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Literature Study GuidesThe Poisonwood BibleBook 2 Section 2 Parts 9 12 Summary

The Poisonwood Bible | Study Guide

Barbara Kingsolver

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The Poisonwood Bible | Book 2, Section 2 (Parts 9–12) : The Revelation (The Things We Learned, Kilanga, June 30, 1960) | Summary




The girls are expected to take quinine pills to prevent diseases like malaria. Rachel complains of the pill's bad taste but still takes it. She says Ruth May doesn't always take hers.

The Underdowns do not send a new supply of quinine pills for the family, so Nathan travels to Stanleyville to get more. He ignores the Underdowns' letter instructing the family to prepare to evacuate. Rachel is eager to go home, but Nathan forbids it. In Stanleyville, Nathan learns Lumumba has been elected the new prime minister and a new reality will emerge in daily Congolese life. Lumumba will now attempt to create a government that can function in spite of tribal loyalties.

Ruth May

The Underdowns send a plane to evacuate the family, but Nathan refuses to leave. Instead, he and Leah take the plane to see the Independence celebrations, leaving the rest of the family behind. After Nathan and Leah leave, Orleanna lies down in bed and won't get up. Ruth May crawls in bed with Orleanna to share her pain.


Leah is pleased that her father takes her to Leopoldville to watch the Independence ceremonies. The Underdowns are horrified by Nathan's refusal to evacuate. Mrs. Underdown complains about the choice to Leah, but Leah defends her father. Leah finds Lumumba's speech inspiring, although she does not fully understand it because Lumumba speaks in French. Lumumba asks the audience, "Keep this day ... in our hearts forever and tell our children of its meaning," and Leah says she knew everyone would: "Even me, if I ever get to have any children." Lumumba criticizes whites for having beautiful houses when there are "falling-down houses for the Negroes," and Leah knows he is right. She begins to understand why people cheer so loudly for him and what he represents to them, which is very different from what whites think.


Early on Independence Day, Adah finds Methuselah dead on the ground. He has been partially eaten by a wild animal. Adah compares the Congolese, now free, with Methuselah, who was freed and is now dead. She plays with a line from an Emily Dickinson poem: "Hope is the thing with feathers," and concludes that Methuselah is now "only feathers, without the ball of Hope inside."


Kingsolver wants the reader to understand just how dangerous Nathan's decision not to evacuate his family is. The Underdowns' reaction makes it clear: he is risking all of their lives. Only Leah seems glad to still be in the Congo; Orleanna and the other girls would rather return to America.

Leah straddles two worldviews: her father's and her own. She fiercely defends her father against the Underdowns and believes his criticisms of the Belgians. She does not recognize how her family could also be targets of anger since the Americans are hardly blameless in the Congo. Leah is young and can be naive. However, Nathan shouldn't be, outside of his faith, which blinds him.

In the history of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba was a charismatic and visionary African leader. He wanted to unite the Congo, rather than allow the country to split itself up based on tribal loyalties. In some ways, he faced the same problems as the American "Founding Fathers"—how to unite separate entities (states or tribes) into a single country (the United States or the Congo). Leah finds Lumumba's speech so inspiring that she never even mentions her father's reaction. Leah is beginning to think for herself.

Methuselah in this context of history may be seen as a symbol of the Congolese people, and his fate foreshadows the difficulties that lie ahead. Methuselah got his independence, and he died from it. People will also die for the cause of Congolese independence, and the years ahead will be explosive and tragic.

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