The Poisonwood Bible | Study Guide

Barbara Kingsolver

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The Poisonwood Bible | Book 5, Section 1 : Exodus (Orleanna Price) | Summary



Orleanna says the grief was manageable as long as she kept moving. She left Nathan so she could keep moving. She remembers Ruth May deeply. While she loved all her children, the first three came so quickly they blurred together. Ruth May was the last, so she was special, as evidenced by her mother's words: "My baby ... entreat me not to leave thee, for whither thou goest I will go."

Orleanna is defensive about her choice to stay with Nathan for so long. She says women sometimes must focus on the daily tasks, even when the world is in crisis. She wonders now about Ruth May, buried in the African soil, and thinks of her other three daughters: "They've got their own three ways to live with our history."


Orleanna contrasts her first three children with Ruth May. She knew Ruth May would be her last baby, and she lingered over those childhood moments. Orleanna quotes from the Book of Ruth in the Bible. After she is widowed, Ruth promises her mother-in-law: "Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay." Orleanna makes a similar deep vow to Ruth May.

Orleanna argues against imagined criticisms from Ruth May's ghost. She didn't do enough to get away from Nathan. She didn't do enough to stop the violence in the Congo. In this way, Orleanna holds herself responsible for things far beyond her control. Ruth May could have died a hundred ways, in the Congo or at home in Georgia. No single person was ever able to bring peace to the Congo, not even Lumumba, so the sufferings of both the country and the family are beyond control.

Orleanna's attitude may reflect other conversations she has seen or heard. She warns, "Don't dare presume there's shame in the lot of a woman who carries on." In the late 1960s and 1970s, many women worldwide began protesting for civil rights, women's rights, and their own. Some people disdained the women who simply managed their households and cared for their children. Orleanna imagines Ruth May would have shared this attitude.

Orleanna, like Rachel and Leah in previous chapters, accepts the tangled intersection of their lives with Africa: "Imagine what never happened: our family without Africa ... the Africa that would have been without us." Orleanna and the three girls have to accept the pain as part of living in the brief time they have been in Africa. It has greatly changed them all.

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