The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible Summary and Analysis of Chapters 15-19

One afternoon, while climbing a tree, Ruth May falls out and breaks her arm. She was climbing the tree to spy on the "African Communist Boy Scouts," a group of boys who all wear red handkerchiefs and practice marching drills. These are different from the Belgian Army, who still come to the village to show that they are still in charge of the country.

Eeben Axelroot takes Revered Price and Ruth May to a hospital in Stanleyville. On the plane ride there, Ruth May accidentally discovers a small bag of diamonds but doesn't mention it to anyone. At the hospital, a Belgian doctor begins to put a cast on Ruth May's arm. The doctor and Reverend Price get into an argument over the usefulness of missionaries. The Revered declares that his job is to bring salvation to the native people, but the doctor tells him that, "We Belgians made slaves of them and cut off their hands in the rubber plantations. Now you Americans have them for a slave wage in the mines and let them cut off their own hands." The Reverend continues to argue that America will bring civilization and advancement to the Congo people, but the doctor sarcastically rebuffs him.

The doctor then tells the Reverend about Patrice Lumumba, a man who was gaining a following as a political leader of the Congolese people. The Reverend doesn't believe Lumumba to be a threat, but the doctor tells him about a riot he had started just the last week in which twelve people were killed.

One night, the Prices have Mr. Anatole, the town's school teacher over for dinner. Anatole speaks French and English and was educated enough to teach the town's boys basic grammar school subjects. Rachel is fascinated with him and the thin scars that cover his face. He had worked in the diamond and rubber mines as a boy, before being taken in by the Underdowns and educated. At dinner, Anatole tells Reverend Price that the village chief, Tata Ndu, was becoming worried at the moral decline in the village because so many people were going to church. Anatole explains that only the village's most unlucky and disdained members had been going to the church, simply because their personal gods had not been delivering on their promises, so they decided to try to sacrifice to Jesus. But, Tata Ndu is worried that the church is starting to draw too many upstanding citizens of the village. Reverend Price is angry at Tata Ndu, but decides he needs to further his efforts to get him to join the church. Anatole tells him that his real competition is not Tata Ndu, but rather Tata Kuvudundu, the town's local priest and fortune teller. Reverend Price calls Tata Kuvudundu a "witch doctor" and refuses to respect him. Anatole says that Tata Kuvudundu plays a practical role in town life, helping families who cannot conceive children or are plagued by adultery; these are things he thinks "ought to remain separate from Tata Jesus."

Condescendingly, Reverend Price asks Anatole to leave the house. He then begins to argue with Mrs. Price, culminating in the Revered smashing one of the plates that the girls loved. The Reverend retreats out of the house to begin work on a sermon that would clear up all the confusion about Tata Jesus and leaves the women in silence.

One afternoon, Leah and Adah are sent out to the market to shop for the family. Leah carries buckets of water and leaves Adah behind. But Adah begins to discover things about Africa that others miss. She finds the African pygmy people; she sees wildlife that others do not. Her slow walking allows her to witness things in the wilderness. She also spots Anatole speaking to a group of armed men in the woods.

The day that Leah and Adah went with buckets for water, Adah had to walk home alone, on account of Leah leaving her. As she is walking through a field of grass, she becomes aware that she is being followed by someone or something. She becomes very frightened, but knows that fear cannot help her. Her limbs will not allow her to move any faster. She keeps walking and eventually does make it home where the Price family is reading and preparing dinner.

Then, Tata Ndu walks up to the house to tell the Price family that Adah had been eaten by a lion. One of the villagers had seen the tracks of both, as well as a smear of blood, and believed her to be dead. Tata Ndu's real purpose in coming had been to best Reverend Price, to show him that "the gods of his village did not take kindly to the minister of corruption. As a small sign of Their displeasure, They ate his daughter alive." But when Adah finally walks up to her praying family, Tata Ndu retreats. The lion had actually eaten a small animal and Adah marvels at the fact that one God had bested another.

One day, Anatole sends a boy who calls himself Nelson to help the Prices. Nelson sleeps in the henhouse and does chores for the family, and in return he does much of the manual labor required around the house. Nelson, like Anatole, is an orphan, and so Anatole sent him to the Prices to become educated and have a better life.

As the rainy season progresses in the village, several families begin to become infected with the kakakaka. At first, the Prices think this is just a word for restlessness of the people, but Nelson explains that it is a disease that causes fatal cases of diarrhea. This causes Mrs. Price to keep the children indoors as much as possible, and they begin to suffer from a serious case of boredom. Leah can longer keep up with Mr. Axelroot and his curious behavior. During the times of boredom, Leah begins to have strange dreams that leave her feeling "wide awake below the waist." Soon, Mrs. Price realizes this is a side of effect of malaria. As Christmas comes around, Mrs. Price encourages the girls to begin collecting things for their "hope chests," boxes that contain things girls will want to use when they get married. Leah, however, has a hard time imagining romance and doesn't take a liking to the work. Rachel, on the other hand, throws herself into the work

The village church began to grow after Adah's lion incident. The village believes that if Jesus could protect a lame girl from a lion, than perhaps he could help them as well. Adah, however, is less than excited about the hope chest project as well, and begins to make morbid items to put into it. The hope chest project eventually tapers off because Rachel uses too much material and Leah and Adah don't care enough to keep it going.


