The Poisonwood Bible Questions and Answers
by Barbara Kingsolver

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In The Poisonwood Bible, how does Kingsolver use diction and syntax to create a unique voice for each of the five female characters?

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Susie Cochrane eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The novel is told from five points of view—Orleanna Price, the mother, and her four daughters: Ruth May, Leah, Adah, and Rachel. The chapter headings are marked accordingly, but the uniqueness and strength of the "voices" means that we could recognize them without being told, which is why Kingsolver is able to start chapters "in medias res" (a literary term that means "in the middle of things") without confusing us.

The individuality of these characters is demarcated through their diction (the words they use) together with the syntax (sentence structure) Kingsolver employs. For example, Orleanna uses sophisticated words and metaphors and longer, complex and compound sentences, unlike Ruth May, Leah, and Rachel. Orleanna looks back at her terrible experiences in the Congo and says, "I had washed up there on the riptide of my husband’s confidence and the undertow of my children’s needs." Here she uses aquatic metaphors, which suggest something sinister and difficult, for a riptide is...

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