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Literature Study GuidesThe Poisonwood BibleBook 4 Section 2 Parts 6 8 Summary

The Poisonwood Bible | Study Guide

Barbara Kingsolver

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The Poisonwood Bible | Book 4, Section 2 (Parts 6–8) : Bel and the Serpent (What We Lost, Kilanga, January 17, 1961) | Summary




After the hunt the villagers gather to divide the meat. Tata Ndu offers Leah a small portion of the animal she killed. Insulted, she throws it back at him. Soon everyone in the village is arguing. Should people get to take what they killed? Or should everyone get a serving based on the number of people in their family? Leah knows she played a part in this, but she is not solely responsible: "What was surely the oldest celebration of all ... had fallen to ruin in our hands."


Rachel, from her squeamishness, decides to become a vegetarian and to persuade Axelroot—her "fiancé"—to take her back to the United States. However, the meat they bring home smells so good that she has a few bites while the family argues. Leah is furious that she did not get her kill. Nathan calls her "a shameful and inadequate vessel for God's will" who is not even worthy of punishment. Rachel stays out of it, although she and Orleanna both seem to side with Leah. The argument is interrupted by Nelson, who insists he saw an evil sign outside the chicken house where he sleeps. The Price women sympathize, but Nathan says it is merely superstition. He "quoted a Bible verse about the only thing we had to fear was fear itself," and walks out on them. At Leah's suggestion the girls go out to help Nelson. They spread ashes on the ground around the chicken house so if anyone approaches, they will make footprints.


Adah wonders if she should have known who was responsible. They wake early and go to the chicken house. Inside they see their hens, dead, "wrapped in a vivid, slender twine of brilliant green." It is a green mamba snake. In the ashes, Adah notices Tata Kuvudundu's footprint.


Whether it is Tata Kuvudundu's curse or the desperation of starving people, the villagers argue instead of sharing the meat. During the Jesus election, Tata Ndu warned about the white man's way—the problem when each person gets a vote instead of seeking consensus. Now each family wants the biggest piece of meat, and distributing it fairly becomes impossible.

Kingsolver uses the stress of the hunt to bring out fine details of characterization in the Price family. Rachel makes her solemn vow to be vegetarian—until she smells the meat. She thinks Leah is crazy to stand up to their father, but she appreciates her effort to care for the family, which is more than Nathan will do. For his part, Nathan announces he will not even bother to punish Leah—a face-saving move for him, since his punishments no longer deter her from doing what she thinks is best.

Nelson's fear takes the chapter in a different direction. Nathan, as usual, dismisses Congolese "superstition." Rachel thinks he quotes from the Bible, but in fact "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" comes from President Franklin Roosevelt's first inaugural address. Leah encourages the others to help Nelson, in defiance of their father. Her father's best student, Leah gets the idea of the ashes from a religious story her father loves to discuss. It works. They know who planted the green mamba snake: Tata Kuvudundu. He tried to hurt Nelson and presumably also put the snake in Anatole's house. He tries to hurt the Prices' Congolese supporters, but not the Prices themselves. At a minimum, though, he has killed their chickens, which offered precious food to the ever-hungry family. After the snake leaves, Adah notes, "Three of us, then, breathed." There were five people outside: Nelson and the four girls. But only three breathed, foreshadowing the disaster to come.

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