problem blindly devoting to this God that everyone spoke of. She no longer had the sense of security with religion that she once felt. After having lived in the Congo and experiencing how the Congolese people see religion, she realized that having the same religion complex as Nathan might not be the way for her. And for that, she has changed.
Lastly, Barbara Kingsolver’s use of framework structure in her novel The Poisonwood Bible illustrates how much the girls have changed over the course of the novel. The readers were able to see the major change in Leah because of the way she spoke about her father. She started to develop a strong friendship with Anatole and picked up on some Congolese words and traditions. The major turning point was when she went against Nathan. Because of the framework structure, the readers were able to see a lot of characterization happening with Leah at this time. Firstly, Leah’s thoughts and actions were revealed first-hand in her sections from the first point of view. Then, the readers saw how the situation was told a little differently from the other daughters’ point of view. Because the same situation was told by all of the daughters’ views, it was beneficial for the audience in the sense that the story was not biased from Leah’s point of view. Leah could have embellished the story and made it a little more dramatic but the framework structure allowed the readers to make sure it was an accurate representation of the encounter between Leah and Nathan.
On the whole, there were many factors that contributed to Leah’s extreme change in identity due to a different environment and culture. Leah came to the Congo with a cautious, yet open mind which eventually allowed her development in personality. Overall, Barbara Kingsolver used Leah as an example to show the audience how much a person can change when placed in a different environment. She used vivid flashbacks, graphic imagery, and specific framework structure in order to show just how much Leah changed over the course of the novel.
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