Methods of Character Development in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible

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Methods of Character Development in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible

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The Poisonwood Bible Essay

When used correctly, an author’s words can be instrumental in the growth and empathy associated with a character. Skilled authors use a variety of literary techniques and vocabulary to differentiate between each individual they use in their story. In her novel The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver uses a multitude of methods to establish the personalities of Ruth May, Leah, Adah, Rachel, and Orleanna Price.

The youngest of the four Price sisters, Ruth May is portrayed throughout The Poisonwood Bible as an innocent, unknowing soul. Kingsolver uses Ruth May’s thoughts and words to establish this quality. Ruth May constantly tells the reader of theories and superstitions that have been passed down to her by her parents. It is evident that she believes what they say and acts accordingly. Ruth May never quotes people directly; she simply relays what they say in her own voice, sometimes twisting it with her own perspective. What is told from Ruth May’s perspective is a softened version of the truth. Ruth May, being as young as she is, still has the tendency to glorify people; she does not see the bad intentions people like her father have. Often, she thinks with improper grammar, showing the reader that her intellect is less developed than that of her older siblings.

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The character whose overall demeanor and perspective is affected the most by her life in the Congo is Leah Price. Leah exudes a general caring for humankind, though it takes her the majority of the novel to find a way to show this. In the beginning of the story, Leah is submissive to her father. She believed whole-heartedly in the words he spoke and actions he took, and did not dispute his reasoning. As the novel progresses, Leah loses faith in her father and her religion and begins to see things in a different light. Leah speaks with an intelligent dialect; she uses large words that complement her “gifted” talents.

Leah’s twin sister, Adah is a very distinct character in The Poisonwood Bible. Because of her disability, Adah Price sees things much differently than her family. Even before arriving in the Congo, Adah is skeptical toward her religion and all of the people around her. When Adah speaks to the reader, she uses poetic language. Her words rhyme, or blend together, describing everything she sees in her new home. Adah has a tendency to look at things in a backwards way, separating her thought process from others. She views things more literally than her sisters, seeing the truth rather than the façade made by their father. Adah often speaks in the third person, showing another aspect in her backwards way of thinking. She feels betrayed by her life and family. She expresses this by doing things her own way and ignoring the words of others.

Rachel is the eldest of the Price sisters. During her time in the Congo, Rachel feels personally victimized by the awful conditions and the people living there. Through her words, it is easy to tell that Rachel does not enjoy her life there. She holds sarcastic, mocking thought toward all people, acting as though she is superior to everyone. Often, she will make up offensive nicknames for people she meets. Her sentences are short and pessimistic and her thoughts mainly revolve around herself. Even after Rachel has seen her own sister die, her mind continues to explore how she could have befallen the same fate. Her views do not change as the novel comes to a close, and Rachel is the only character who does not voice her guilt for her actions in Africa as a youth.

Orleanna is the mother of the four sisters. At different points in the novel, Orleanna gives the reader her opinions of the events in the Congo. When Orleanna speaks to the reader, she expresses her wrongdoings and her guilt. She uses metaphors to describe how she feels, and give herself a way to connect what is going on in her life with what other have done in the past. Orleanna questions herself constantly, wondering if what she has done is the right thing. She often gives alternate situations in which she made the right decisions. She finds horror and revelation in little things that would otherwise go unnoticed. At first, Orleanna views her submission as necessary, but as the situation grows worse, she realizes that she has made mistakes.

In conclusion, Barbara Kingsolver adequately uses literary devices and phrasing in The Poisonwood Bible to define her characters and their growth. A reader can easily identify with each character and form opinions of their own based on Kingsolver’s talented writing.

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