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Literature Study GuidesThe Poisonwood BibleBook 5 Section 2 Parts 1 3 Summary

The Poisonwood Bible | Study Guide

Barbara Kingsolver

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The Poisonwood Bible | Book 5, Section 2 (Parts 1–3) : Exodus (What We Carried Out) | Summary



Leah Price

Leah says they left during the late rainy season of 1961 with "what [they] could carry on [their] backs." Orleanna does not stop for her daughters, but they follow. They walk until the rain forces them to take shelter. They continue on with other women from the village. As they travel, Leah wonders if Anatole will be safe, and whether President Eisenhower really wants Lumumba dead. She thinks about her father: "I'd walked in his footsteps ... now ... my body had fallen in line behind my mother."

The village women help them find a shelter for the night, but they are all contracting malaria. By the time they arrive in the town of Bulungu, Leah is seriously ill and hallucinating. Anatole arrives to take care of her. Rachel leaves with her CIA man, her "devil savior," and Orleanna and Adah return to America together. Leah barely remembers her family leaving. As she recovers from malaria she falls more deeply in love with Anatole. They begin a sexual relationship, and she chooses to stay in the Congo. After much reluctance on his part, they get engaged.

Rachel Price Axelroot

Rachel takes Axelroot's last name and lives with him in Johannesburg, South Africa. Axelroot promised to marry her, but he hasn't, and his grand plans for wealth and power haven't materialized. Rachel is disillusioned about Axelroot but deeply grateful to be in a more civilized environment. She makes friends with European and American wives in Johannesburg, and attends church services with them. She knows one particular Bible passage in three languages now, she announces. Rachel credits these women with helping her learn how to be a woman and a wife. She doesn't often think of her family members, except to be grateful she wasn't killed like Ruth May. She laughs at herself now, thinking of how naive she was. She even asked Axelroot to return to Kilanga and retrieve her hope chest: "Of course he hasn't ... you might say my hopes never got off the ground."

Adah Price

In 1962 Adah and Orleanna are back in Georgia. Adah describes how her mother finds a small cabin to live in and grows a magnificent garden, planning to sell bouquets on the side of the road. Adah's plan for survival is different—she uses her remarkable math skills, now that she is physically recovered, to persuade Emory University to let her enroll. She stays at the university and visits her mother on weekends. Adah says she owes her mother a debt: "She took hold of me with a fierce grip and pulled me through." Orleanna fought for her as they traveled back to the United States and readjusted to life in America again.

Adah wonders why her mother saved her, and if her mother would rather have saved Ruth May. She thinks of Ruth May and the 31 children who died during their time in the Congo, and wonders: "Why not Adah? I can think of no answer that exonerates me." She admits she expected her mother to save Leah, not her, but Orleanna chose Adah: "If it was her last living act as a mother. I think probably it was."


Ruth May's death is the climax of the novel, yet Kingsolver continues. Her goal for the book is not merely to describe Ruth May's death, but to explore what happens to the women who survived. This section is titled "Exodus: What We Carried Out." In the Bible, the Exodus was the Hebrews' departure from Egypt after centuries of slavery. Kingsolver suggests the Price women's exodus is not merely leaving Nathan, but continuing to live in the years after Ruth May's death.

Leah's intense feelings for Anatole are a combination of romantic love and malarial hallucination. She admits as much: "Every first love is potent ... I was drugged with ... malaria, so mine is omnipotent." Yet their relationship is not a mistake. Anatole is extremely cautious about accepting her love, so at least one of them tries not to be swept away by emotion. Leah exults in being loved, saying she loved her father, but he never loved her back. This realization helps Leah begin to heal, although her father will continue to haunt her.

When Anatole finally accepts Leah's proposal, she says, "We stood ... listing the things we'll have to abandon or relinquish." People typically think of marriage as adding to one's life. In Anatole and Leah's case, however, this is unrealistic. In 1961 a black person and a white person were not even legally allowed to be married in some parts of the United States. In the Congo, where resentment of white people ran high, such a marriage could condemn both of them to death. Of course there are other considerations, too, as Leah mentions. Life in the Congo will be more financially and physically challenging than life in the United States, which Leah is giving up. And Anatole sacrifices some of his cultural practices, including having more than one wife. By taking the time to discuss these losses, Anatole and Leah set their relationship on firm ground.

Rachel, on the other hand, has no real relationship with her "fiancé," but seems largely content with her life because it is more comfortable. Kingsolver sets Rachel's chapter immediately after Leah and Anatole's conversation to strengthen this contrast. Rachel focuses on parties and washing her hair and wearing the latest nail polish colors. She sounds much the same as a typical American housewife of that era. South Africa was not as similar to the United States as Rachel claims, but for a white woman it would certainly be more luxurious than life in the Congo. In the early 1960s South Africa operated under a system called apartheid, which kept black and white South Africans separate. Rachel briefly references her friend's "separate African maids for ... cooking, cleaning, and laundry," so she seems to have no moral issue with living a comfortable life while the black Africans in the same community are suffering.

All three girls have largely abandoned their father's teachings. Leah's chapter includes almost no references to religion. Rachel's references are symbolic of who she wants to be. She is proud of knowing a Bible passage in three languages, and she dismisses any fussing about extramarital sex, saying it isn't "the worst sin there is when there's people getting ... killed left and right." Adah, always the most irreligious of the group, has replaced Nathan's god with science: "In organic chemistry, invertebrate zoology, and ... genetics, I have found a religion that serves."

Adah is the only one of the girls who really reflects on Ruth May in these chapters. Leah is caught up in first love, while Rachel cares mostly about herself. Adah, however, weighs herself against the other children who died, including Ruth May, and finds herself wanting. She draws a connection between herself and her father, as she learns the truth about Nathan's war service. "Fate sentenced Our Father to pay for those lives with the remainder of his," she says, thinking of the other soldiers who died when Nathan lived.

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