What kinds of captivity and freedom does Kingsolver explore in The Poisonwood Bible?

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Two of the many kinds of captivity Kingsolver explores in The Poisonwood Bible, a novel of impressive sweep, are the captivity of one's preconceived ideas and the captivity of poverty.

Nathan Price arrives in Kilanga in the Congo as a Baptist preacher and becomes the captive of his inability...

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Two of the many kinds of captivity Kingsolver explores in The Poisonwood Bible, a novel of impressive sweep, are the captivity of one's preconceived ideas and the captivity of poverty.

Nathan Price arrives in Kilanga in the Congo as a Baptist preacher and becomes the captive of his inability to change his ideas or bend to the realities of his new home. He is a captive of survivor's guilt from living through the Battaan Death March in World War II, and this makes him rigid. He wants to impress the "natives" with the superiority of his own culture in order to convert them, but he only bemuses them, such as when he dynamites the river to impress them with the number of fish he can kill. His lack of ability to communicate in the native language symbolizes his inability to communicate in general. His captivity to his own ideas makes him an ineffectual minister and father. Rachel, who is most like her father, also becomes a captive of American ideology, including keeping up a happy face, and a captive of her own emotional scars, isolated and limited in her fine American hotel.

Leah, in contrast, becomes liberated from the narrow-mindedness that holds her father captive, but, especially after her marriage to Anatole, becomes the captive of African poverty. She won't take advantage of her white privilege and so lives as the native Africans do. Through Leah, white audiences get a strong sense of how hunger and lack of protein can come to preoccupy and limit a life.

Adah Price, like the many maimed Africans who don't have the protections commonplace to more privileged peoples, transcends the captivity of her body's limitations, and as Kingsolver shows, develops her mind and soul. While she never underrates poverty or disability as a form of captivity, Kingsolver points to narrow-mindedness as possibly the worst captivity.

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Another way capitivity and freedom is represented is in the form of physical deformity.  Adah is deformed and in the USA she is the object of scrutiny for her deformity...she is trapped in a body that will not perform to her orders.  In the Congo, however, everyone has some sort of deformity as a byproduct of life.  Their neighbor lost her legs in a fire and scoots around on her behind using her arms as most use their legs.  Because of this, Adah feels "free" here.  The only reason people stare at her here is because she is white...not because of her deformity.

Also, Methuselah, the parrot, is freed from his cage where he had lived through three missionary families.  However, because he had been in the cage for so long, he never leaves the area.  It is as if he has forgotten how to fly.  He lives in the nearby tree by day and the latrine by night until the cat kills and eats him, thus "freeing" him from life in the Congo.

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Captivity and freedom is shown in two ways. First, it's shown in how Nathan treats the Africans, representing what happens when one country imposes its beliefs on a foreign culture. It's also shown in how Nathan treats his family. Both situations reflect the theme of free will.

Nathan tries to force his beliefs of Christianity upon the villagers, but he never attempts to understand their culture. He misuses their language and sees them all as heathens. He never considers things from their perspective. He represents the corruption of America's colonization and its participation in overthrowing governments for their own interests. The villagers are able to resist Nathan because they've already established their spiritual and cultural views.

Nathan's family is held captive because he controls their lives. He's never allowed them to establish a strong sense of themselves outside of the family. The freedom of his wife and daughters comes at a very high price. Orleanna, his wife, finally gathers enough courage to break away from Nathan when her daughter Ruth dies. Leah becomes independent when she joins Anatole and stays in Africa. Adah eventually rejects her cynical views and feels sympathy for the poverty-stricken lives of the natives.

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