Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

Emma  Donoghue

Francesca  Gallitano 

The Peace Corps and Missionary Groups in Afghanistan during the 1960s and 1970s

Emma Donoghue’s Characters’ Escape from Imprisonment

Emma Dongohue’s female protagonists become trapped in various kinds of lifestyles that keep them from the lives that they want to live. Whether it is because of abusive relationships, restrictive gender roles, or the societies that they live in, these women do not have control over the lives they are leading, and they are isolated as a result of their imprisonment. This isolation causes them to adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms such as denial of their situations, detachment from reality and those who care about them, and deception of themselves or others around them in order to make their imprisonment more tolerable. The women of Donoghue’s novels want to be immersed into a world where they will be free to live the life they please, but doing so requires that they sacrifice the only world they have ever known, which, while dissatisfying, also provides them with a level of security. Their eventual escape allows them to realize that though the transition to mainstream society may be difficult, their independence and personal fulfillment is worth the risk involved. Ultimately, Donoghue’s protagonists emerge from their captivity as stronger, more confident women.

Just as Emma Donoghue’s characters were unable to escape easily from their stultifying worlds, the Afghan people were trapped by a lack of resources, technological advancements, and monetary support. When Afghanistan gained its independence from Great Britain in 1919, King Amanullah wanted to modernize Afghanistan, but with his abdication in 1929, successors reverted to traditional practices, hindering Afghan development. Major industries in Afghanistan needing improvement were agricultural, educational, medical, and technological fields. In 1962, King Zahir received permission from the Loya Jirga, Afghanistan’s legislative body, to request United States Peace Corps workers to provide educational support, and the United States complied. Dire Afghan conditions led the Peace Corps to furnish medical care, foster the businesses, and introduce agricultural technologies. Many missionary groups also heard about the conditions in Afghanistan and sent groups to support the people. They provided medical, educational, and agricultural aid. They also constructed new buildings that enabled the country to improve and prosper. The aid that both the Peace Corps and the missionary groups brought to Afghanistan helped to modernize the country. The western humanitarians offered relief from poverty and new technological resources.

Major Works Consulted:

Donoghue, Emma. Hood. New York: Harper Perennial, 1995. .
--. The Sealed Letter. Boston: Mariner, 2008. .
Ransanayagam, Angelo. Afghanistan: A Modern History. London, I.B. Tauris, 2003. .
Rice, Gerard T. The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corps. Notre Dame, U. of Notre Dame P., 1985. .
Photo Credit: Curry, Jennifer, David Ramm, Mari Rich, Albert Rolls, eds. World Authors 2000-2005. New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1975.