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The Poisonwood Bible | Study Guide

Barbara Kingsolver

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The Poisonwood Bible | Book 7 : The Eyes in the Trees | Summary



This section is narrated by a different voice that speaks directly to the reader. Although the voice does not claim a name, it is clearly Ruth May's ghost or spirit. The voice tells the reader, "I am no little beast and have no reason to judge." While Orleanna has repeatedly talked to Ruth May defensively, Ruth May insists she is not attacking Orleanna. She tells her mother to listen, and she describes two different passages through the forest. The first is what Orleanna described at the start of the book—she is having a picnic in the jungle with her daughters, and spots an okapi. The second is Orleanna, white-haired now, and her three grown daughters, ostensibly returning to find Ruth May's grave. The Ruth May voice says, "In truth they are saying goodbye to their mother." They wanted to get back to Kilanga but could not. Mobutu has died and the Congo is chaotic. So they are in another small town on market day, and they stop to talk to a woman who sells carved wooden animals. They buy some from her and she gives a present to Orleanna—a small wooden okapi. They learn she is from Bulungu, and they ask about nearby Kilanga, but the woman is confused. She insists no such village ever existed. They are puzzled, but Ruth May tells them—Orleanna in particular—to let go. She forgives her mother, saying, "You are afraid you might forget, but you never will. You will forgive and remember."


Kingsolver uses parallel structure to shape the book's ending. In the first chapter, Orleanna describes herself and the girls walking in the Congo, using third-person narration as if she were not present. The ghost of Ruth May makes it clear that Orleanna has never let go of what happened to her youngest daughter. Even now, presumably close to death, Orleanna is thwarted in her desire to place a marker on Ruth May's grave.

But the final chapter is peaceful and consolatory. The woman selling wooden animals provides some of the tone. She gives Orleanna a carved okapi—the same animal Orleanna describes seeing in the first chapter. Ruth May describes the event in this chapter, but with additional detail—how the okapi, startled by the girls, runs away and lives longer. Ruth May explains, "Being dead is not worse than being alive. It is different, though." To Orleanna, the okapi was a symbol of the beauty of Africa. The woman's gift serves as a symbol on another level, too. She calls it a "cadeau," the French word for present. In the early chapters several of the Price women remark on the children who would beg them for "cadeaux," or presents. Now a woman who might have been one of those children gives a "cadeau" to Orleanna. Orleanna can accept. She does not solely have to give.

In the final pages, Ruth May comforts Orleanna, telling her she can forgive herself. Just as grown children often have to care for their aging mothers, the ghost of Ruth May offers her mature wisdom to Orleanna. She reassures her, saying, "You will forgive and remember." Kingsolver seems to be speaking to the reader, asking for remembrance and acknowledgement of what has been done in Africa, but also looking to the future with hope, not only grief.

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