The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible Summary and Analysis of Chapters 6 - 9

The Price daughters begin to adjust to their new surroundings, but mainly by helping their mother in the house so that they don't have to go outside. Leah, however, goes outdoors with her father to start planting a garden. He has brought seeds of native Georgia plants, tomatoes and beans, and planned on cultivating a large garden that would feed the family and help provide for the rest of the village. Leah is enamored with her father, and believes that he holds vast amounts of wisdom. When he asks her why God makes men plant their food instead of just giving it, he tells her, "the Lord helps those that help themselves."

The previous missionary in Kilanga, Brother Fowles, left behind a domestic servant and a parrot, both of which he had taught to speak English. He, apparently, had also left behind trouble, as he had gone crazy "consorting with the inhabitants of the land." Mama Tataba, the servant Brother Fowles left for the family, watches Leah and Reverend Price plant the garden and can't understand why they don't "make hills." Reverend Price tells her that he has been planting all his life, and she leaves with contempt. She also points out, however, a plant that she calls "Poisonwood." Reverend Price does not heed her warnings, however, and the next day he is covered in rashes from the plant's poison. Mama Tataba also rearranges their garden into hills, a state that Leah and the Revered quickly rectify by shoveling all the dirt back into neat rows.

Reverend Price decides that the village church needs something to help kick off his ministry, so he decrees that Easter will be celebrated on the Fourth of July, since the villagers don't have the same concept of time as the Prices. Rachel is upset because there "were no new clothes for the Price girls," but she is still especially shocked by the variety of clothes that the villagers wear - especially since nothing matches. Reverend Price plans an Easter pageant for the service, but since only men come to the church, the pageant only consists of a few of the men parading around with spears pretending to be Roman guards at the tomb of Jesus. This is also a shocking thing for Rachel since "We aren't all that accustomed to the African race to begin with, since back home they keep to their own parts of town."

The highlight of the pageant is a baptismal service down at the big river that runs near the village. The men veto the plan to dunk people in the river, however, and so Price has to settle for holding a church picnic supper near the river to entice the villagers to get close to the water. Even then, however, no one was ready to get in for their baptism. Mrs. Price kills and fries several chickens that had been left by Brother Fowles as a "peace offering" to the village, but Revered Price doesn't notice her effort. Instead, he is fixated on the fact that no one was baptized. Church suppers were "nothing, in terms of redemption."

Ruth May cannot understand why "if somebody was hungry, why would they have a big fat belly?" She also doesn't understand the way all the people dress. She relates the story of how one of the toys she brought with her, a sock monkey, is stolen off the family's front porch one night, and how she cried so hard about it that she peed in her pants. The Price's neighbor, Mama Mwanza, had her legs permanently disabled after her roof caught on fire and fell on her. Even though she lost use of her legs, she is still forced to carry on her duties as the mother and wife of the household, and she uses her hands to walk through the village with baskets of goods and buckets of water balancing on her head. Both the Reverend and Mrs. Price grieve over seeing the hardships of these Congolese people, but they espouse different types of sympathy. Reverend Price believes that their broken bodies are simply a manifestation of their broken souls and how they "don't even see how they could be healed" by accepting Jesus. Mrs. Price, defiant in her own way, believes that it is the condition of their world that forces these people to endure such terrible harship. "Even something precious can get shabby in the course of things...." she says.

Adah reveals how both she and her sister, Leah, were tested and found to be academically gifted. Mrs. Price attempted to keep this knowledge from Reverend Price because he thought that "Sending a girl to college is like pouring water in your shoes...It's hard to say which is worse, seeing it run out and waste the water, or seeing it hold in and wreck the shoes." So, Mrs. Price enrolls them in advanced school classes and begins letting Adah read a variety of books - Bunyan, Milton, Stevenson, Dickinson - without her father knowing. Adah is also extremely talented with numbers and letters. She is particularly fascinated by palindromes, words or sentences that are spelled the same backwards and forwards. She prefers her own name to be spelled A-D-A, so that it is a palindrome. Even when she finishes reading a book, she says, she will read it backwards and discover a whole new experience. This allows her to stay entertained for hours while her sisters are bored by the coming of the "rainy season."

