This story follows the wife and four daughters of a Baptist preacher who moves them to the "Belgian Congo" in 1959, setting the missionary family on a path of their undoing in postcolonial Africa.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
The Royal Museum of Central Africa still contains artifacts that celebrate, rather than condemn, the history of colonization and planners are trying to figure out how to renovate the museum.
Introduce “Forget King Leopold's Ghost. There Are Still Skeletons in His Closet” before students read the novel, to provide them with historical context on Belgium's colonization of the Congo. Ask students to consider, as they read, how colonialism shapes the lives of the Price family and their Congolese neighbors throughout the novel. What statement does the author Barbara Kingsolver seek to make on the effects of colonialism?
Reverend H.T. Johnson wrote this poem in response to Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden.”
Have students read “The Black Man’s Burden” after reading “Book One: The Things We Carried” as well as the text pairing “The White Man’s Burden” — to provide them with an alternative viewpoint on ethnocentrism. Within the context of Johnson’s poem, ask students to analyze how the community members in Kilanga respond to the Price family as white Americans arriving to “save” them. Ask students to consider how the community’s views towards the Price family change throughout the course of the novel.
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was a British writer who is best known for The Jungle Book. In 1899, he wrote “The White Man’s Burden,” a poem about America’s imperative to colonize and rule the Philippine Islands. This poem sparked considerably controversy when it was written.
Introduce this text after students have completed “Book One: The Things We Carried” to focus on the theme of ethnocentrism and analyze the conventional idea of the white savior within narratives. Ask students to evaluate how the Price family, as missionaries, fit within Kipling’s argument. Is it the Price family’s duty to “civilize” their neighbors in Kilanga? How would Orleanna and her daughters answer this question from their point of view?
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) was an American poet who spent most of her life in seclusion. This poem was written in 1862, but was published posthumously (or after Dickinson’s death) in 1953. In this poem, the speaker discusses "the Dark," something unknown and ever-present.
Have students read “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark” after reading “Book Two: Revelation” to focus on the themes of adaptation and learning. Ask students to discuss how Orleanna and her daughters adapt to living in Kilanga, particularly in light of their limited means and the context of the poem. How would each of the Price women interpret the poem in relation to their own experiences in Kilanga? How would Nathan interpret this poem? Can the poem be also used to explain the girls’ shifting views on religion?
This ancient text urges unmarried women to treat their parents with the utmost respect.
Have students read “On Reverence for Parents” after reading “Book Two: Revelation” in order to focus on the parent-daughter relationships in the Price family. Are the parent-children dynamics changing, and if so, why? Would the girls be considered good children by Zhao Ban? Should they blindly follow their parents, particularly their father, as Ban suggests?
In these excerpts from Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening, Edna Pontellier struggles with what is expected of her as a mother, a wife, and a woman.
Have students read “Excerpts from The Awakening” after reading “Book Three: Judges” in order to analyze Orelanna’s character as a wife and mother through a cross-text analysis. Ask students to discuss the similarities and differences between Orleanna and Edna Pontellier. How does Orleanna view her role and the role of her husband within the family?
In “A Poison Tree,” a speaker allows their hatred and anger to grow, like a poisonous tree.
Have students read “A Poison Tree” after reading “Book Four: Bel and the Serpent” to identify and analyze themes of revenge and retribution. Ask students to discuss the poem from the points of view of Nathan Price and Tata Kuvundu. Have students compare the symbol of the apple in the poem to the snakes that Tata Kuvundu plants in the homes of people connected to the Prices. Does the poem predict the outcome of Nathan and Tata Kuvundu’s rivalry, and if so, who’s point of view wins?
In Linda Pastan’s poem “Accidents,” a woman loses her child and contemplates the nature of tragic accidents.
Introduce “Accidents” after students have completed “Book Four: Bel and the Serpent,” in order to analyze and discuss the family’s emotional response to Ruth May’s death through a cross text analysis. Ask students to discuss themes of loss, family, and grief by comparing the aftermath of Ruth May’s death to the speaker’s loss in Pastan’s poem.
In Casey Gerald’s speech “The Gospel of Doubt,” Gerald discuss his religious experiences and how they have helped shape his understanding of belief and doubt.
Have students read “The Gospel of Doubt” after reading “Book Six: Song of the Three Children,” to focus on how faith affects the characters throughout the novel. Ask students to discuss how religious doubt, as Gerald describes it, affects the Price women, particularly Orleanna, Leah, and Adah. What do the women choose to believe in by the novel’s end? How do their religious journeys compare to Gerald’s? How does the novel make the case that it is valuable at times to question your own faith?
In the speech “The Leaders Who Ruined Africa and the Generation Who Can Fix it,” Fred Swaniker discusses Africa’s past leaders and his hopes for its future leaders.
Introduce “The Leaders Who Ruined Africa, and the Generation Who Can Fix It” after students have completed the novel, in order to provide them with text that supports the political commentary that takes place in the novel. Ask students to discuss how they view the African leaders presented throughout the novel, and if they agree with Frank Swaniker’s argument about African leaders based on their reading of the novel. Do they see any characters in the novel who might be amongst Swaniker’s next generation of leaders?
In “The Danger of a Single Story,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discusses the importance of not allowing one story to construct your understanding of the world.
Have students read “The Danger of a Single Story” after completing the novel in order to generate a discussion on authorial intent, structure and literary perspectives within novels. Ask students to discuss how Kingsolver tries to overcome the danger of telling a single story throughout her novel. Do they believe she has succeeded? The story is told from the perspective of five white women. What do students think of her telling the story of the white colonist over the colonized — is she perpetuating a familiar single story in this regard or challenging it?