Orleana Price is the mother of the four Price children and wife of Nathan Price. Born in Mississippi, she was the daughter of an optometrist who married Nathan when she was only a teenager. She and Nathan moved to Georgia where they began raising their family of four daughters. In Africa she finds herself in a constant struggle between caring for the needs of her children in a dangerous land and bending to the will of her husband. Ultimately, she chooses to abandon her husband in order to protect herself and her children.
Nathan Price is a Baptist missionary who takes his family into the heart of Africa in an attempt to convert the native peoples to Christianity. He is a hard man, partly from an experience in World War II that leaves him ridden with guilt. He devotes the rest of his life to serving a vengeful God and it is this that leads him to sacrifice his life and his family to the jungles of Africa. While in Africa, though, Nathan finds that his view of God clashes deeply with the traditions of the native Congolese culture. Still, he feels it is his duty to not only proselytize, but also to rid the natives of their amoral rituals and replace them with a rigid belief in a Christian God.
Rachel is the oldest of the Price daughters. Notable for her characteristic vanity and pride, as well as for her penchant to try and act smarter than she is, she provides a degree of comic relief throughout the novel. Her story, however, ultimately descends into tragedy as she marries several older men in Africa and must spend the rest of her days there - still deeply vain, running a hotel for rich white tourists and businessmen who visit the continent. In a sense, then, she becomes a prisoner of her own myopic views of the continent.
Leah is the middle Price daughter and twin to Adah. Notable for her devotion to her father and, later, her devotion to the continent of Africa, she marries Anatole Ngembe and has several children with him. She maintains the appearance and attitudes of a tomboy through the entire novel, and in fact, her hobby of making bows and arrows serves her well as she adapts and finally lives out her life on the continent.
Adah is the middle daughter and twin to Leah. Adah is handicapped by a strong limp and seems plagued by a sense of foreboding about the future. To pass the time, she often reads novels and constructs palindromes. Adah later becomes a doctor in Atlanta, undertaking research to find cures to the deadly diseases that ravage the continent of Africa. After an incident in which her mother abandons her during a deadly catastrophe, she often feels like the outcast both within society and her own family. It is only after the death of her youngest sibling that her mother finally makes Adah feel fully included in the family.
Ruth May Price
Ruth May is the youngest Price daughter and maintains a characteristically independent spirit and physicality. She spends her time climbing trees and is the first of the Prices to fully interact with the villagers in Africa when she teaches them the game "Mother May I?" Ruth, however, suffers the most tragic fate of the family when she is killed by a green mamba snake in the village of Kilanga.
Anatole is the school teacher in Kilanga. Later, he marries Leah Price and begins a family with her in the Congo. He fights ardently for Congolese independence and against African dictatorships and is repeatedly jailed and beaten. He does survive, hoowever, and after attending some classes at Emory University in Atlanta attempts to bring agricultural skills back to the people of the Congo.
The Underdowns are a Belgian missionary family who greets the Prices when they arrive in the Congo. They flee the country when the Belgian supported government fails.
Brother Fowles is a Congolese Catholic missionary. He precedes the Prices in Kilanga and leaves them his house servant and a parrot. He visits the family once where he preaches a gospel of nature and pantheism.
Tata Ndu is the chief of Kilanga. He is the rival of Revered Price for control of the village.
Mama Mwanza is the Price's neighbor in Kilanga. She was deformed in an accidental fire and is forced to walk with her hands. Despite her deformities and handicaps, she helps the Prices by giving them extra food.
Pascal is Leah's first friend in Kilanga and teaches her to shoot a bow and arrow. He is killed by a militia when he is still a child.
Nelson is a young boy in Kilanga who takes up residence with the Prices as their helper. He helps them with daily chores as well as with understanding the politics of the village.
Mama Tataba is the Price's domestic servant when they arrive in Kilanga. She quits in protest when Revered Price refuses to stop trying to baptize children in the river, a gesture that offends her because of the many children lost to crocodile attacks in that same river.
Tata Kuvudundu is Kilanga's local witch doctor and spiritual counsel; he curses the Prices and is the one responsible for placing the green mamba that bites and kills Ruth May.
Patrice Lumumba is the Congo's elected democratic President. A real historical figure, he is ultimately assassinated in a CIA conspiracy, later covered-up and denied.
Mobutu is the Congo's dictator after Lumumbu dies. He takes power after Lumumba and ultimately casts the Congo into dire poverty as a result of his tyrannical policies.
The Poisonwood Bible Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Poisonwood Bible is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Orleanna explains that a mother is special. She exists within the silences of the rhythms of the day. She shines but only special people can see it. She recalls once she was by the river and had seen the mythic creature. Like the silence and...