The Poisonwood Bible

by Barbara Kingsolver

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How do the surroundings in The Poisonwood Bible affect Orleanna's character and the overall meaning of the work?

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Barbara Kingsolver's novel The Poisonwood Bible tells the story of the Price family, an American missionary family who take their outreach to the village of Kilanga in the Belgian Congo. Orleanna Price is the wife of Nathan Price and mother of the four Price daughters.

The Price family hails from the state of Georgia, and their conservative Southern American upbringing is exemplified by Orleanna, who is the epitome of the self-sacrificing Christian wife. Orleanna in particular grew up during the Great Depression. At the beginning of the story, she seems to be deferential to her husband and wholly committed to her motherly duties. She even takes on unnecessary responsibility for her family's troubles, blaming Adah's disability on her emotional state during pregnancy and later experiencing guilt over the death of Ruth May as well. In this regard, one could say that the cultural and physical surroundings that Orleanna was born and raised in contributed much to her personality and morality.

However, after the family's experiences in the Congo, Orleanna seems to display more of an independent spirit. Particularly after the death of Ruth May, she begins to exhibit more agency and actively push against her husband's will in order to get her family safely out of Kilanga. This could be interpreted as the result of the change in her cultural and physical environment. Just as her daughter Leah pushed against the gender roles she was raised with in order to join the Kilangan men's hunt, Orleanna, too, seems to be affected by the cultural changes and begins to take action against her husband's increasingly obsessive behavior. The change in culture and space can therefore be read as a catalyst for the change in her character as well.

Orleanna's character development helps to illuminate the meaning of the novel as an exploration of how, although the religion and culture of the Prices were initially viewed as the superior ones—so much so that they felt the need to proselytize about them to the non-Christian inhabitants of the Congo—the characters instead learn much from the religion and culture of Kilanga as well.

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