Barbara Kingslover’s Hope for America
Scott Rowland • March 19, 2015 • Lifestyle •
In the dust of September 11, 2001, Barbara Kingsolver turned a few shocking articles into a call for humanity, stretching reality into lucid metaphors of a disheveled American wig and her way of wearing the matted atrocities. Government is the groomer of patriotism parting the world for exclusive maintenance instead of cosseting a head full of hair and thriving off of the natural order, Kingsolver’s comfort zone.
“Knowing your place”, an essay in Kingsolver’s book Small Wonder, is a glimpse into the author’s simple life as a mother, wife and writer who enjoys the isolation of southern Appalachia in the summer, living off the land, spending quality time with her family, and writing to the sounds of nature. This is where she draws meaning from the clouds and depicts images of a compassionate perspective. This is her place.
Most of us grow up believing in the president, senators, congressmen, governors, and society’s leaders, but we should begin with believing in ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, and who we are, no matter what story someone tries to convince us of.
Small Wonder originated in the form of a response to the tragedy that struck the World Trade Center, and flourished into hope for Americans losing connection to the current state of affairs. Instead of falling into the trap of a “mounting evil in this world…that some hearts are so hardened already that they cannot possibly be appeased” as Kingsolver puts it, we should look for “small change, small wonders – these are the currency of my endurance and ultimately of my life…It’s a workable economy.”
Kingsolver begins the essay titled “Seeing Scarlet” with an exceptional example of a small wonder: a majestic, endangered species from Costa Rica that Americans have distorted for callous economic gain:
“Picture a scarlet macaw: a fierce, full meter of royal red feathers, head to tail, a soldier’s rainbow-colored epaulets, a skeptic’s eye staring out from a naked white face, a beak that takes no prisoners.
“Now examine the background of your mental image; probably it’s a zoo or a pet shop, metal bars and people chanting about Polly and crackers, maybe even pirates, and not a trace of this bird’s natural life. How does it perch or forage or speak among its kind without the demeaning mannerisms of captivity? How does it look in flight against a blue sky? Few birds that inhabit the cultural imagination of Americans are so familiar yet so poorly known.”
“Seeing Scarlet” marks a distinct turning point in Small Wonder from disheartening social matters to Kingsolver’s personal reflections of hardship and growth. The overarching theme is not exclusively a political matter, but an intuitive understanding of humility. We may not agree on what the flag represents as a national agenda, but we can wear our hearts on our sleeve and still find a connection to the small wonder embedded within the symbol of the American flag: hope.
Between portraying the plight of teaching her children to enjoy their lives without the one-eyed monster (television), and divulging her close encounters with a knife yielding maniac, becoming a rape victim, and a nose diving airplane ride, Kingsolver portrays an impassioned view of what endurance as an American and as a human entails.
“I get to choose whether to hang it up or hang on, and I hang on because I was born to do it like everyone else…
“… I suspect that the deepest of all human wishes, down there on the floor of the soul underneath the scattered rugs of lust and thirst and hunger, is the tongue-and-groove desire to be understood. And life is a slow trek along the path toward realizing how that wish will go unfulfilled. Such is the course of all wisdom: Others will see the front and back, but inside is where we each live…”
You are built upon a mountain of small wonders and the understanding that you are the only one who can see everything inside. No matter what terrific plunge or unexpected hurdle life throws at you, there is room for growth and a view of hope waving in the wind, but you must hold on to that bold mentality, and as Barbara Kingsolver says, “those of us who do will be able to live better, more honest lives as believers than we could as cynics.”Barbara Kingsolver