Summary and Analysis
Book 6 - Song of the Three Children
Rachel reflects upon her life. She is proud of her hotel and how well she has kept herself, but she misses the United States and regrets not having children. She imagines she can never go home to the United States now, not after so much has happened to her; she just wouldn't be able to fit in. She recognizes that Africa is Africa and cannot be changed, as much as men like her father believe it can be: "The way I see Africa, you don't have to like it but you sure have to admit it's out there."
Leah imagines Africa before the Europeans came and thinks about how the Europeans changed life there for the worse. After a lifetime of fiercely believing in justice, she comes to the conclusion that "there is no justice in this world . . . What there is in this world, I think, is a tendency for human errors to level themselves like water throughout their sphere of influence . . . There's the possibility of balance." She and Anatole are living in Angola now, on an agricultural station. Families come to live with them and help them raise pigs and grow maize, yams, and soybeans. Leah wishes for forgiveness from Africa for what her people have done to it. She views her own children as the beginning of the healing process.
Adah is trying to save children by learning about disease. Working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she studies the life histories of viruses, including AIDS and the Ebola virus. She has never married, but has a relationship with a recluse like herself who suffers from post-polio syndrome. She collects Bibles named for the typographical errors in them, such as the Camel's Bible (camels was printed instead of damsels) or the Murderers' Bible (murdered was printed instead of murmured). She thinks of her father proclaiming "Tata Jesus is bangala" to the villagers. In Kikongo, bangala can mean most beloved or poisonwood, depending on the inflection. Nathan always said the bangala meaning poisonwood. Adah thinks of her father's and family's story as the Poisonwood Bible.
This section provides readers a final comment on colonialism from the perspective of the different philosophies of the characters. Notice how all three women respect Africa, even Rachel. They recognize that its essential nature cannot be changed.
In examining their own lives, they all acknowledge regrets they have, but they also have each achieved something they are proud of. Out of the three, Rachel has changed the least. Her view of the world is still the same: "Let others do the pushing and shoving, and you just ride along." Both Leah and Adah have had to alter their philosophies somewhat, though. After so many years of witnessing injustice, Leah has lost her faith in justice and instead hopes for a balance between good and evil. Meanwhile, with her lost disability, Adah has also lost her sense of betrayal. Instead she sees the world filled with misunderstandings; she comments, "Illusions mistaken for truth are the pavement under our feet. They are what we call civilization."
That comment makes sense in terms of what Nathan said about the Americans and Europeans bringing civilization to Africa. In fact, he believed he was bringing civilization to Africa in the form of a Bible. In reality, however, as Adah observes, he and the other colonial powers were simply bringing to Africa a series of illusions — illusions of what they thought Africa was, and illusions of what they thought Africa would be. In the end, as all three Price daughters point out, Africa will not be changed.