Date of Award

5-2014

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

English

First Advisor

Tamika Carey

Second Advisor

Bret Benjamin

Third Advisor

Ineke Murakami

Abstract

Effective colonial regimes have employed language to control and incapacitate their colonial subjects. However, anti-colonialist and Africanist authors have conversely used language as a significantly powerful tool in resisting colonial and neo-colonial discourses. Despite this subversive sentiment in contemporary literature about Africa, many scholars criticize Western authors, in particular, for their works about African nations, peoples, and struggles, noting their tendencies to generalize about a diverse continent, to project Western paradigms onto African contexts, and to disregard their own associations with colonial governments. Barbara Kingsolver’s 1998 novel The Poisonwood Bible has received much critical attention as a work that deplores Belgian and American colonial and imperialist actions in the Congo. Contrary to the aforementioned criticism, scholars have largely lauded Kingsolver’s condemnation of religious and white supremacist dogmatism, her intertwining narrative voices, and her larger political allegory, among other aspects of the novel. However, they have often failed to fully call into question the novel’s major shortcomings. By performing a rhetorical analysis of varying linguistic registers—or varieties of language usage—in the novel, I argue that Kingsolver succeeds in suggesting a method for subverting Western discourses in privileging the Congolese language at play in her novel and in constructing American characters that confront their complicity. However, Kingsolver’s cultural inaccuracies and attempted identifications between her American and African characters often undermine her more subversive moves. A closer examination of language in The Poisonwood Bible will allow writers and readers alike to more successfully problematize dominant Western discourses.

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