Literature Study GuidesThe Poisonwood BibleBook 3 Section 2 Parts 1 3 Summary

The Poisonwood Bible | Study Guide

Barbara Kingsolver

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The Poisonwood Bible | Book 3, Section 2 (Parts 1–3) : The Judges (The Things We Didn't Know, Kilanga, September 1960) | Summary




As Leah and her father return to Kilanga, she remembers the welcome feast that greeted them. Now she appreciates how much food was prepared in their honor, although at the time they were too naive to appreciate such generosity. Leah wonders how they will survive now that their financial support has been cut off. Nathan used the last of their savings to pay Axelroot to bring them back to Kilanga after the Independence celebrations.

The Congolese have never seen a poor white person, so they do not believe the Prices are really struggling. However, they begin to feel sorry for them. Mama Mwanza, their crippled neighbor, even brings them oranges as a gift. As Leah says, "you know things are bad when a woman without any legs ... feels sorry for you."

Orleanna stays in bed most days, refusing to even dress. Ruth May also seems ill, with little appetite and no desire to get out of bed. Nelson thinks they are cursed. When Leah says they do not believe in curses, he asks her to explain the biblical story of Job in any other way. Leah insists they do not believe in gods who curse people, but Nelson says the gods can still curse them anyway.


Adah both teaches Nelson and learns from him. Nelson explains the importance of names: "A child is not alive, claims Nelson, until it is named." He is confused by Adah's claim that she and Leah "came from the same seed." When he understands they are twins, he is shocked. In Congolese culture, a woman who had twins would abandon both of them in the jungle. Nelson asks what "Tata Jesus" thinks about twins. Since it is not in the Bible, Adah says Jesus allows mothers to keep their twins. Nelson gets excited: he now understands why some of the villagers attend Nathan's church. These families have had twins—they must know of Tata Jesus's acceptance. In talking with Nelson, Adah also learns more of Nathan's mispronunciations. When Nathan offers to baptize children, he is actually claiming to "terrify" them. No wonder no one has volunteered to be baptized. Adah notes, "No one has yet explained it to the Reverend."

Ruth May

Ruth May spends time in bed, cuddling with Orleanna. She has a secret name for her mother: "Mommy Mommy." After Nathan and Leah leave for the Independence celebrations, Ruth May tells Orleanna, "I hope he never comes back," and they both cry. Ruth May misses Leah. She also believes Jesus loves Nathan better than her because he is a preacher. So she just lies on her Mommy Mommy and has half-sleeping/half-waking dreams.


The Price girls are exploring the cultural divide between them and the Congolese. Nelson and Leah have an interesting conversation about beliefs and Job. In the Bible, Job is a good man. He is wealthy, has a large family, and always praises God. Satan claims Job praises God only because Job's life is good. As a test, God permits Satan to ruin Job's life. His livestock and many of his family are killed, but Job continues to praise God. The Book of Job stumps many Biblical scholars, so Nelson cannot be blamed for his confusion. He associates the Christian god with African gods who curse people, and it's difficult for Leah to explain the difference.

The family's sudden impoverishment puzzles the Congolese. A white person with no money seems as likely as a white person without a head. It is even harder to accept because Nathan so blindly commits the family to this struggle, in spite of the obvious dangers. The villagers begin to pity the Price women because they do not have a "good, strong man" to take care of them—a criticism that might sting Nathan if he ever listened to it.

Once again, the Price girls learn facts about Nathan's church he does not know. Adah discovers her father's church has become "the Church for the Lost of Cause" because the villagers think Tata Jesus will accept forbidden things—like twins. With her usual precision, Adah identifies the problem: Nathan is confident he is winning over "heathens" to God's word, and "cannot imagine that he is ... merely serving the purpose of cleaning up the streets."

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