The Poisonwood Bible By Barbara Kingsolver Summary and Analysis Book 3 - The Judges

Summary

Orleanna thinks back to the beginning of her relationship with Nathan. The United States entered World War II soon after they were married and Nathan was drafted. He was sent to the Philippines, where he received a head wound and was taken to a hospital. Meanwhile the rest of his company was captured and died on the Death March from Bataan. The incident impacted Nathan deeply, causing him to have "a suspicion of his own cowardice from which he would never recover." When he returned home to Orleanna, Nathan threw himself into his preaching, traveling throughout the South spreading the Word. Finally, when Orleanna was pregnant with Rachel, they settled in Bethlehem, Georgia. Less than two years after Rachel was born, Orleanna had the twins and her life became consumed by motherhood and housekeeping. She comments, "For six years, from age nineteen until I turned twenty-five, I did not sleep uninterrupted through a single night . . . And you wonder why I didn't rise up and revolt against Nathan? I felt lucky to get my shoes on the right feet, that's why."

In 1960, after Leah and Nathan return from the Independence ceremonies in Leopoldville, the Prices try to adjust to their changed status in the village. They no longer receive money or supplies from the Mission League and are therefore reliant upon the few supplies they have and what they can forage. Orleanna and Ruth May remain sick in bed most of the time, leaving Rachel, Leah, and Adah to take charge of the household. As they try to cook and clean, they realize just how hard their mother worked to keep them fed and healthy.

Leah is embarrassed by her family's lack of practical knowledge and even sometimes "pictured a father with shiny black arms pulling fish from the river and a mother with dark, heavy breasts pounding manioc in a wooden trough." One day Anatole comes to visit. He brings the family a rabbit for supper, as well as some news that one of the Congo's provinces (Katanga) has seceded from the new Republic of Congo. Apparently, there is unrest in Katanga because Lumumba is reluctant to make business deals with the Americans and Europeans. Lumumba has asked for help from the United Nations and is threatening to ask the Soviet Union for help if the United Nations doesn't offer assistance.

While Ruth May is sick with malaria, Nelson gives her a nkisi, or charm, to protect her. He says that it will keep her spirit safe if her life is ever threatened. For the charm to work, she must think of a safe place, and when danger threatens, her spirit will go there. Ruth May decides that her safe place is as a green mamba snake in the tree. She likes the idea of being able to see the whole world from such a high vantage point.

After a month of being sick, Orleanna begins to recover. As her body regains strength, her spirit also seems to have new life. She speaks her mind now, even in front of Nathan, and seems determined to find a way to get herself and her daughters out of Africa. Even Leah is beginning to doubt her father's judgment in keeping them there, especially since he is doing nothing to provide for or protect the family. This one doubt opens up the possibility of other things that Nathan may be wrong about, which is difficult for Leah to consider.

Brother Fowles, the missionary who preceded the Prices in Kilanga, visits the village one day with his Congolese wife and children. A kind, intelligent, and genial man, he has many friends in the village and is well-liked there. Nathan does not approve of him, however, especially after the two men debate scripture for awhile and Nathan cannot best Fowles in scriptural knowledge. Nathan also disapproves of Fowles' attitude toward the Congolese, because he has a gentler philosophy than Nathan regarding conversion. Rather than forcing his beliefs upon them, Fowles finds ways of incorporating Christianity into their beliefs, using their songs, prayers, and their views of the world to convey his message. Before leaving, Brother Fowles and his wife give the Prices books, food, and medicine.

A drought has hit the region, and food is scarce. Tata Ndu begins visiting the Prices, bringing them gifts. They are puzzled by his attentions until Nelson informs the family that Tata Ndu is looking for another wife — Rachel. It is likely that he recognizes that the Prices are struggling to get enough food, and he is trying to take Rachel off their hands so that they have one less mouth to feed. Rachel throws a fit, so Nathan strikes a bargain with Axelroot to pretend to be engaged to Rachel so that the chief will not be offended when they turn down his marriage offer. Now "engaged" to Axelroot, Rachel begins secretly planning to flatter him and then convince him to fly the family out of Kilanga. As they spend more time together, Axelroot continuously brags to Rachel that he is an important person. He claims his job as a pilot is just a cover and that he has ties to the CIA.

