Monday, October 25, 2010

Childhood Across Cultures

For the past few weeks in my senior English class, we have been reading The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. The culture clash between American and Congolese customs throughout the novel is astonishing, but the difference that shocked me the most was the role of children in Congolese society.

When illustrating the experiences of the white, American Price family in the Congo, Kingsolver emphasizes the cultural difference in the stages of life between American/Western society and the Congolese. The character Leah comments, “It struck me what a wide world of difference there was between our sort of games… and [a native boy‘s]… I could see that the whole idea and business of Childhood was nothing guaranteed… [It is] invented by white people and stuck onto the front end of a grown-up life like a frill on a dress” (Kingsolver 114). This idea really stuck out in my mind.

I believe that in the culture we live in today, childhood is taken for granted, not considered a privilege. In the “uncivilized” (according to the Prices) Congo, a indulgent childhood without work is unimaginable.

In this article, the concept of childhood as a modern creation is debated. While I agree with the claims that the stage of childhood is a modernized idea, I also agree with another scholar’s view that children have always been appreciated, regardless of their official role in society.

While the article cites historical examples, this can be clearly seen by looking at any newborn bonding with it’s mother in the hospital, familial animal interactions in a zoo or in nature, and even in The Poisonwood Bible. In the novel, two characters discuss the death of children, and Leah asserts, "Children should never die," and Anatole, a Congolese native, responds, "No. But if they never did, children would not be so precious" (Kingsolver 231). This showed me that even across cultures, where children might play substantially different roles, they are still valued and loved.

As a teen growing up in an affluent community, I have witnessed the extremes of child-nurturing: private, expensive day cares, excessive amounts of educational toys, and constant advertisements for programs to teach your baby to read before they even start crawling! While I don’t have personal experience regarding the type of childhood of places like the Congo, from what I understand, children are loved in both situations, but both extremes can be unhealthy. By learning from these examples, I hope my generation can learn to find a happy medium for our future posterity.


  1. Jenna,

    I really like the quote you use from Posionwood! It inspired me to explore the role of children in our society vs. their roles in other societies. :)

    I am curious to know if you perceive one societies views of children as better?

  2. Hey Jenna! I definitely agree with what you there needs to be a medium between extreme child nurturing and a total absence of "childhood" as we consider it.

    One of the things that your post made me think of was "free-range" childhood, where kids are left free to roam independently throughout their neighborhoods, rather than being carefully chauffeured from playdate to activity. I feel like this is something that is a lot more absent from our generation compared to our parents. I think the independence found there might be some sort of a "medium" between the two, some independence but no real responsibilities, if that makes sense? But of course, I'm not a parent, so we'll see how my views change if/when I have kids.