Contributors:Sara, Mica, Skye, Jonah, Meg,Joslynn, Emily, Cora, Anna
THE POISONWOOD BIBLE
By Barbara Kingsolver
PlaceAmericaDemocracyCapitalismModern appliancesInformation ageCongoIn the village:No democracy, “talk it out” politicsHelp each otherTrading EconomyWork hardFarmingIn the CountryNo roadsUnstable governmentPuppet DemocracyNo educationEuropeans in control
TimeBelgian ruleCongolese uneducatedEuropeans in controlCongolese independence movement beginsLumumba’s RuleNo Transition periodSouth Congo wants independenceUnstableEisenhower okays assassination plotMobutu’s RuleUnstableEuropeans still largely in controlAfricans live in poverty
Nathan PriceEvangelical Baptist minister – devotes his life to saving as many souls as he can, through his missionary work.Arrogant, selfish, and abusiveLives by his own rigid simplistic moral codeBelieves God rewards all good and punishes all badDismisses the idea of female intelligenceEach attempt to reach out to the Congolese failsHis actions cause his family to abandon him and his own tragic downfall
Orleanna Price:Lead voice in novelPassive and submissive to her husband, Nathan PriceAttempts to protect her children from Nathan’s influenceLike Africa, she is a victim of losing herself through imperialism in her own homeFlees the Congo and Nathan with her remaining daughters after the death of Ruth May
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Rachel PriceOldest Price childBeautiful, shallow, and connivingProduct of Western civilizationSimilar to Nathan – extreme self-centerednessRachel never leaves the Congo, she stays and becomes an ambassadors wife and luxury hotel ownerContinues ignorant ways, never lets the outside world affect her
Leah PriceOne of the Price twinsIntelligent, compassionate, and idealisticInitially worshipped Nathan and believed in his worldwide viewLoses her religion through the injustice and racism in the CongoTransfers her devotion to Anatole and African independence
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AdahPriceOne of the Price twinsInsightful, highly intelligent, and cynicalBorn with neurological disorder, she limps and moves slowlyExperiences rejection in America because of her disabilityIn Africa she has an appreciation for hardships that the Congolese overcome.Believes in the religion of scienceFocuses on her scientific research and dismisses human importance.
Ruth MayYoungest Price daughterInnocent, observant, and strong-willedEasily befriends the children inKilangaShe has significant importance in the activities and focus of Orleanna and her sisters
AnatoleTranslator for NathanActs as a mediator for the Price familyHelps guide LeahContrasts Nathan – acts as a foil
MAIN TOPICS, MOTIFS, IMAGES, SYMBOLS
Poisonwood Tree-Nathan's misuse-Nathan's effect of his determination on his family, himself, and the people ofKilanga-creation of his own religion, poison-green mamba snake-symbol of forgiveness in the ruins of ignorance
Demonstration Garden-failed fruit-"planted in or upon the four different nations"-"lock, stock, and barrel."-doomed burial mounds
Methuselah-Adahreference to the parrot p. 137-crippled-no immediate freedom-Congo caged again
The Hope Chest-attempt at Americanization-try to normalize the situation-desperation
The ants "nsongonya"-"the way things are"-power of the jungle-cleansing process
Tension between each of the family members and Nathan.Nathan’s iron grip on the action’s of Ruth May,Adah, Leah, Rachel, and Orleanna creates tension that eventually bursts when Ruth May dies and Orleanna packs up the family and leaves.Leah’s desire to hunt. Showdown between Anatole and Nathan and TataNdu.Leah learns how to use a bow, a predominately male occupation, and desires to hunt with the men who gather food. Anatole inspires the people to allow this break in tradition but Nathan and TataNdudepose the idea. Nathan forbids Leah from hunting but she does anyway.Witch Doctor’s hatred for America and Christianity. (Plants snake and kills Ruth May)TataNduholds a democratic vote to decide whether they will accept Christianity and Jesus.Jesus losesAnatole’s imprisonment.Anatole’s open disagreement with the Mobutu and his policies leads to his imprisonment under the area. He is eventually released.Belgian foreign control over Congo.The liberation of the Congolese people appears to be a victory but the poor manner in which it is imposed leads to discontent and and foreign coup.Government coup to remove PatriceLamumbafrom office.Foreign leaders fear the political ideologies of PatriceLamumbaso they remove him from office and replace him with a relentlessly cruel dictator.
Take it away, Skye!
