Publication Date


Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Master of Arts


Despite Barbara Kingsolver's ability to create unique characters and storylines, two factors remain constant throughout each of her novels: strong female protagonists and conflict resolution. Though conflict exists in almost all fiction, the way that Kingsolver's characters deal with their situations often speaks louder than any other aspect of her writing. Moreover, though her characters often vary wildly from story to story, their methods of conflict resolution seem to undoubtedly connect them. Through her continuing desire to emphasize "the question of individualism and communal identity," {Reading Group Guides) Kingsolver often promotes the ideas of cosmopolitanism, which have recently been articulated by Kwame Anthony Appiah in his book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. Appiah argues that cosmopolitanism can be represented by two main ideas: "One is the idea that we have obligations to others, obligations that stretch beyond those to whom we are related by the ties of kith and kind, or even the more formal ties of a shared citizenship," while the other is "that we take seriously the value not just of human life but of particular human lives, which means taking an interest in the practices and beliefs that lend them significance" {Cosmopolitanism xv). Though Appiah presents a compelling rationale for cosmopolitanism in postcolonial international relations, Kingsolver applies the same theories not only to global relationships but to personal conflict as well. While each of Kingsolver's novels could be explored for the theories of cosmopolitanism they demonstrate, The Poisonwood Bible and Prodigal Summer provide the best foundation for an examination of their broad applications of cosmopolitanism. Within The Poisonwood Bible, Orleanna, Leah, Rachel, and Adah Price are forced to deal with the international issues concerning the United States and the Congo, which directly affect their lives, as well as personal conflicts that range from quarrelling sisters to death and divorce. Throughout each struggle they face, they regularly apply at least one aspect of cosmopolitanism. Moreover, their most effective moments of conflict resolution come when they more precisely adhere to the tenets of cosmopolitanism. In Prodigal Summer, however, Kingsolver is primarily exploring the use of cosmopolitanism in more personal matters through the story of Lusa Landowski Widener. Though Lusa is not involved with any kind of international politics, it is the ideologies behind cosmopolitanism that allows her to reclaim her life after the loss of her husband while taking responsibility for her choices and becoming more accepting of those she does not understand. Appiah argues that, "A tenable global ethics has to temper a respect for difference with a respect for the freedom of actual human beings to make their own choices" ("Case" 30). Though Kingsolver would agree, she would further contend that such an idea should be more than a doctrine of "global ethics." Instead, cosmopolitanism should be applied to common, every day decisions in order to make greater change in the world. In The Poisonwood Bible and Prodigal Summer, Kingsolver demonstrates the efficacy of such an application of cosmopolitanism.


English Language and Literature