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Literature Study GuidesThe Poisonwood BibleBook 5 Section 2 Parts 4 5 Summary

The Poisonwood Bible | Study Guide

Barbara Kingsolver

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The Poisonwood Bible | Book 5, Section 2 (Parts 4–5) : Exodus (What We Carried Out) | Summary



Leah Price

Leah is now in hiding at the Mission Notre Dame de Douleur. It is 1964, and a new leader, Joseph Mobutu, is in charge of the Congo. Violence is rampant, and Leah realizes she has put the entire village of Bulungu at risk while she recovered from her illness. Anatole hides her in a convent run by French nuns. He is arrested for being a Lumumba supporter.

Leah is passionately in love with Anatole and waits breathlessly to hear from him. She prays—although her faith is shaky at best—that they both survive and can be reunited again. In the meantime she helps out in the convent's medical clinic and spends time learning other African dialects. She tries to be friendly with the nuns, but she is too angry and blunt to suit them. She is angry with her father, President Eisenhower, and all the other white men who have ruined the Congo out of greed or ignorance. She grieves for the white people killed by Congolese fighters, but more for the Congolese killed by white fighters. From villagers, she hears news of her father, now living madly in the jungle running a church no one attends.

Rachel Axelroot

Rachel is still living in Johannesburg. She is quite pleased with herself and is enjoying life where she can access all the comforts of home. Rachel does not enjoy being with Eeben Axelroot, who still has not married her. Axelroot regularly insults her and cheats on her with other women. Rachel has her own plan, however. She has seduced her friend's husband, Daniel Templeton, the first attaché of the French ambassador, and intends to marry him.


Kingsolver continues exploring the contrast between Leah and Rachel in these two chapters. Leah is shut up in a nunnery for her own safety while Anatole is in prison. Rachel still lives with Axelroot in South Africa. Leah practices French, learns basic nursing skills, and chafes at the inactivity. Rachel parties and seeks out her own comfort.

These two characters offer the reader two different paths, two different approaches to life as a white person living in Africa in the mid-1960s. Leah could be described as the engaged, activist white person, while Rachel is the white person content with life as it is. The nuns who hide Leah take a third path—the ostensibly neutral white person who tries to help without condemning anyone.

Leah wants to fight and resents hearing that the Congolese fighters would shoot her on sight for being a white woman. Leah blames white men like her father and President Eisenhower "for ... a war in which white skin comes down on the wrong side, pure and simple." She points out how the United Nations sends in fighters after the deaths of 30 white people, but far more Congolese deaths "go uncounted. Or count for nothing, if that is possible."

Rachel says the trick to living in South Africa is "being understanding of the differences." The differences she refers to are purported differences between black and white. Rachel parrots back things she has heard about black South Africans who "don't have the same ethics" as the white people. She is perfectly happy to believe such things, although after knowing people like Anatole she must recognize how false the statements are. But she tries not to think about such things, focusing instead of improving her own social position by stealing her friend's husband.

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