MAIN THEME/AUTHOR’S POSITION:
Themes:Dominance of Western IdealsNathan Price is sure that he is bringing something new to Africa, demonstrated by his fiery preaching and also by his failure of a demonstration garden. His refusal to take responsibility for his wrongdoings characterizes him as an arrogant person. Similarly, theUnderdownsare blatantly racist towards the African people and believe that they are superior. When zooming out and viewing the macrocosm, readers are exposed to the worst of the arrogance: the United States. By assassinating Lumumba and placing a Western puppet in his place, the U.S. dominates the Congo and leads the country to destruction. The connection between the destructive arrogance in the micro and macro emphasize a criticism of the idea of Western superiority.Female StorytellingThroughout the novel, the story of the Prices and their mission trip is told by the five women: Leah,Adah, Rachel, Ruth May andOrleanna. While Nathan rules their family and has the most influence on how the story goes, he has no influence on how the story is told. The feminist perspective represents a criticism of how stories are usually told. History is written by the winners: white males. However, Kingsolver gives the females the power in the novel.Religious DisconnectKingsolver doesn’t use the novel to outwardly disparage religion. However, through the obvious failure of Christianity in the Congolese village, she suggests that different religions work for different groups of people. It was clear that Nathan didn’t connect with the with theKilanganpeople. The sort of religion that the African people knew was one that had been followed for a huge amount of time. Destruction began with the dominance of the Western powers, and the Western Christianity did not help to reverse this destruction.GuiltThrough Kingsolver’s presentation of the microcosm and the macrocosm, guilt is emphasized throughout the novel. Each of the five women deals with guilt in a specific way. For example, a self-centered Rachel decides to abandon the idea that she is at fault for the wrongs happening inKilanga, and also the wrongs happening on a larger scale in all of the Congo. Kingsolver suggests that there are many different ways to respond to guilt, and she presents a few of those ways through the five women. By not giving Nathan a voice, Kingsolver emphasizes guilt and its significance. The substance of the novel is the reaction towards Nathan’s actions.
Opening/frame sceneDinner with AnatoleMethuselah’s death/Lumumba’s election situationRuth May’s DeathThe Hunt
We constructed our lives around a misunderstanding, and if ever I tried to pull it out and fix it now I would fall down flat.Misunderstanding is my cornerstone.It’s everyone’s come to think of it.We are supposed to be calling the shots here, but it doesn’t look to me like we’re in charge of anything, not even our own selves."Everything you're sure is right can be wrong in another place.One hasonlya life of one’s own. Don’t expect God’s protection in places beyond God’s dominion. It will only make you feel punished....when things go badly, you will blame yourself....Don’t try to make life a mathematics problem with yourself in the center and everything coming out equal. When you are good, bad things can still happen. And if you are bad, you can still be lucky."Sometimes I prayed for Baby Jesus to make me good, but Baby Jesus didn't.”I wonder that religion can live or die on the strength of a faint, stirring breeze. The scent trail shifts, causing the predator to miss the pounce. One god draws in the breath of life and rises; another god expires."When I want to take God at his word exactly, I take a peep out the window at His creation. Because that, darling, He makes fresh for us everyday...My baby, my blood, my honest truth: entreat me not to leave thee, for whither thougoest, I will go. Where I lodge, we lodge together, Where I die, you’ll be buried at last."“You can curse the dead or pray for them, but don't expect them to do a thing for you. They're far too interested in watching us, to see what in heaven's name we will do next.”“Listen. To live is to be marked. To live is to change, to acquire the words of a story, and that is the only celebration we mortals really know.The most important thing about a person is always the thing you don't know.”“The truth needs so little rehearsal.”“Cooking is 80 percent confidence, a skill best acquired starting from when the apron strings wrap around you twice.We came from Bethlehem, Georgia bearing Betty Crocker cake mixes into the jungle.”Some of us know how we came by our fortune, and some of us don't, but we wear it all the same. There's only one question worth asking now: How do we aim to live with it?”Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.Oh, that river of wishes, the slippery crocodile dream of it, how it might have carried my body down through all the glittering sand bars to the sea.I wish I could go visit them and talk in my own language, the English I knew before I grew thorns on my tongue.Silence has many advantages. When you do not speak, other people presume you to be deaf or feeble-minded and promptly make a show of their own limitations.I’ve seen how you can’t learn anything when you’re trying to look like the smartest person in the room.”Is that how a father rules?Father says a girl can’t go to college because they’ll pour water in your shoes."That one, brother, he bite
Humorous Scene:Rachel’s first chapter ofThe Poisonwood Biblehumorously depicts her first day in Africa through the use of amusing similes, sarcasm, malapropisms, and first person narration, revealing her aversion to Africa and everything that it has to offer.Rachel’s humorous observations provide the readers with a comic relief from the realities that are being faced in the Congo at the time.
First person narration:The reader’s are allowed into Rachel’s mind, revealing her dramatization of the events through words and phrases such as:“Man oh man”“Lordy!”“lo and behold”“I knew right then I was in the sloop of despond.”“I wept for the sins of all who had brought my family to this dread dark shore.”
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Theword choiceand shallow observations reveal Rachel’s unintelligence and ditzy character, adding to the humor of the first scene in Africa.“…and other simple things in life I have took for granite.” (malapropism)“bigloggedy-looking drums”“…a good long hootenanny of so-called hymns…”“sigoggling”“junkyard orchestra”“…another man behind him, much older and dressed just out of this world…”“She was toting a long-legged child allstraddlyon her hip…”“weird birds”
Sarcasm:“Just our lick, a church made of dirt.”“…I probably would have followed Ruth May’s example and passed out or upchucked, her two big accomplishments of the day.”
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Similes:“…I found the pastel shapes of my sisters like party balloons but in the wrong party…”“…women were singing high,quaverytunes like birds gone crazy in the full moon.”“…some of the women stood up there in the firelight with their bosoms naked as a jaybird’s egg.”“…their heavy breasts swung down like balloons full of water.”“Most of them were still waiting to get served, like birds in the wilderness.” –simile doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Typical Rachel.“…why, the half-naked women behind him just burst out clapping and cheering, as if they could no longer confine their enthusiasm for a dead goat.”“Her big long breasts lay flat on her chest like they’d been pressed down with an iron”
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