Literature Study GuidesThe Poisonwood BibleBook 5 Section 2 Parts 10 11 Summary

The Poisonwood Bible | Study Guide

Barbara Kingsolver

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The Poisonwood Bible | Book 5, Section 2 (Parts 10–11) : Exodus (What We Carried Out) | Summary

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Summary

Leah Price Ngemba

It is 1981, and Leah is still in Kinshasa. Anatole is in prison again. Leah wishes they had stayed in America, although she knows it was problematic. When they were there, Leah resented how "the citizens of [her] homeland regarded [her] husband and children as primitives, or freaks." Upon arriving back in Zaire, Anatole was arrested and sent to the prison where Lumumba was killed. Leah is distraught, but cares for their three boys, and does her best to help Anatole get out early or at least get more food so he doesn't starve to death. Without him, she finds many people treat her as a foreigner because of her color, and she wishes she could find a way to be less guilty in other people's eyes, and in her own eyes. Her greatest wish, though, is to be "held by the one man on earth I know has forgiven me for it."

Rachel Price

In 1984 Rachel, Leah, and Adah have a reunion. It does not go well. Leah wants to pass the time until Anatole is released from prison, and she gets Adah to bring her a car from America. The three of them plan to drive through part of the country together, then Adah will head home and Rachel will accompany Leah to get Anatole. Rachel is constantly irritated because no one treats her with the respect and indulgence she thinks she deserves. She repeatedly insults Leah by talking dismissively about "those people" (black Africans), forgetting Leah married "one of those." Rachel wouldn't even allow Anatole to stay at her hotel, since it is a "whites only" establishment. The three of them also argue about politics. Rachel expresses several ignorant opinions, which Adah and Leah ridicule.

During the trip Leah informs the others that their father, Nathan, has reportedly died. He was viewed as a "white witch doctor." He insisted on trying to baptize more children in a different village, but the village's river was also crocodile infested, and the villagers chased him away. He retreated into a wooden tower and the villagers set it on fire. They consider the rumors about Nathan—including one about his five wives—and realize those "five wives" were in fact themselves.

Analysis

This chapter represents perhaps the lowest point in Leah's adult life, as she is raising her children alone while Anatole is in prison. She is hemmed in by the guilt she feels over what white people have done to the country and how they continue to treat black people around the world. Leah remembers how people treated Anatole when they briefly lived in the United States—lecturing him about things he already knew, fascinated by his exoticism without understanding who he was as a person. They had nowhere else to go, and Anatole wanted to be in his home country. Leah's description of Anatole is heroic, even idealized. She idealized her father when she was young, and now she has another—admittedly more worthy—target for her adulation. Anatole is risking his life because he wants the Congo (or Zaire) to be a free nation—which includes freedom from Mobutu.

Leah's depression lays the groundwork for the next chapter, the three sisters' reunion. Without insight into Leah's struggles, it would be hard to believe she actually initiated such a plan. Rachel describes them as "night, day, and the Fourth of July," which is certainly a succinct characterization. Rachel sees the twins as being closely connected despite their differences, which inspires the "night and day" label. It is clichéd, but it expresses the bond between Leah and Adah. Rachel has no real connection to either of them, so she terms herself "the Fourth of July." It is an apt description because Rachel prefers a flashy appearance (like fireworks), and she repeatedly emphasizes her pride in being American, something neither Adah nor Leah can understand. In this chapter Rachel displays many of the less appealing characteristics often associated with Americans: lack of knowledge or interest in the rest of the world; confidence in the righteousness of American leadership; and a focus on material possessions.

Kingsolver certainly does not suggest all Americans are like this—witness Adah and Leah's far more knowledgeable and less arrogant interpretations of the same facts—but she characterizes a certain aspect of American behavior through Rachel's often garbled proclamations.

Nathan's death, interestingly, is almost an afterthought. He was such a central figure in his daughters' lives, yet they learn of his death well after the fact, and spend a limited amount of time discussing it. Leah takes his death the hardest, given her previous history with him. Rachel has made up her mind about Nathan: "He was mean as a snake. There's nothing he got that he didn't deserve." The reference to a snake is significant—it's what killed Ruth May. None of them are likely to have much sympathy for snakes.

Kingsolver dispenses with Nathan in a manner suitable for his character, who never speaks in the book. Nathan died a martyr for his beliefs—a foolish, stubborn, half-crazed martyr dying because he never tried to understand the beliefs and concerns of the people he was supposedly shepherding to Jesus.

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