The character of Ruth May also represents certain characteristics of Africa. In her trust and naivete, Ruth May puts her life into the hands of her parents. Since she is just a child, she has no way of understanding the danger she is in. While Kingsolver would not explicitly make the point that Africa is like a child in an immature, or undeveloped way, the analogy does fit when understanding the ways in which Western power, represented by Nathan Price and Eeben Axelroot, attempt to lie and cheat the land, creating situations of danger and conflict which the continent did not ask for nor have the tools to fight.

Kingsolver also begins to engage the difficult and incraesingly contentious political situation of the Congo. After breaking her arm, Ruth May is taken to a hospital in Stanleyville where her doctor and her father have a conversation about the rising threat of revolution. Patrice Lumumba, a local leader, is beginning to organize local Congolese to drive out the Belgians, and any other white people, from the Congo. Brief snippets of Congolese history make their way into these chapters through various characters. The Belgians had conquered the Congo and established a government. Their main goal had been to extract rubber and other natural resources, and they had used violent tactics to force people to work in the mines. Now, American interests discovered diamond mines, and they were using despicable and violent tactics to get at the natural reasources. Likewise, illegal diamond smuggling enterprises had sprung up, one of which was being run by Eeben Axelroot.

Lumumba is a charismatic leader who is organizing the people of the Congo to rise up against the Belgians. Small militias, many of them made up of children, are beginning to form in the Congo and one has even started in the Price's village. Revered Price remains convinced that America will bring prosperity and wealth to the Congolese people, as well as the gospel, but the Belgian doctor is less sure that anything but misery and death will come as a result.

Here, the theme of "Revelation" takes on another meaning, that of apocalypse. Just as in the Book of Revelation, when creation underwent violence and misery in order to be transformed, the Belgian doctor predicts that violence and misery will visit the Congo if it is to be transformed from a colony to a self-determining state.

The local political situation in the village is also becoming increasingly complex. Tata Nbu, the village chief, is unhappy that so many villagers are beginning to go to the church to worship Tata Jesus and are neglecting the family and village gods that protect the everyday interests of the villagers. This situation is compounded when Adah narrowly escapes a lion attack and the villagers begin to believe that this proves Tata Jesus is more powerful than some of the village gods. As the village begins to come under assault from a deadly wave of "kakakaka," the villagers word for dysentery, more people begin coming to the church looking for a refuge from the death surrounding them. Reverend Price, however, is still much more concerned with the state of their souls than the state of their surroundings.

The story of Adah and the lion bears casual resemblence to the story of Daniel and the Lion's Den from the Old Testament, but once again Kingsolver upends the Biblical narrative to assert a new point of view. In the story of Daniel, God subdues the lions that are supposed to kill him. Man, and his God, are thus seen to be rule over nature. But in Kingsolver's narrative, continuing the theme of humanity versus nature, nature is seen as the master of humanity. Adah escapes the lion's teeth not because God subdued the beast, but only because the random laws of nature allowed her to live and instead chose another young village boy to die in her place. Adah, as the most nihilistic of the characters, is subjected to nature's own version of nihilism.

The flood that engulfs the region also harkens back to story of the Biblical flood from the Book of Genesis. In the story of the flood, God kills all of humanity, save for Noah and his family, because of the wickedness of man. This flood, however, has no noble purposes and, instead, brings death to the youngest and most innocent of the village children. This is one aspect of Kingsolver's critique of religion. While Christianity asserts a progression of nature and history, Kingsolver retorts that nature and history are random and violent. Nathan Price's God only wants to save people's souls so that everyone will be saved from hell. Kingsolver retorts that there is hell on earth as well and religion is going nothing to save people from that.

Kingsolver also begins to play with the notion of hope. Mrs. Price starts the girls creating their "hope chests," collections of things for their wedding days. This task unwittingly reveals aspects of each character - Leah becomes quickly bored with the task, much more enthralled by the world around her; Adah's hope chest takes on a dark, forboding quality, reminiscent of her nihilistic tendencies; Rachel throws herself whole-heartedly into the endeavor showing a surprising amount of entrepeneurial spirit. This desire for material things would serve her well in her own personal endeavors later in life. This endeavor of hope, however, seems trivial amidst the confusion and devastation surrounding them, and so the girls eventually give up on the task, still hoping for a return to their former life, but not sure if that will happen now.