Literature Study GuidesThe Poisonwood BibleBook 3 Section 2 Parts 10 12 Summary

The Poisonwood Bible | Study Guide

Barbara Kingsolver

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The Poisonwood Bible | Book 3, Section 2 (Parts 10–12) : The Judges (The Things We Didn't Know, Kilanga, September 1960) | Summary




Anatole teaches Leah about the particular Congolese way of thinking. The election was a Belgian idea, he says, and hard for the Congolese to accept. They prefer not to have winners and losers, but to work together to find a consensus, even though it takes longer.

Tata Ndu's proposal must be handled carefully. Rachel is terrified at the notion she could be married off. Orleanna promises it won't happen, but she is distracted by Ruth May's worsening illness. Ruth May's fever is worse, and she is developing rashes. They move her cot into the main room to supervise her more closely. When they do, they discover all of her quinine pills stuck on the wall. She only pretended to take the anti-malaria medication. No wonder she is so sick.


Rachel is furious because her family is not worrying enough about her. Orleanna reassures her but spends her time with Ruth May. Nathan's solution is for Rachel to pretend to be engaged to Axelroot. Rachel thinks he is only moderately better than Tata Ndu, but she goes along with the "engagement." They begin spending more time together, and Axelroot privately tells her he works for the CIA.

Ruth May

Ruth May is only partially coherent. She talks about the lizards climbing the walls of her room (fact), but then describes how the lizards speak to her (hallucination). She hears her parents talking about Rachel's two potential husbands and the practice of "Circus Mission" (circumcision), which Tata Ndu expects Rachel to undergo.

Orleanna insists Ruth May—and everyone else, if necessary—will have to take the leftover quinine pills. Ruth May believes she is sick because she did "bad" things: spying on Mr. Axelroot, lying to her mother, and so on. Ruth May says, "If I die ... I know where I'll come back ... right up there in the tree."


Anatole's explanation of the election is significant. When the Congo gained independence, many outside governments assumed the country was in chaos because it took so long to form a government. As Anatole explains it, though, the Congolese might put up with some disarray to reach consensus. Instead, outsiders assumed the Congo was a failed state, and they jumped in to profit off it.

Rachel is arguably the most self-centered character in the book. In an early chapter she sees Ruth May spit out her quinine pill. She says nothing about it, and now the family discovers Ruth May never took a single pill. Rachel takes no responsibility—it's not even clear that she remembers Ruth May hiding the pill. Instead, she whines about her two suitors.

Rachel's potential suitors are slightly humorous, but there is an element of risk as well. The "circus mission" is actually circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation and is unfortunately common in various African regions. It involves cutting the female genitalia to greatly limit and reduce the woman's sexual pleasure. Practitioners claim it prevents adulterous relationships and expect all female children to submit to it with their mothers' assent. Tata Ndu would require this of Rachel. Axelroot would not, but he is hardly a trustworthy alternative.

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