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Literature Study GuidesThe Poisonwood BibleBook 4 Section 2 Parts 3 5 Summary

The Poisonwood Bible | Study Guide

Barbara Kingsolver

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The Poisonwood Bible | Book 4, Section 2 (Parts 3–5) : Bel and the Serpent (What We Lost, Kilanga, January 17, 1961) | Summary




Adah describes the hunt. On the far side of the river, the villagers light a fire. Those who do not hunt fan the flames and collect (and eat) insects killed in it. The fire drives the animals toward the hunters. Adah sees Orleanna and Ruth May near her. They stay separate from Leah, who will hunt, but also separate from Rachel and Nathan. Adah comments on Orleanna, who "had been creeping her remorse in flat-footed circles around [her]," but the appearance of the animals distracts her. As the animals are killed, women and children step forth to collect the dead. Rachel is upset by the bloodiness, but Adah "came to know ... this one thing: all animals kill to survive and we are animals." Their reactions to the prospect of food emphasize how close everyone—even the Price girls—is to starving.


Leah shoots an impala, but when she goes to collect it, one of Tata Ndu's sons claims he shot it. Nelson backs up Leah, ironically calling the son "a woman" because his shot was poor. The son orders Leah to skin the impala and she does so, with Nelson's help, unsure of how she should feel at this point.


Traumatized by the hunt, Rachel races home and climbs in the bathtub to clean off the ashes and blood. She looks at a picture of President Eisenhower her mother had hung on the wall and wishes he was her father. She feels sorry for herself and her family, thinking they are no better than the animals they killed: "Poor dumb animals running for their lives."


Kingsolver offers three views of the hunt. Adah is objective, accepting the chaos as a result of people's need for food. This objectivity gives the reader a context for the upcoming events. The raging fire and floating ashes sound apocalyptic, but Adah makes it clear that the fire is a tool for herding animals. Adah's description of the "sweet momentary salve" of eating a burned caterpillar makes it clear how hungry she is. She also suggests "hunger of the body" is so severe that people who have felt it "cannot entirely love, ever again, those who have not." The Congolese are so often near starvation—much more often than Americans could ever be. Is this part of the gap between the two countries? Consider also what such a statement foreshadows for the Price girls. If they return to the United States, will they be permanently cut off from other Americans because of these extreme experiences?

Rachel typically demonstrates a shallow understanding of events, and a stereotypical American reaction to what happens. This combination says something about Kingsolver's opinion of the average American's knowledge of the world. Her veneration of President Eisenhower reminds the reader of her limitations since Kingsolver has made it clear that Eisenhower bore some responsibility for Lumumba's assassination. Even cynical Adah was shocked by the revelation, but to Rachel, Eisenhower represents a nice, normal American guy. Kingsolver suggests another typical American quality is a narrow-minded lack of awareness of one's own culpability in affairs outside the United States.

Leah's hunting triumph is blended with pain. She kills a large animal but feels regret: "I screamed as if struck by an arrow myself." When the chief's son challenges her, she is glad Nelson defends her. However, he calls the chief's son a woman to insult him, which stings. Leah has proved herself an effective huntress, but she cannot escape the sexism rampant in the Congo and in her own family.

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