Literature Study GuidesThe Poisonwood BibleBook 5 Section 2 Parts 12 13 Summary

The Poisonwood Bible | Study Guide

Barbara Kingsolver

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The Poisonwood Bible | Book 5, Section 2 (Parts 12–13) : Exodus (What We Carried Out) | Summary

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Summary

Adah Price

In 1985 Adah is in Atlanta. She visits her mother to report on her trip to Zaire, and describes how Orleanna continues to torture herself over Ruth May's death. Orleanna is interested in hearing how Leah and Rachel are but is not distraught when Adah reports Nathan's death. She asks, "What can it possibly mean to me now?" She complains to Adah about how people she knows in the United States tried to ignore Ruth May's death or Nathan's fanatical decisions. Adah likens it to the Congo, which tries to erase its history and pretend bad things never happened. But it is not possible, Adah argues: "If chained is where you have been, your arms will always bear marks." Adah does not want to forget what she has experienced. In some ways, she misses her old crippled self. She knows her mother is emotionally crippled by what has happened, just as all of them are.

Leah Price Ngemba

Leah now lives in the Kimvula District of Zaire. The year is 1986. She describes the birth of her last son, Nataniel. He came prematurely, and she had to give birth in a field with Anatole and her sons around her. Taniel, as she calls him, struggled to live and she prayed for him, just as she remembers her mother praying for Ruth May. All her boys survive: Pascal, Patrice, Martin, and Taniel. Pascal is grown and no longer lives with them. Patrice and Martin help Anatole teach school, while Leah cares for Taniel and helps run a cooperative farm. They are ready to move to the ex-Portuguese colony of Angola, the country next door, which has been more successful at avoiding outside influence, although Americans have done plenty of damage there, too. Leah feels guilty over what Americans have done, and she has imaginary arguments with Rachel, who still sees the United States as a force for good. But Leah thinks Angola, in spite of its difficulties, might be the place for her family to live safely and do some good.

Analysis

One theme of Adah's chapter is accepting one's scars. Adah reflects on how her whole family is still haunted by Nathan, and she also thinks about how she even misses her old, half-paralyzed true self. Although Orleanna wants to pretend Nathan doesn't matter, Adah knows he does. He shaped all of their lives, if only because of his cruelty and fanaticism. In the same way, Adah suggests, the Congo has been shaped by its mistreatment, and changing the place names or even the country's name is only putting a new face on the same abused body. Kingsolver ends the chapter with Adah's wisdom: "We are our injuries, as much as we are our successes."

Leah's last child is named after her father. She nicknames him "Taniel," rather than "Nathan." Nonetheless, Nataniel and Nathan are variations on the same name. For all the damage he did, Leah still, on some level, mourns her father.

Kingsolver, through Leah, provides the reader with another perspective on how life in Africa could work—the neighboring country of Angola. Angola, like Zaire, has suffered at the hands of Westerners, but Leah describes a country that has managed to keep itself free from dictators and Western imperialism. She admits there are communist influences, but they no longer seem frightening to her as they once did. Leah now views the world as a mother. If the Americans bring land mines and Communists bring food and vaccines, then Leah will deal with the Communists. Leah's voice calls forth echoes of Orleanna's words in earlier chapters—sometimes a woman focuses on getting her family fed and keeping them alive, and politics takes a back seat. Leah sees no shame in that. The parallels are reinforced by Kingsolver's use of imagery connecting Leah's worry over her premature Taniel, and Orleanna's worry about Ruth May. Leah, unlike Orleanna, is aware of both the politics and the practical. She is perhaps the new version of women like Orleanna—not so sheltered, but still focused first and foremost on caring for her own.

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