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Literature Study GuidesThe Poisonwood BibleBook 1 Section 2 Parts 1 4 Summary

The Poisonwood Bible | Study Guide

Barbara Kingsolver

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The Poisonwood Bible | Book 1, Section 2 (Parts 1–4) : Genesis (The Things We Carried, Kilanga, 1959) | Summary



Leah Price

Leah, one of the four Price daughters, describes how they came to Africa for a "twelve-month mission" into the jungle so her father, Nathan, could preach to the Congolese people. Leah is intrigued by the trip, but her mother and sisters do not feel the same. Her mother, Orleanna, focuses on packing brand-name items—including Betty Crocker cake mix—and everything else they might need for a year. Because of weight limits on the plane, they try to hide supplies inside their clothes, just to get all their necessary items to the Congo.

Upon arriving, they are greeted by the Underdowns, a missionary couple who once worked the village of Kilanga, where the Prices will live. The Underdowns help the Prices find the small plane that will take them to Kilanga, and they present the girls with "armloads" of mosquito netting, "like an embarrassing bouquet from some junior-high boyfriend who liked you overly much."

Leah describes her elder sister Rachel, who "cares for naught but appearances" and hates the whole idea of Africa. Her youngest sister is Ruth May. The third sister, Adah—Leah's twin—is not described. Kingsolver uses Leah's grasp of the Bible and other source materials to highlight her character—a serious-minded young woman who agrees with her father about most things. She seems intrigued, even excited, about what awaits them as they land in Kilanga.

Ruth May Price

Ruth May shows what can happen when small children are taught stereotypical and discriminatory ideas. She believes Africans are "the Tribes of Ham." Ham was one of Noah's sons in the Bible. Ruth May insists Ham was a bad son, and so his descendants are black to show how bad they are. This provides some sense of her father's ideas on Christianity. Ruth May also worries the African people will eat her because a child in her Sunday school class told her so.

Ruth May provides an important detail about Adah, the sister Leah did not describe. Leah and Adah are twins, but Adah is "brain-damaged" and "bad on one whole side and doesn't talk." Ruth May also believes Adah hates her family. Ruth May has very definite opinions. She seems to be less strong or healthy than her sisters—she passes out repeatedly and throws up on the airplane. Kingsolver does not suggest Ruth May is sickly, so this indicates how difficult their travel experience was.

Rachel Price

Rachel is a stereotypical American teenager of the time. Her conversation is full of slang and references to commercials and TV shows. She doesn't want to be in Africa. Rachel also frequently misuses words or invents her own words. In the first two paragraphs of this chapter alone, Kingsolver offers: "God had ensued us here," "perspirating bodies," and "fixing to executrate her second swoon of the day." Kingsolver's stereotypical American is neither intelligent, nor articulate.

The villagers of Kilanga welcome the Price family, hosting a celebration with the African version of Christian hymns and an abundance of food—something difficult to come by in small African villages. The villagers wear their best clothes, but many women do not cover their breasts. When the village leaders invite Nathan to offer a blessing, he instead berates the entire village for sinful nakedness. Many villagers leave. Some continue to offer the Price family food. It does not appeal to the girls, but Orleanna tells them to eat it without complaint as there is nothing else.

Adah Price

Adah's voice is unique. While she does not talk much, her brain is extremely active. She delights in wordplay and rhyming: "Sunrise tantalize, evil eyes hypnotize: that is the morning." Some phrases seem nonsensical, but they are not. Adah vividly describes Kilanga village and its residents. She subjects everything—even her family—to an impassionate analysis, which may be why Ruth May thinks Adah hates their family. Adah refers to Reverend Nathan Price as "Our Father," a sacrilegious play on words of which Nathan would undoubtedly disapprove. The "Our Father" is one of the most sacred Christian prayers, speaking to God as a father.

Adah explains, in clinical terms, what happened to her. As Leah's twin, she was deprived of what she needed in utero, and has been diagnosed with hemiplegia, a condition causing nearly half her body to become paralyzed. She can speak, but often chooses not to do so. She says people may think she's stupid because she does not speak, but those who make such assumptions "promptly make a show of their own limitations."


Kingsolver provides four distinct voices for the girls. Leah and Rachel offer biased perspectives. Rachel hates everything, and wants to go home. Leah adores her father and God, so she wants to stay and help. The other two girls—Ruth May and Adah—are more impartial. Ruth May is impartial because she is a young child, while Adah is disabled and temperamentally inclined to withhold comment.

Kingsolver deliberately chooses which character conveys each part of the story. In these chapters, Leah and Rachel advance the plot, while Ruth May and Adah fill in details—although this pattern does not continue throughout the book. Having Rachel narrate the village welcome party is painfully perfect: the other daughters wouldn't be as horrified.

Nathan Price never narrates a chapter. Kingsolver is redressing the balance, since Adah says, "Our Father speaks for all of us, as far as I can see." Nathan's influence is clear—he brought his wife and daughters to Africa, and they all tread carefully around his moods. His perspective is obvious—he is always right and everyone else is wrong.

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