The Poisonwood Bible By: Barbara Kingsolver. Paige Madsen, Devon Fox, Taylor Glasoe, Grace Erpenbach, Laura Andrews, Sam Monson. Setting.
Paige Madsen, Devon Fox, Taylor Glasoe, Grace Erpenbach, Laura Andrews, Sam Monson
Congo (Kilanga) – When the Price family comes to the Congo from “Bethlehem, Georgia, bearing Betty Crocker cake mixes into the jungle.” They had no idea how different this place was from their previous home. In this setting, they were the only white people in their village and were considered the freaks because of their long blonde hair and pale skin. Whereas in Georgia, the schools they attended were still segregated as Ruth May points out. “Back home in Georgia they have their own school so they won’t be a-strutting into Rachel’s and Leah and Adah’s school.”
Another major difference was the styles. In Georgia the girls would dress in their Sunday best, with white gloves and primped hair, but here, “Children dressed up in the ragbags of Baptist charity or else nothing at all.”
Finally, there is a huge difference in how they acted to Adah in the Congo compared to in Georgia. In the Congo Adah is respected, and definitely not looked upon with pity or disgust like she was in the United States. It takes Adah a while, but the Congo teaches her that her disability shouldn’t hold her back; none of the Congolese think it should. She also witnesses characters like Mama Mwanza, who has no legs yet still takes care of her big family, and that helps her realize she can achieve anything she chooses to work for.
1959-1980 prior to Congo’s historic declaration of independence, the first election of a prime minister- When the Price family enters the Congo, it is in the midst of a revolution. There were a lot of uprisings, with many angry people and lots of secrets between the Congo and the United States. When it got bad enough, each Price family member reacted in a different way. Orleanna decides to flee the country, Leah chooses to stay and fight for the Congo’s independence, Rachel chooses to be oblivious to the whole thing, and Adah goes back to the United States and uses her intelligence to indirectly help the Congo with her research in bacteria.
Missionaries- Being surrounded by their father’s crazy and angry antics really affected how the girls thought of religion. His anger and forcefulness pushed all the girls away. Adah and Leah both lost their belief in the God their father shoved down their throats, and later found different things to put their faith in.
Leah Price: Initially as closed-minded as her father, but begins to drastically change as she sees more of the world. Ends up staying in Africa working with Anatole to improve lives.
Rachel Price: Materialistic and dumb, Rachel ends up marrying several times for money and owning a luxury hotel in the Congo.
Adah Price: Leah's twin sister. Adah never speaks and sees the world in different ways. She later recovers from her condition and becomes a well-respected and successful epidemioloist.
Ruth May Price: the youngest daughter, who befriends the Congolese children. She is killed by a snake.
Nathan Price: the father, who is an egotistical minister. He brings his family to the Congo in order to convert the Congolese and save souls. He dies in the Congo.
Orleanna Price: the mother, who is submissive to Nathan. She eventually finds the courage to leave him after Ruth May's death and takes better care of her daughters.
Tata Ndu: the village chief, who opposes Nathan's teachings. brings his family to the Congo in order to convert the Congolese and save souls. He dies in the Congo.
Tata Kuvudundu: the religious leader of the village, often called a "witch doctor." He plants snakes to convince the villagers that Nathan has cursed them, and one of his snakes kills Ruth May.
Anatole Ngemba: the schoolteacher in the village, and the translator. Marries Leah and takes action against Mobutu reign.
Political allegory- Nathan is seen as the conqueror. Nathan represents the cultural arrogance of the west, and their need to seek power over the African people, and dealing with the guilt. “How do we aim to live with it?”
Religion- Nathan tries to bring Christianity to the Congo by attempting to baptize the Congolese in crocodile infested waters, and by referring to Jesus as Poisonwood.
Western Control- Nathan attempts to dominate the Congo with his views on Christianity, and by bringing in western views that do not mesh in the Congo.
Nature- Nature proves to be very harsh in the Congo. People die of starvation and children die young or are eaten by crocodiles or lions.
Pantheism- Brother Fowles brings the idea of Pantheism to the Congo with his believe that nature and God are one.
-Nathan’s eye injury from the war inhibits his vision, as well as his inability to see the value in other cultures.
-Adah is able to read text forward and backward, and has the ability to see things differently than others.
The main conflict Orleanna deals with is the death of Ruth May. She is fighting with herself because she thinks she is responsible for the death of Ruth May. The guilt she feels consumes her and trying to move is nearly impossible even when she returns to the US. She never truly forgives herself until the end of the book when she returns to the Congo with Leah, Adah, and Rachel. Ruth May is the narrator during this final scene and she forgives her mother and tells her it’s time to move on.
Leah deals with several conflicts in the novel. She struggles with her beliefs and religion. At one point in the novel she gives up on her faith all together because she doesn’t understand, if there is a God, how he would let all of these bad things happen to them. But later returns some of her beliefs. Leah also conflicts with her relationship with her father. She has always idolized him, but now in the Congo, she starts to see his true colors. As she grows up, Leah starts turning away from her father and his views, and begins to think more on her own.
Adah conflicts with her disability throughout the novel. Even though she is Leah’s twin, she isn’t anything like Leah, and chooses to merely observe life, rather than participate in it. She is cynic about life until it is almost taken away from her and she starts to realize her disability shouldn’t be controlling her life. When Adah overcomes her handicap later in the novel she starts to miss the way she could view life differently than others. But she starts to see that her disability, though it is now gone, will always be a part of who she is.
Whether it was from the death of Ruth May, the results of Nathan’s teaching, or from the discoveries of the United States involvement in the Congo, each of the Price women felt guilt from their experiences while living in the Congo and must try to go on living with it. As Leah turns her guilt into motivation, she remains in Africa to try to solve all of the problems that exist there, Orleanna remains as a human rug, lies down and does nothing. Rachel acts as if she has no guilt and keeps her thoughts solely about herself while Adah dedicates her life to study and tries to understand the world and what happens in it on a scientific level. Kingsolver shows the women’s separate reactions to their guilt to present the question to the reader: After knowing about the cruelties and problems of the world, how do we aim to live with it?
Anatole vs. Nathan brings his family to the Congo in order to convert the Congolese and save souls. He dies in the Congo.
PriceIn this scene, the Prices have Anatole over for dinner. As the dinner progresses, he tells Nathan Price that Tata Ndu is concerned that too many of the villagers are coming over the church. Obviously Nathan doesn’t understand Tata Ndu’s concern and is enraged by this news. He then tries to turn the arugment around and blame it on Anatole. As Rachel witnesses this power struggle she says “Father Laid his knife and fork crossways on his plate and took a breath, satisfied he’d gained the upper hand. Father specializes in the upper hand.” And “Anatole seemed to be getting ants in his pants but was still bound and determined to argue with Father.”
Textual Evidence:Brother Anatole, I pray every day for understanding and patience in leading Brother Ndu to our church, he said. Perhaps I should pray for you as well.
In his attempt to communicate better with the Congolese natives, Nathan Prices tries to use the word ‘bangala’ for ‘Tata Jesus is bangala’. Bangala actually means poisonwood so instead of increasing the villager’s interest in Christianity, he makes them terrified of Jesus. Not only does this show Nathan’s cultural ignorance, it’s also funny to see Nathan and the villagers increasingly worsening interactions.