Friday, January 27, 2012

Adah, The Superego among Kingsolver's Women in The Poisonwood Bible

Adah is the third daughter from Barbara Kingsolver’s rich, complex, satisfying book, The Poisonwood Bible. She is Leah’s twin sister, the Superego to Leah’s Ego and Rachel’s Id. She is also a sacrificial lamb, finally saved by Orleanna and her own keen intellect.

The biblical story of Jephthah includes his terrible sacrifice of Adah (not actually thus named in the Bible, but so-called thereafter). Jephthah barters with God in exchange for his daughter. When God delivers unto Jephthah, he must offer his daughter who does not fight for her life. She is willing to die for her father and God.

Kingsolver’s Adah also accepts her lot, even death itself or the partial death of her limbs. Her twin, Leah, consumed more from Nature while in the womb in order to survive. Adah, thus deprived, is born with a weaker, deformed side, resulting in an uneven, slow gait, one that could take her life when the Prices must flee from the oncoming plague of ants. Orleanna leads her daughters away in haste, sacrificing Adah, if she cannot keep up, in order to carry baby Ruth May to safety. A native Kilangan scoops up Adah, and it is only because of him that she survives.

Yet Adah does not resent her mother and sisters. She accepts her role without breaking or complaint. Her thoughts, however, revealed to readers, tell another story. Adah longs to be chosen, to be reassured even though she does not expect her mother to do so. Such resignation to her disability and place in the family leads to extensive reflection and cynicism, characteristics that endear readers to her.

Readers know that Adah is amazing. She possesses wry wit, is extremely well read, and not at all spiritual in spite of a Baptist, Bible-thumping patriarchal home. Few know these truths about Adah because she is reticent to speak. Many assume she cannot speak.

Thus, Adah exists at the margins of family, unlike anyone else in the family. She sees Orleanna’s failures as a woman and mother without despising her for them. She recognizes her father as a hypocrite and fraud. She sees Rachel’s childish, Id-like nature, and she recognizes Leah’s abilities to put away childish things in order to provide for and nurture not only her sisters, but all of Africa. Leah needs to build and belong, and she marries a man who wishes to do the same.

After Ruth May dies and Africa is unsafe for ex-patriots, Orleanna makes several hasty, even instinctual choices. She leaves Leah, too sick to travel, in the care of Anatole, the African man who will become her husband. Rachel climbs aboard a plane flown by Eben Axelroot without Orleanna’s objection. Orleanna also leaves behind Ruth May’s body, picking up Adah instead because now Adah is the least, the one with the greatest need.

Having at last been chosen liberates Adah. She can now come fully of age in the knowledge that she is not to be the Price sacrificial lamb any longer. She returns to the U. S. and begins to study science, finding in it a religion she can embrace. A professor helps her overcome her disabilities by training her brain to teach her errant body to become whole. Adah also overcomes her silence, but still chooses a career that does not require extensive conversation. She becomes a respected researcher who searches for treatments and cures for the diseases that plague people in poorer regions. Thus, Adah serves Africa even after she comes home.

Adah also becomes her mother’s caretaker. She watches Orleanna make and harvest from a huge garden, earning enough money to live simply and send the rest to meet the great, raw needs of Africa. Adah watches her mother try, unsuccessfully, to forgive herself for not taking her daughters to safety, for yielding to Nathan’s madness, for letting oppression and depression turn her from her duty.

Like Rachel, Adah is always older than her years. Unlike Rachel, Adah changes once she becomes the chosen one, chosen for life rather than sacrifice. This gift from her mother grants Adah the opportunity to flourish, and she does.

Reading Challenge:

Pick up a copy of The Poisonwood Bible. Enjoy!

Writing Challenge:

Like Sophie in Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, Orleanna must choose between two of her children. Defend Orleanna’s choice, then write the opposite argument in which you condemn Orleanna for saving Ruth May instead of Adah.

GUM (Grammar, Usage and Mechanics):

I’ve just finished reading A Place of Execution by Val McDermid, and it reminds me of my discomfort in using the word, hang. As a means of execution, hanging is rare, at least in the Western world and Europe so it just doesn’t roll off the tongue often. The word and its forms are more often heard in comedy routines and situation comedies when referring to the male anatomy, and this vulgar usage is what gives me pause. I would like to say hang and hanged when describing actions I might take with clothing or flags. But hanged seems archaic, even wrong. Is it? Allow me to explain.

I should not say that I hanged my coat on a hanger. I should say that I hung my coat on a hanger and that I hanged a man at dawn by order of the court.

In other words, hang, hanged, and hanged are preferred when referring to dangling people from high places while hang, hung, and hung are the go-to words when referring to things. On the other hand, the past tense distinction between hanged and hung has become blurry so you will hear and read both used as if they are interchangeable.