In the novel Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver, the reader gets to experience two separate cultures, American and Congolese, simultaneously. Many large cultural clashes take place, from religious views to clothing choice.
My Perspective…As a teenager growing up in Illinois, it is interesting to see how the American missionary family, the Prices, is adapting to the very foreign Congolese culture. There are many opportunities as a reader to ask how I would respond in certain situations. One large difference was the clear distinction between the way the Prices raise their kids and the way that the children in the Congo are raised.
My friend Jenna posted a blog about this quote from the novel: “It struck me what a wide world of difference there was between our sort of games… and [a native boy‘s]… I could see that the whole idea and business of Childhood was nothing guaranteed… [It is] invented by white people and stuck onto the front end of a grown-up life like a frill on a dress” (Kingsolver 114). I think the discrepancies in the definition of childhood should be explored, and I think Poisonwood Bible provides the perfect context.
The Prices have 4 girls when they venture to Africa and one of them dies while they are there. Kingsolver spent a lot of time throughout the book developing the differences in the Price children compared to those of the Congolese; the games the kid’s play, the chores they do, and the clothes they wear. Also, every few chapters, there was the telling of another Congolese funeral (if you could call it that) for their children. Kingsolver uses very descriptive and sensory rich language to describe the mourning. Until the point when one of the Price daughters dies, this American family had seemed immune to the dark side of Africa. However, once she dies, the mother mourns in a similar way as the Congo women, and although it is a very sad part, it exemplifies the vulnerability of ALL children. It finally brings the Price children onto the same level as the Congo children.
This made me question, which cultures method for raising children is correct?
In America, by the time a child is 17 parents have spent about $200,000 on them. Factor in college tuition, and the cost of a child is astronomical. Here is a link to an article that talks more about the cost of raising a kid. In Western society, childhood is a time to be innocent, to be worry free, go to school, explore hobbies, and to think that you have all the opportunities in the world ahead of you. Although very different, the Congolese childhood promotes responsibility, independence, and resourcefulness. Is one better than the other?
Because the Congo is very different than America, comparing the childhoods is like comparing apples and oranges. However, the Poisonwood highlights some chilling differences that no child should have to experience. In one passage, a young Congolese girl says she is leaving school. When asked why she says to work at night with Mother. It is then stated that that entails being a prostitute. She is about ten.
The only similarity that these two cultures seem to share is the fact that both childhoods try to prepare the kids for adulthood. It is a vicious cycle for the Congolese, because although these children are taught to survive, they are not taught how to thrive and how to make a better life for themselves. Girls often get pregnant young; miss out on an education, and then get married (usually before they are eighteen.) The society does not know how to function outside of those parameters and that is why education is vital in areas like these. Here is one telling example of the impact of education:
“Women with primary education are significantly less likely to be married/in union as children than those who received no education. In Zimbabwe, 48 per cent of women who had attended primary school had been married by the age of 18, compared to 87 per cent of those who had not attended school (UNICEF estimates based on DHS 1999).” (For more interesting facts from UNICEF, go here!)
This is a very telling fact, and it leads me back to education and its importance. Education fosters excitement, exploration, questioning, and discovery. Can anyone argue the benefits that that would bring to a society? Imagine how much third world countries would prosper if education was accessible and promoted to all.