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Personal and National Paternalism in Barbara Kingsolver's Novels
The etymological relationship between "father" and "homeland" goes back to the Latin words for both: pater (father) and patria (country). Fatherland, Vaterland, patrie... all these words meaning "home country" bring to mind fatherly images. Likewise, the words "patriot" and "patriotic" echo "patriarch", or the grandfatherly head of a family or clan. The drafters of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are lovingly known as the "founding fathers"; first president George Washington is called the "father of our country". Even in the egalitarian twenty-first century, our country is represented in political cartoons by white-bearded Uncle Sam. These linguistic similarities are reflected in Barbara Kingsolver's novels. In Barbara Kingsolver's novels, the paternalism exhibited by fathers towards their daughters is paralleled by the paternalism the United States government shows when dealing with indigenous cultures. In Kingsolver's eyes, arrogance, neglect, and abuse characterize both types of paternalism.
According to Kingsolver, one of the main components of both types of paternalistic relationships is arrogance. Reverend Nathan Price of The Poisonwood Bible is a prime example of the arrogant father. He, a servant of God, seems to think that he is God. This complex is maginified by the fact that the Reverend has a low opinion of the female sex in general, and he makes no exemption for his daughters. Although his twin daughters Leah and Adah were identified as intellectually gifted at an early age, he refuses to send them to college. He compares higher education for women to pouring water into leather shoes--either the water leaks out and is wasted, or the shoes retain the water and are thus ruined. To the Reverend, women are only good for being the servants of men. On occasion, he refers to himself as "the captain of a sinking mess of female minds". (PB 223) In his own eyes, the Reverend Price is the only logical person in his family. This arrogance results in deeply skeptical Adah becoming contemptous of dear old Dad fairly early on in life, and her sisters Rachel and Leah following suit during the family's stay in the Congo. Another of Kingsolver's arrogant paternal figures is Doc Homer Noline of Animal Dreams. Doc Homer, formerly Homero Nolina, belongs to the much-maligned white-trash branch of the Gracela family in his hometown of Grace, Arizona. He falls in love with one of his socially prominent second cousins, Althea. When World War II breaks out, Homero is stationed in Illinois, where he goes to medical school and marries Althea. They returtn back to Grace after Homero renames himself Homer Noline in a futile attempt to erase his past and elevate his social status. He becomes the town doctor, dispensing arrogance allong with penicillin and plaster casts. Out of deeply buried feelings of revenge against his contemptuous cousins, he tells his daughters (who are told that their parents came from Illinois) that they are superior to their peers: "You always just wanted Hallie and me to be above everybody in Grace." (AD 259) For a scientific study, Doc Homer photographs Grace's genetic anomaly--newborns born with almost-white irises--and publishes them in the American Journal of Genetics. "What could be more arrogant than to come back and do a scientific study of your own townspeople, like so many natives in Borneo?" (AD, 284) To Kingsolver, arrogance is an integral part of the paternalism exhibited by fathers.
