Saviorism and Entitlement

Feb 3, 2021

1920 propaganda piece encouraging settlement in the Congo
Credit Wikiwant

My name is Jessica Sadler and I am a Science Teacher and STEAM facilitator in Olathe, Kansas. I am here with the other book leaders to discuss The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. This story follows a family of Baptist missionaries from Georgia to the Congo.

There are many exceptional themes that can be found within this novel. Of them all, I resonated most with the theme of Saviorism and entitlement, both of which hold serious consequences.

Nathan Price is so motivated to spread his religious agenda to the people living in the Beligan controlled Congo that he is unwilling to hear the voices of his wife or four daughters throughout the entirety of their journey. In fact his staunch beliefs to “save” the people causes him to withhold information, like he and his family being advised not to go on the mission. Thus causing him and his family to not take place in training for everyday life in the Congo leaving them ill-prepared immediately (i.e. bringing a hammer to work on a mud house). His stubbornness ultimately costs him his family and his life as he knows it.

Rachel, the oldest daughter of Nathan and Orelanna Price is a constant symbol of entitlement. Beginning as a 15 year old beauty when we first meet her, she is very reluctant to go on the mission with her family. She spends her time not doing much to try and understand/ adapt to the culture she has placed herself within. These choices are very common in those who regard themselves elevated above people and surroundings. Instead of trying to understand the experiences of others she becomes more resentful at the thought of being placed on the same level as those she deems lesser. In today’s terms, this could easily be a working definition of white privilege. When we glimpse into Rachel’s life at the age of fifty, she is still in Africa but has relocated to Johannesburg. It is here she finds herself people and a skin color she can more closely identify with, but she still holds herself at an elevated level too.

“Until that moment I’d always believed I could still go home and pretend the Congo never happened. The misery, the hunt, the ants, the embarrassments of all we saw and endured—those were just stories I would tell someday with a laugh and a toss of my hair, when Africa was faraway and make-believe like the people in history books. The tragedies that happened to Africans were not mine. We were different, not just because we were white and had our vaccinations, but because we were simply a much, much luckier kind of person. I would get back home to Bethlehem, Georgia, and be exactly the same Rachel as before.” (Book 4)

By the Price family blindly following Nathan’s choice to educate and save a culture none of them truly understood, especially in the beginning, they paid dearly in physical health, children shifting away from the views of their parents, the breaking of family, and even death.

I leave you with this quote:

“Anatole leaned forward and announced, ‘Our chief, Tata Ndu, is concerned about the moral decline of his village.’ Father said, ‘Indeed he should be, because so few villagers are going to church.’ ‘No, Reverend. Because so many villagers are going to church.’” (Book 2 Chapter 16) The Poisonwood Bible

This is Jessica Sadler, and you are listening to the High Plains Public Radio Reader’s Book Club.  Thank you for joining us.