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Literature Study GuidesThe Poisonwood BibleBook 3 Section 2 Parts 4 6 Summary

The Poisonwood Bible | Study Guide

Barbara Kingsolver

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The Poisonwood Bible | Book 3, Section 2 (Parts 4–6) : The Judges (The Things We Didn't Know, Kilanga, September 1960) | Summary




Ruth May and Orleanna fall seriously ill, but Nathan blames it on Orleanna's decision to ignore "God's call." The villagers blame Nathan, but Leah defends him. Still, Nathan does nothing to help as the other three girls try to provide food for the family. Adah admits they did not previously appreciate how hard Orleanna worked to offer decent meals. Adah implies Nathan will hit them if mealtimes are lacking, so they work together to create a food plan.


Leah coaxes Ruth May out of bed by offering to push her on the swing. As she does so, Anatole stops by to offer Leah a rabbit for her family's dinner. She invites him to join them, and he accepts. She finds him attractive but worries whether she should be attracted to him.

Anatole and Leah discuss the latest news. Katanga Province, a region of the Congo, has seceded to form its own nation because Americans encouraged it to do so. Leah asks if "we" (America) did something wrong, and Anatole's response is "Not you."

Leah says, "the Congo belonged to Belgium," and Anatole corrects her, asking her to consider whether the Congolese people she knows could belong to another country. Leah is embarrassed. She remembers her father telling her that the city slums would be fixed up once America was able to help. Then she thinks of similarly poor housing "where black and white divided, and that was smack in the middle of America." Anatole explains why some Congolese are so angry at white people, although he assures her no one in their village will shoot her or her family. She tells him about seeing Lumumba in person, admitting that she didn't fully understand, but he "made [her] want to believe in every word." Anatole responds, "You understood well enough, then."

Ruth May

Ruth May alternates between hallucinations and reality. She overhears her mother talking about violence against missionaries in other towns. She hears Rachel scream at their father: "Rachel fell down hard before I even heard the sound of the wall and his hand." On one occasion, she wakes up and Nelson is there. He performs a ritual he believes will keep her spirit safe.


Adah says, "Our childhood had passed over into history overnight. The transition ... unnoticed by anyone but ourselves." The older girls worry about feeding the family and caring for Ruth May's hair. Leah and Adah adjust to this transition more easily than Rachel. She wants to be pampered and cared for, so even though she is the eldest, she is not taking charge.

Leah's feelings for Anatole are deepening, and she begins to question her father's judgment. Anatole shows Leah a different way of looking at the world. He is almost 10 years older than she, and his life experiences have shaped him in very different ways. He gently pushes her to think more carefully about her assumptions. Leah now realizes her father's statements are not always true.

Nelson's reaction to Ruth May indicates how truly sick she is. Nelson fears she will die, so he gives her something to protect herself. Nelson thinks Ruth May is under a curse, yet he risks being cursed himself in order to help her.

Although Ruth May is sick, she pays more attention to Orleanna than anyone else does. She observes her mother talking to her father and says her mother's eyes "are so cold there isn't even any Mama home inside there." She does not understand her parents' relationship, but she knows her mother is hurting: "Something in her is even worse hurt than what Adah's got."

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