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

The Poisonwood Bible | Study Guide

Barbara Kingsolver

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The Poisonwood Bible | Book 2, Section 2 (Parts 1–4) : The Revelation (The Things We Learned, Kilanga, June 30, 1960) | Summary

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Summary

Leah Price

In their African life, Leah compares their family to Adam and Eve: "We had to learn the names of everything." Leah begins to learn Kikongo. Her ideas about religion are also beginning to evolve. One of their neighbors has two wives, and Leah is not sure how to pray for them: Which wife would God want him to abandon? As long as people accepted Jesus, she "always believed any sin was easily rectified ... but here it gets complicated."

Leah describes how a game of "Mother May I?" helps Ruth May make friends with the curious Congolese children, who do not understand what they are saying but just repeat it. Leah's first Congolese friend is a boy named Pascal who is close to her age. Leah teaches him some English, and he teaches her Kikongo. For some time Pascal believes Leah is a boy because she wears pants, which he has never seen done, but she eventually convinces him she is a girl.

Pascal's childhood is nonexistent by American standards. He knows how to find and prepare food and do other tasks American children never need to learn. Leah feels some anger toward her father "for making [her] a white preacher's child from Georgia." She knows she is poorly equipped for life in the Congo.

Ruth May Price

Ruth May breaks her arm while spying on "African Communist Boy Scouts." She also refers to them as "Jimmy Crow boys." They need Eeben Axelroot to fly them out to a doctor, but he gets drunk and the flight is delayed. Once on the plane, Ruth May discovers Axelroot seems to be smuggling diamonds. Axelroot catches her and says if she tells anyone, her mother will die. Ruth May keeps quiet.

Ruth May is tended to by a kind Belgian doctor in Stanleyville. Although he is gentle with Ruth May, the doctor argues with Nathan about how the Belgians and Americans have treated the Congolese. He mentions protests and a Congolese man named Patrice Lumumba. When they get back to Kilanga, Ruth May tells Leah about Lumumba, who is becoming a household name in the Congo.

Rachel

Anatole, the schoolteacher, is invited for dinner, to the delight of the entire Price family. Anatole is from a different region of the Congo, an orphan who worked on a rubber plantation and a diamond mine to provide for himself. Rachel appreciates his manners but says she would not date him because "he is not in [her] color category," and also because his face is covered with many thin decorative scars, almost like a tattoo across his face.

When Anatole delivers a negative message from the chief, Tata Ndu, the dinner begins to deteriorate. Tata Ndu fears Nathan and "Tata Jesus" are leading his people astray. Nathan's congregation is made up primarily of people who have suffered bad luck Anatole explains. Tata Ndu will let Jesus have those people, but he doesn't want the other villagers to be distracted from their traditions. Anatole also explains that Tata Kuvudundu, whom Nathan calls a "witch doctor," is warning people against the Price family.

Anatole is merely the messenger, but Nathan is furious. He announces he will write a new sermon to clear everything, and he dismisses Anatole from the house. When Orleanna tries to comment, Nathan shouts at her and shatters the bone china platter that she has been treasuring as a link to past civilization and the civilized life she misses.

Adah Price

Adah describes the confusion that occurs when Tata Ndu believes she is eaten by a lion. She went to fetch water with Leah, but since Adah moves slowly, Leah left her behind. Adah at her own speed enjoys exploring the jungle, looking for unusual animals. She watches Methuselah, who cannot fly far. He climbs from branch to branch in the trees near their home. She also spots Anatole talking with a semi-organized group of Congolese boys in the jungle. These may be Ruth May's "Communist Boy Scouts"—Kingsolver does not say.

Adah returns to the story about the lion. As she walks home she realizes she is being followed. She manages to get home safely before anyone realizes she is missing. She sits in a dark corner of the porch, and when Tata Ndu makes his announcement, she is able to watch their reactions. Tata Ndu says tracks of a large male lion were spotted near Adah's tracks. He assumes she was killed and has sent his sons to look for her body. Adah realizes this would be a victory for Tata Ndu, but she steps forward. Tata Ndu is unhappy: "Not so much that he wanted me eaten, but ... he did not like being wrong." Adah says Tata Ndu would not visit them again for a long time.

Analysis

Kilanga is changing Leah, more than the other girls. She begins to question her religion and her upbringing. Since Leah is intensely devoted to Nathan, this is a major step for her. She even admits to feeling angry with her father, something she probably could not have imagined a few months earlier.

Like many small children, Ruth May overhears many things she does not fully understand. Her references to the "Jimmy Crow boys" reflect American so-called "Jim Crow" segregation laws, which prevented African Americans and white people from using the same schools and drinking fountains and accounted for countless other restrictions. Ruth May also suggests that Eeben Axelroot is engaged in illegal activity. Kingsolver captures Axelroot's character in a single action: he goes off to get drunk before he takes Ruth May to the doctor for her broken arm. His threat toward Ruth May confirms he is a cruel, dangerous person, but he is their only way in or out of Kilanga, so they have little choice but to rely on him.

Ruth May's report of the argument between Nathan and the doctor gives the reader hints of the broader political issues in the Congo at the time. Given Kingsolver's characterization of Nathan, even a reader with little knowledge of African history will recognize that the doctor's description is more accurate. Belgians and Americans alike took raw materials and treasures from the Congo and mistreated the Congolese people shamefully in order to do it. The doctor mentions Patrice Lumumba, a leader seeking self-rule for the Congo. Predictably Nathan, with his limited understanding of anything other than religion, dismisses Lumumba. When the doctor proves Nathan wrong, he gets angry. In the same way, Tata Ndu resents Adah for proving him wrong about the lion. Neither man accepts his mistakes easily, which does not bode well for their future.

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