Journal of Transatlantic Studies

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 222–233 | Cite as

Re-visioning Southern identity: transatlantic cultural collisions in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible

  • Sophie CroisyEmail author


Barbara Kingsolver is a Southern writer. Born and raised in Kentucky, her heritage is Southern but her life experience brings a larger, more global dimension to her work. She is from the South, from ‘down there,’ and she has also been ‘out there’, spending many years abroad working various jobs and getting an outsider look at the inside of Southern culture. This cumulation of heritage and knowledge has given birth to texts that explore the intersection between different life stories, different cultural narratives each considered quite local or regional, but which in fact, when confronted or even simply adjoined, allow for cultural exchanges that transcend preconceptions of Southern violence, bigotry or decay. In The Poisonwood Bible, characters are invested in relationships and events the unravelling of which is informed by Southern culture and history and deformed by the influence of the foreign, Africa itself. The history of the American South qua traumatic history is rooted in the genealogy of Kingsolver’s characters whose personal anxieties are explained through and exacerbated by their regional culture. In this text, however, these characters will get exposed to otherness and difference while living in a Congolese community, and the characteristics of that exposure as well as the ways in which characters respond to it are the main aspects of this essay. If some fail to question the obscure, threatening side of their original heritage to remain trapped in a history of religious fanaticism and violence, others will grow through intercultural exchanges. This growth will be marked by their slowly defining a new sense of self (both cultural and individual), a new way of being in the South and in the world at large, informed by a conscious critique of their cultural and personal deficiencies in their relationship to the outside world.


Barbara Kingsolver Poisonwood Bible transatlantic culture identity Southern literature 


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Copyright information

© Board of Transatlantic Studies 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anglophone Studies, Institute of languages and International StudiesUniversité de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-YvelinesGuyancourtFrance

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