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Literature Study GuidesThe Poisonwood BibleBook 2 Section 2 Parts 5 8 Summary

The Poisonwood Bible | Study Guide

Barbara Kingsolver

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The Poisonwood Bible | Book 2, Section 2 (Parts 5–8) : The Revelation (The Things We Learned, Kilanga, June 30, 1960) | Summary




To thank them for dinner, Anatole sends one of his best former students, Nelson, to work for the Prices. Nelson, also an orphan, needs to earn some money. Leah thinks Anatole sent Nelson to help them, but also because Nelson can learn from the family and from their books. Leah now finds she is developing romantic feelings for Anatole. She fantasizes about the two of them having significant conversations and taking long walks together.

Nelson teaches them about the kakakaka, a very serious intestinal disorder. Their neighbors have it, and Orleanna panics, trying to keep the girls in the house as much as possible. None of them get the kakakaka, but in spite of their weekly quinine pills, Leah contracts malaria.

To pass the time, Orleanna has the girls start their "hope chests." A hope chest is a collection of handmade items a young woman puts together to prepare for her eventual marriage. Since Leah cannot imagine herself or Adah getting married, it seems like a waste of time. Nathan will not consider any future for his daughters other than their marriage, so they all begin their assigned tasks. Rachel excels at it, but Leah and Adah are less skilled and less interested, showing their growing independence from control.

Ruth May

Nelson teaches Ruth May about Tata Kuvudundu, the witch doctor, and gree-grees. Ruth May understands a gree-gree to be "their own little God ... in the little tiny thing they wear around their necks." Nelson says a gree-gree may save a person's life, just as they now believe Jesus saved Adah from the lion. The apparent miracle of Adah brings more people to Nathan's church, but Nelson says they will abandon it in a hurry if anything happens to one of the Prices.

When Leah rescues a baby owl, a confrontation begins. The Congolese believe the owl eats the souls of the dead, and Nelson refuses to come in the house if the owl is there. Nathan dismisses the superstition, but when Leah brags about her father's approval of the owl, Nathan turns on her. He hits her so hard she is bruised, and he then assigns her The Verse. Leah writes The Verse and disappears into the jungle, presumably to release the baby owl. She doesn't come back for a long time, and Orleanna and the other girls worry. Nathan commands them to go to bed, but they ignore him. When Leah finally returns, Nathan orders them to leave her with him. Kingsolver does not describe what happens next, but Ruth May says they are sorry for Leah.


The Underdowns unexpectedly come to Kilanga. They tell Nathan and Orleanna that Belgium is releasing the Congo. It will become an independent nation in June. Nathan is unimpressed. "No matter what happens ... Father acts like it's a movie he's already seen," Rachel says. Nathan thinks independence is impossible, claiming the Congolese "don't have the temperament or the intellect" for elections and self-governance. Orleanna is frightened. As she talks with the Underdowns, it becomes clear that no one wanted the Price family to come to Kilanga in the first place. The Underdowns say their mission was "not sanctioned," which seems to surprise Orleanna. Mr. Underdown claims the Belgians have treated the Congolese well, but Orleanna shouts at him with her own views.

The Underdowns want to send the Prices home early, but Nathan refuses. Orleanna begins to express a different opinion, but Nathan's threatening tone makes her stop. The Underdowns explain they are leaving the country, and no new missionaries will be coming for the foreseeable future. Nathan grandly announces that his family will stay, even if "only God knows when [their] relief may arrive."


Adah studies a William Carlos Williams poem, "The Red Wheelbarrow." The first words of the poem are "So much depends," and in this chapter Adah explores things that depend upon other things. She stopped believing in God at age five, when she was told a child born in a place without a church cannot go to heaven. Adah asks, "Would Our Lord be such a hit-or-miss kind of Savior as that?" Adah also explores Kikongo, a language she describes as "even more cynical than [her] own" because its meaning depends on context and pronunciation.

Adah says her family committed serious "sins" out of ignorance: bathing and obtaining water in the wrong parts of the river. The witch doctor, Tata Kuvudundu, has identified where these behaviors should occur. Adah notes that his supposedly sacred areas reflect common sense and basic hygiene as well for the obvious human need of defecation, "He chooses bushes far away from the drinking water." She also watches Tata Kuvudundu leave chicken bones outside their door. It may be a threat, but Adah wonders if he is trying to save them by sending them away.


Kingsolver uses Nelson to help the Price women—and the reader—understand the complexities of life in Africa and the ways in which white concepts, like Jesus, may change in translation. Jesus becomes more like an African god, reaching out to save Adah from the lion. Nelson believes in Jesus and in Tata Kuvudundu, while Anatole may not believe in either one.

To a modern reader, Leah's feelings for Anatole seem predictable, but in that era they would be shocking. Most white girls in the 1960s, like Rachel, would not consider a relationship with Anatole because he is African. Yet Anatole is a kind, thoughtful, and interesting young man, and there aren't many to choose from in Kilanga. Leah's daydreams really shouldn't be surprising. Kingsolver implies some of the dreams may be sexual in nature, although Leah herself attributes those to malaria.

The Price family will witness history as the Congo becomes an independent nation—a remarkable, if potentially dangerous, opportunity. Resentment against white people, particularly Belgians, was high in the late 1950s, which is why Belgium relinquished control of its huge colony. Forming a new nation will not be easy. Nathan is correct—the Congolese received a limited education. He does not mention the Belgian regulations that prevented people like Anatole and Nelson from pursuing higher education. A new country lacking experienced, well-educated leaders may not be a safe place to live, so understandably, Orleanna wants to get her girls out.

Nathan's abusive nature is on full display during the conversation with the "Underdowns." He will not permit Orleanna to contradict him or to express any alternate opinion. The family is expected to bow to his wishes. Worst yet, Kingsolver suggests Nathan lied to his family and brought them to Kilanga against the mission group's instructions, something Orleanna clearly did not know.

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