Metheuselah, the parrot, also begins to exhibit some unruly behavior when the rains come, mimicking his previous owner when he says "Piss off, Methuselah!" This angers Reverend Price and confirms his suspicion that Brother Fowles was a "papist Catholic," but there is nothing he can do to punish the bird. After an afternoon of hard rains, the girls stalk out into the back yard to find the vegetable garden they had planted flooded by the rain. Reverend Price and Leah spend the rest of the afternoon reshaping and replanting the garden, this time using Mama Tataba's plan of building flood-proof mounds, though he will not admit it was her idea.


The Prices' adaptation to Africa is not only a painful one, but also futile as well. For Orleanna, her hardship is not necessarily personal, but rather a result of all the poverty and suffering around her. She is anguished, for instance, by Mama Mwanza's physical deformities and further embarrassed by her husband's lack of sympathy for the people. She attempts to rectify the ill will beginning to form against her husband by feeding the entire village at the Easter picnic. Though the village appreciates it, however, Reverend Price does not.

Reverend Price's major vice at this point of the book turns out to be his stubbornness. He doesn't seem to comprehend that what worked in Georgia does not necessarily work in Africa. By having Easter on the Fourth of July, Kingsolver is explicitly linking Christ's defeat of death with the American way of life. Furthermore, Reverend Price's first step towards bringing the natives into the fold of Christianity is supposed to involve the collective baptism in the village river. When this fails, however, Oreleanna steps in to save the day by preparing an Easter feast. Certainly not for the last time in the novel, the instincts of women will rescue men from their own narrow-mindedness and limited goals. Indeed, perhaps Reverend Price's most stubborn - and indicative - moment comes when he refuses to build mounds for his plants because would involve taking another's idea. But when the rain comes, and all his plants are washed away, only then does he begrudgingly relent and build the mounds - although he efuses to give credit to Mama Tataba.

This scene of gardening reveals substantial tension in the book - specifically that of man versus nature. Kingsolver alludes to several Biblical narratives with this theme, including Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, as well as St. Paul's meditation on the groanings of creation in the Book of Romans. In Kingsolver's reading of this theme, creation is seen as a pure manifestation of God's power and man's struggle to work the land is both a manifestation of humanity's sin against nature as well as the destructive nature of technology against creation. In their own way, all of the characters of the novel have to deal with this theme of humanity versus nature.

Adah, though she is physically deformed, has the keenest mind of all the Price girls. She keeps her knowledge and advanced education to herself in an effort at self-preservation. Her penchant for words and puzzles helps her to see the African jungle in a way that her sisters and her parents do not, and she quickly establishes a cold distance from the people and the land. Overall, it seems, her character represents agnosticism's cool distance from the spiritual.

Reverend Price's style of ministry is not only suspect, but also seems to appear counterproductive. He chastises his predecessor, Brother Fowles, for taking too much of an interest in the local culture - so much so that it drove him mad. Pride, in other words, seems just as dangerous as sympathy or investment. Reverend Price, however, looks down on the people at the outset of the novel - so much so, that he's not willing to give them credit for their own traditions. Thus, when he discovers that flood mounds are indeed the only way to work the land, he must pretend it is his own idea in order to hold on to the tenuous belief that he will be the villagers' savior.

Nathan's ideals of ministry combined with the perspective of his wife, Orleanna, also provide a point of tension between the masculine point of view and that of the feminine. While Reverend Price is concerned about the salvation of souls, Orleanna focuses more on the bodily suffering of the people. This point of contention between the two characters seems to indicate deeper divisions between male and female perspective. While male-centered culture, especially in the time period between the nineteenth century - typified by Emersonian "self-reliance" - and mid-twentieth century literature - typified by writers such as Hemingway - exalted the masculine power over self and nature. Feminine critiques of literature and culture, meanwhile, attempted to highlight the notion of the body, especially the ways in which the body was used and often abused by the masculine. By bringing the conflict between Nathan and Orleanna centerstage, Kingsolver is critiquing religion's subjection of the body. This is, perhaps, most notable in the scene involving river-side picnic. Reverend Price's statement that church picnics were "nothing in terms of redemption" completely misses the feminine perspective that makes this scene possible: by feeding the people, Orleanna was attending to their bodily needs. Indeed, this one meal might have saved these people's lives in ways Revered Price might never understand.