What is the author's style in The Poisonwood Bible? Can you give examples of that style?

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beateach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The style of writing in the Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver involves the rather unique style of using five different narrators of varying ages each telling the story from their first person point of view. This style brings interest and depth to both the plot and characterizations in the novel which is divided into books. Each book begins with Orleanna Price, the mother peering back while narrating the chapter as she reflects on a particular time in the family’s journey with her point of view. The other four narrators are Oleanea’s daughters Ruth May, Adah, Rachel and the oldest, Leah, who, early in the book range from five years old to seventeen. They mature throughout the book which gives each of them a unique outlook on the events of the journey, living conditions, and emotions in each chapter, which unlike their mother, they tell in real-time.

Early in Book 1 Orleanna gazes back over the years saying, "I could have been a different mother, you'll say. Could have straightened up and seen what was coming, for it was thick in the air all around us."

Leah, the oldest, talks about her future, "when I am a grown-up American lady with a backyard garden of my own. I shall tell all the world the lessons I learned in Africa."

Rachel, speaks with her teenage perspective talking about missing boys saying, "Which I guess just goes to show you how unaccustomed to the male species I have become."

Adah shows her exasperation with the family’s life by saying, "I never much imagined myself as a woman grown, anyway, and nowadays especially it seems a waste of imagination."

Ruth May in her five year old voice speaks to her understanding of life’s problems by seeking divine intervention, "I was bad, sometimes I prayed for Baby Jesus to make me good, but Baby Jesus didn't."

Each character gives the reader a different mindset, during the same time frame in the family’s life.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Kingsolver uses first-person narratives to provide different accounts of the events in the novel. Each narrator brings his or her own perspective to the telling of the story, creating the need for the reader to piece together the reality of what happened. For example, Orleanna Price, writing many years after the events occurred, states in her first narrative, "Be careful. Later on you'll have to decide what sympathy they deserve" (page 5), speaking about her family. The reader is alerted to the reality that there are multiple ways to interpret the actions of Orleanna Price and her family in the Congo. 

Later, Ruth May, the youngest daughter, provides the experiences and insights of a young child experiencing a new culture for the first time. She says, for example, "In Sunday school Rex Minton said we better not go to the Congo on account of the cannibal natives would boil us in a pot and eat us up" (page 21). Her perspective allows the reader to understand the unadulterated biases of a white family experiencing life in the Congo. 

In addition, Kingsolver uses a great deal of biblical allusions, or references to the Bible, in the book. For example, each section of the book has the name of a book from the Bible. There are biblical allusions throughout the narrative. For example, when they are in church, the congregation's singing of hymns with different words and tunes is described as a "Tower of Babel" (page 72).

teachertaylor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Poisonwood Bible, the most prominent aspects of style employed by Kingsolver are the manipulations in narrative voice.  Each chapter in the novel is told by one of five characters:  Orleanna Price, Leah, Adah, Rachel, and Ruth May.  Kingsolver develops a unique voice for each one by using specific diction, syntax, and changes in grammar.  For example, Adah is very perceptive and intelligent, so Kingsolver uses this trait in the development of Adah's voice.  Adah says, "To amuse my depraved Ada self during homework time I wrote down that quote from memory on a small triangular piece of paper and passed it to Leah. . . ."  Adah's use of language suggests her perceptive nature.  Kingsolver does this for the other four narrators as well, and this is a prominent feature in her writing style.

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The Poisonwood Bible

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