In the novel The Poisonwood Bible, the youngest character Ruth May Price experiences a brutal separation from her home and childhood innocence throughout the novel that is revealed only through her actions and the analysis of her three older sisters and mom. When beginning the story the reader can imagine Ruth May as an adventurous, spunky five-year-old girl. She was eager and excited to live in the Congo with her family, as she never saw the devastation in anything through her innocent lenses. Although her story is, in my opinion, a tragic alienation of her childhood, there was a sense of enrichment that occurred as well.
When the Price’s adventure in the Congo begins, Ruth May is easily adapted to her surroundings and becomes friends with several of the native children despite the misunderstanding of one another’s languages, conveying the image that the child mind lacks the judgmental maturity of an adult’s mind. Ruth May was able to teach the other children how to play “Mother May I” which gave the older sisters a familiar piece of comfort which they gladly played along. This scene portrays the enrichment aspect of the family being cut off from their home. The fact that Ruth May, a five-year-old, could become friends with the children as easy as that represents a valuable enriching lesson to the other Price girls that if she can adapt so well then they must jump off their high horse and learn the Congolese ways of culture, religion and tradition in order to survive. The ability to overcome such life obstacles as living in the Congo by simply playing “Mother May I” shows the importance of Ruth May as the symbol of hope for the family by seeing Ruth May’s innocence still present given the circumstances.
Along with a powerful lesson applied, alienation was a strong theme throughout the story. In the chapters by Ruth May, the reader can see her mindset begin to alter after she joins her mom in dwelling in bed for several days, her attitude alters greatly at this point in which she also becomes sick. Ruth May becomes uninterested in life affairs or playing games even after she is healed. This moment in the story is essential to the whole story itself as the reader witnesses the innocence lost in a, now six-year-olds, life. This symbolizes the extent to which the exile has become by silencing the childhood of a girl whose posture was never downcast even when faced with the Congo for the first time.
Ruth May’s life in the Congo was a foreshadowing of the story plot as a whole, where their situation, almost abruptly, worsened as Independence day arrived and they were dominated by the controlling hand of their father. The unhealable experience the Price’s endured was a direct result from the exile they felt from their home and their own father/husband Nathan. Which ironically parallels to the exile the Kilanga people felt from their own country of Congo as Independence day came yet everything remained the same whether they were under the rule of the Belgians or not. Like Edward Said states, “Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience” the Price’s never expected their missionary work to alter into a tragic exile that scarred their ways in thinking of life forever.