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