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The Poisonwood Bible | Study Guide

Barbara Kingsolver

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The Poisonwood Bible | Book 6 : Song of the Three Children | Summary



Rachel Price

Rachel still owns the Equatorial. She is now 50 and reflects on her life. She wonders why she never went back to America, but acknowledges that once she had lived in Africa, she would never quite fit in with her high school classmates back home. She even compares herself to soldiers returning home from the Vietnam War, who struggled to adjust to American life. Rachel mentions she was unable to have children because of an infection she got from Axelroot, but then quickly changes the subject. She laughs to think how few of her father's religious precepts affect her life these days. Rachel says she knew as soon as they arrived in Africa that they were not in charge, and she advocates her philosophy—protect what you have, stay away from danger, and if you must, step on other people to make sure you survive.

Leah Price

Leah lives in Angola now with Anatole and Taniel, age 10. Her other boys are grown. She describes how Anatole tells her stories of the Kingdom of Kongo, the African empire that existed before the white men came. His stories are true, based on historical documents they both have read, but she enjoys hearing Anatole's version. He explains how the white men judged the Africans by their own foreign standards, considering them backward because they did not handle agriculture, architecture, or written language the way Europeans did. Of course the Africans had evolved their own ways of doing things that worked for Africa, but the Europeans did not understand. They took people for slaves and eventually destroyed the Kingdom of Kongo because they were so convinced they were right.

Leah draws connections between those historical white men and the Americans of her lifetime, including her father. She still struggles with guilt, particularly when her malaria flares up again. "There is no justice in this world," she says, as she thinks about her father, "What there is ... is a tendency for human errors to level themselves like water." This is all she can hope for now. They work the land in Angola, and she tries to teach other women ways to cultivate crops, but the women have been transient so long it is hard for them to imagine long-term planning of fields and trees.

Adah Price

Adah is back in Atlanta, a doctor, but with a jaded view of the value of life. Her time in Africa taught her about the ways nature rebalances the equation, and she is suspicious of the American idea that every life is sacred. She imagines a God who does not root for humans any more than any other creature, dispassionate, seeing "ant, human, and virus as equally resourceful beings." She is a researcher specializing in viruses such as Ebola and AIDS, and she finds her work fascinating.

She still visits her mother, who is suffering from years of African diseases, not to mention the aftereffects of her abusive husband. Orleanna still grieves for Ruth May. Adah has no children and no long-term relationships. She devotes herself to her research and collects Bibles with misprints in them as a hobby. She connects the misprints to her father's mistranslations, such as "poisonwood," stating she possesses "half his genes ... all of his history ... the mistakes are part of the story."


These three chapters are the final word from each of the living Price daughters, and Kingsolver provides the reader a little explanation of what each learned through her life.

Rachel advises readers quite frankly to always look out for themselves first. She has fought to maintain her hotel, the Equatorial, and her body, and now she is reaping the rewards of the fight. She is wealthy, apparently still looks good, and is quite proud of herself. But in spite of her accomplishments, Rachel seems lonely. She speaks with longing of the life she could have had at home, and, although she dismisses it quickly, she may regret not having children. In an unexpected insight, Rachel expresses sympathy for the "soldier boys that went back to the States after Vietnam." The Vietnam War, which took place in the 1960s and 1970s, was very controversial in the United States, and many soldiers returned from the war to find themselves the target of anti-war protestors. There are parallels between Vietnam veterans and the Price girls. Like the Price girls, some veterans came home hardened into their "America is always right" beliefs (like Rachel herself who remains abroad), while others questioned what they believed and tried to find ways to make amends (Adah and Leah).

Leah's message is simple: "There's the possibility of balance." She believes change comes slowly, but it does come. For a character who has spent most of the book thinking in absolutist terms, balance is desired but difficult to attain. Leah herself is a symbol of balance. She shakes her head at the Europeans who misunderstood the Kingdom of Kongo, but tries to teach her female students to cultivate crops in a foreign way. Unlike those Europeans, however, her goal is to help Africans succeed in living on their own. Leah has no need to conquer. She concludes her chapter with the belief "that time erases whiteness altogether." Leah is not speaking of literal whiteness of skin, but of the white identity she holds responsible for so much damage in Africa. She is hopeful African nations will eventually recover from those wounds.

Adah puts forth her own theology: if God created the world and it was precious, then surely every living thing—a virus, an ant, or a person—is precious to God. Yet Adah also retains her objectivity and her detachment. Eradicating viruses—something Adah does as a doctor—is another aspect of survival of the fittest. Humanity is fitter to survive than viruses because people can eradicate them, but then another round of viruses appear that cannot be eradicated at first (or possibly ever).

All three women share a worldview in which terrible things lie just outside the window. Rachel calls it "Africa." To Leah it is European interference in the beauty of Africa. Adah admires the terrible things she studies, viruses like AIDS and Ebola. All of them, middle-aged now, know how the world can strike with hurt and without warning, but in different ways all of them find a reason to go on living.

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