Scriptural Influence and Creative Response: Robert Alter’s Theory of Reading Applied to Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible
For an author previously dedicated to depicting the modern-day southwestern United States in simple and inspiring stories ofpersonal identity, a political novel set in the 1960’s African Congo and employing an intricate narrative structure was startlingly unexpected. The name Barbara Kingsolver was already known in the literary world after her successful first novel The Bean Trees, published in 1988. Four novels later, critics and writers had already deemed Kingsolver’s fiction predictable, concerned with the “commonfolk” and the “ordinary,” consistently applying “motifs of departure and return” (Litovitz). However, this Arizona writer with a graduate degree in biology stripped off the stereotype and made her name forever distinct with the publication of The Poisonwood Bible in 1998. As a young girl, Kingsolver spent two years in the Congo with her family. Reflecting upon this experience, Kingsolver wished to demonstrate how differently the world and the people in it appeared after she had returned to the United States. What she produced in this endeavor was a New York Times best-selling, Oprah’s book-club worthy novel, acclaimed by many for its historicity, voice, and narrative structure. Post-colonial and feminist critics eagerly delved into the world of a masochistic, evangelical preacher and his struggle to westernize the savage Congo jungle. However, despite the explicit mention of “Bible” even in the novel’s title, few critics have explored the important biblical implications of Kingsolver’s work.