While Rachel is walking with Axelroot one day, he tells her that Lumumba is going to be killed. He intercepted the news on his radio: "Yesterday Big Shot sent a cable to Devil One with orders to replace the new Congolese government by force." When spying on Axelroot, Adah hears him and another man discussing that President Eisenhower has ordered Lumumba's murder. Shocked by the news, she later shares it with Leah.

Meanwhile, Leah has begun teaching some of the younger students at the school and spends much of her time with Anatole. When they are together, they talk about Congolese politics, and she tries to describe life in America to him. She is very attracted to him, and he is drawn to her as well, nicknaming her béene-béene, meaning "as true as truth can be." Leah has also become excellent at hunting with the bow that Anatole gave her for her birthday. Although she enjoys using the bow, Leah's hunting is viewed with disapproval by the villagers because it is unfeminine.

One night, the village is overrun by ants that cover everything "like black flowing lava." The ants try to devour everything they come into contact with, including plants, animals, and people. Everyone in the village runs to boats in the river to escape the ants' stinging bites. In the midst of the tumult, Adah and her mother face each other in the house. Adah knows that her disability will hinder her from moving fast enough to save herself from the ants, so although she has been in a self-imposed silence, she breaks it to plead with her mother, "Help me. Please." Holding Ruth May, Orleanna pauses, tells Adah to follow her, and goes out into the crowd. Adah tries to follow, but she falls and begins to be trampled by the panicked crowd moving around her. As she struggles to rise, Anatole suddenly lifts her up and carries her to a canoe. Adah is severely troubled by this event, feeling that her mother has shown that she values Ruth May's life more than hers. Meanwhile, Leah escapes in a canoe with Anatole. Frightened by the experience with the ants, she feels her faith in God slipping. She tells Anatole that she loves him, but he tells her she should never say that again.

Analysis

Orleanna's description of the early years of her marriage provides us with a better understanding of Nathan's obsession with staying in the Congo; he will not abandon his post in a jungle again. However, his decision to keep his family in the Congo is leading his daughters down dangerous paths. Rachel, for example, must pretend to be engaged to a despicable man in order to avoid being courted by the village chief. The most disturbing aspects of her pretense are the beginnings of an attraction to Axelroot and her calculated moves to persuade him to fly her family to safety. Rachel is determined to get her way and will use her looks to do it.

At the same time, Leah is also taking control of her life. As she falls in love with Anatole, she drifts farther from her father's narrow view of life. By the end of this section, she has lost her faith in her father, her faith in her country, and her faith in God. All she has left is her love for Anatole. Adah's world view is similarly shaken in this section. The experience with the ants caused her to lose her trust in her mother as well as her already-fragile sense of self-worth. Meanwhile, for much of this section, Ruth May's life is in jeopardy as she battles malaria. By giving her the charm, Nelson offers her more protection than her own father does. Kingsolver does not show Nathan offering his daughter even a prayer.

The political allegory that Kingsolver is creating becomes more apparent in this section. In the last section she established that Nathan's views represented those of the colonial (American and European) powers trying to control the Congo. In this section, Kingsolver shows the people who are dependent upon Nathan realizing that they have been betrayed by him and reacting to that sense of betrayal. In a similar fashion, Adah and Leah discover that they have, in a sense, also been betrayed by President Eisenhower, who ordered Lumumba's murder. As president, Eisenhower is a father figure, the leader of their country. Learning that he is capable of murder leads them to question what their country stands for.

Also significant in this section is the appearance of Brother Fowles. Up to this point, the novel has presented only one view of Christianity in Africa. Brother Fowles provides a counterpoint to Nathan's narrow-minded approach to religion. Even though Fowles was dismissed from the mission for marrying a Congolese woman, his kindness and generosity show him to be doing more good for people in one visit than Nathan has in one year. Fowles and his wife give out food and medical supplies, as well as simple comfort. He has a strong sense of God and a remarkable knowledge of the Bible. Next to Fowles' easy smile and quick mind, Nathan appears mean-spirited and unpleasant. As Fowles comments, "There are Christians and then there are Christians." By introducing Brother Fowles into the story, Kingsolver does for her readers what Anatole does for Nathan's congregation — she provides a clear picture of an alternate philosophy and leaves it to her readers to decide which one they prefer.

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Absorbed with his own agenda, Nathan does not appreciate or even notice which of his daughter's strong adoration of him?




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