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The Poisonwood Bible | Study Guide

Barbara Kingsolver

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The Poisonwood Bible | Book 2, Section 1 : The Revelation (Orleanna Price) | Summary



Still on Sanderling Island, Orleanna says a smell may remind her of "Africa, where one of [her] children remains in the dank red earth ... scent of accusation." She wonders how her other daughters have survived when she feels she died with the child.

Thinking of their time in Kilanga, Orleanna describes how hard she worked to provide food: bleaching oranges to kill germs, squeezing them for juice, and then diluting the juice with water just to make sure there was enough. Her children have American expectations, and Orleanna thinks Mama Tataba must have been furious to hear the children complain about a meal African children would call a feast. Thanks to Mama Tataba's teaching, Orleanna discovers that one word can have multiple meanings in the African dialect, depending on how it is pronounced. Nathan's pronouncements about Tata Nzolo could mean "Father in Heaven" or "Father of Fish Bait."

Nathan meets with Tata Ndu, the chief. Nathan reluctantly offers to perform baptisms by sprinkling, rather than submerging people in the river. Tata Ndu, however, is still hesitant because Brother Fowles has scolded him for having more than one wife. Now Tata Ndu seeks Nathan's acceptance. Nathan decides God is testing him and refuses to compromise. Orleanna worries about Nathan's effect on her children, especially Leah, who "followed him like an underpaid waitress hoping for the tip." Orleanna now spends her time thinking about the past and fearing the future.


In Book 1, Nathan overlooks Orleanna's efforts to befriend the villagers, but the girls also take Orleanna for granted. They have no idea how hard she works to provide meals for them in such conditions. As Americans they can take for granted high-quality, safe, and varied foods in a way of life so different from where they are now. A normal American meal would be a giant feast in Kilanga. The girls may be starting to understand African life, but basically they still want American-style meals they were used to.

Because she is not so rigid, Orleanna is learning things Nathan never will, such as the challenge of accurately translating English words into the African Kikongo dialect. In Kikongo, words have different meanings depending on their pronunciation. As with the crocodiles in the river, Nathan would have known this had he ever bothered to ask. As Orleanna says, Tata Ndu had told people Nathan wanted to feed their children to the crocodiles: "Even Nathan might have recognized this was a circumstance that called for reconciliation." Nathan could show humility, ask questions, try to learn. Instead he intensifies his opposition.

Orleanna worries about her children. She blames herself for the death of her youngest, the little "ghost." She knew Africa was dangerous, and Nathan was too wrapped up in his religion to care what happened to them, yet she too did nothing.

Kingsolver uses the Orleanna chapters to offer a different perspective on Nathan. Orleanna knows her husband's history and remembers a time when he was less fanatical about religion. She describes how Nathan is haunted by "the ghosts of a thousand men" who died in World War II close to him. Now he believes changing his mind in Africa is cowardice. Kingsolver also uses Orleanna to provide foreshadowing of the grave dangers in the girls' futures.

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