Kingsolver also makes it clear that the United states government's and society's paternalism towards indigenous peoples is thououghly laced with cultural arrogance. At times she gives the government a direct role. In Pigs In Heaven, Dr. Washington tells Taylor Greer that her Cherokee adopted daughter, Turtle is allergic to milk. Taylor is shocked: "I always thought milk was the great health food." (PH, 377) Dr. Washington then explains that while milk is fine for white people, most non-whites develop lactose intolerance sometime during their lives. Yet the United States government, in its cultural arrogance, keeps pushing milk for everyone. Another way Kingsolver shows American cultural arrogance is through using representitives of middle America. In The Poisonwood Bible, Reverend Price is convinced that the Protestant Christianity that most Americans practice is the only way to achieve spiritual salvation. Thus he tries to convert the village of Kilanga, Congo wholesale--not just to the Baptist faith, but to American norms of behavior. In his opening sermon to the people of the village, he singles out a woman with her breasts exposed (in traditional Congolese fashion) and starts shouting about how nakedness is an abomination to the Lord, thus claiming that American standards of modesty are superior to others. When speaking with the village chief Tata Ndu, he tries to get him to give up his many wives--and refuses to speak to him again when the chief keeps all of them. Reverend Price isn't doing this for purely religious reasons--the former mission chief at Kilanga, Reverend Fowles, had grudgingly tolerated Tata Ndu's polygamy--but to assert the superiority of his society's values over those of Congolese society. Later, when Leah is talking to her Congolese friend Anatole about the United States, she explains to him her father's attitude about Africa: "My father thinks the Congo is just lagging behind and he can help bring it up to snuff..... It's like...putting rubber tires on a horse." Reverend Price is still convinced that American ways are better than Congolese ways--even if American ways won't work in the Congo. Finally, the village holds an election on whether to have Jesus as the personal savior of Kilanga or not. When Jesus loses, eleven to fifty-six, he continues on with his ministry, which is soon abandoned by everyone, including his wife and daughters. He cannot accept the fact that his culture was rejected by what he views as an inferior culture. Reverend Price's own daughter RAchel is a symbol of Western racial arrogance. She ends up in South Africa during apartheid, and rationalizes the rampant discrimination by using arguments from her pre-integration Georgian childhood about white supremacy. When she becomes owner of the Equatorial, a luxury hotel in the French Congo, she institutes racially discriminatory policies . She even hesitates about Leah bringing her African husband--the aforementioned Anatole--to the resort. Of course, Rachel thinks the marriage is unnatural. "I can certainly work with the Africans as well as anybody can, mainly by not leading them into temptation. But to marry one? [...] I can't see how those boys [Leah and Anatole's sons] are any kin to me." (PB, 464) It sounds as if she thinks that dark-skinned persons constitute an entirely different and inferior species from Caucasians, all scientific proof to the contrary. In Kingsolver's work, arrogance is shown as a component of paternalistic relationships on both the personal and cultural level.
Kingsolver also focuses on the neglect the United States gives to indigenous cultures . In The Bean Trees, Estevan and Esperanza are two Guatemalans who are living and working in the United States illegally. When Taylor asks them about the conditions in Guatemala, Estevan tells her that he and Esperanza were once in a teacher's union there. However, the ruling dictator's government shut down the teachers' union and arrested many of its members, torturing them until they gave up information. "In Guatemala City the police use electricity for interrogations. [...] They disconnect the receiver wire [of a telephone] and tape the two ends to your body. To sensitive parts." ( BT, 180) Even worse, Estevan and Esperanza's daughter Ismene was kidnapped by the government . This tragedy would probably be as good a justification as any for giving someone political asylum. However, the government has rejected the couple's applications . According to Maggie, Taylor's boss, an activist for refugees, and the proprietor of the safe house where Estevan and Esperanza stay for several months , the vast majority of applicants from Guatemala and El Salvador are rejected, and the few that receive the precious gift of political asylum are usually the relatives of the dictators themselves. The United States is acting like a classic "deadbeat dad". Another example of the United States' government's ignoring the plight of an indigenous culture, to the point of neglect , is the response to the pollution of the river that runs through Grace in Animal Dreams. The community of Grace is almost a separate culture within the greater American culture, as they have a mostly homogenous gene pool--almost everyone in town is descended from one of the nine Gracela sisters-- and close school on various traditional holidays, such as the Day of the Dead. The Black Mountain mining company has dumped enough sulfuric acid into the river to make the river, in some spots , have a pH slightly higher than battery acid. However, the townspeople of Grace rely upon the river to water their orchards. When Codi confidently assures her friend Emelina that the Environmental Protection Agency will make Black Mountain shut down if they don't clean up the river, Emelina's mother- in-law Viola corrects her: Black Mountain can just divert the river, not clean it up. The EPA requires only that much--they don't care about a culture being destroyed. Finally, in The Pois
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