The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Q: Discuss how the novel compares the relationships of husbands and wives to the colonizing power of the West.

    A: Kingsolver suggests that both the relationship between Orleanna Price and Nathan Price, and that of Africa and her colonizing captors, are relationships of abuse. Orleanna says that, like her marriage, Africa promised salvation, but in return she was ravaged of all her jewels. Kingsolver suggests that just as Africa's wealth was stolen, Orleanna's distinctiveness as a woman was stolen by her husband's domineering power.

  2. 2

    Q: Discuss the role of communism in the novel.

    A: Though communism is roundly believed to be a negative force for political gain in the democratic west, Kingsolver suggests that in some times and places this system of government and economics would work better than democracy. She uses the first instances of elections in Kilanga to show how the nature of democracy, in which one side wins and another loses, is not always viable in a country which has a historical tradition of working out consensus. Communism, she suggests, might have more power to feed the people of Africa who are starving.

  3. 3

    Q: Discuss the ways in which death is portrayed in the novel.

    A: Death is best analyzed in the contrast between Christianity and the ritual religions of Africa. Christianity is portrayed as a religion that seeks to avoid death through the attainment of eternal life. But death is a part of life in Africa, and religion both gives solace in life and a means to view the larger scope of time as simply a mundane aspect of the world. In Africa, death is to be mourned, but not something to be escaped from.

  4. 4

    Q: Discuss the character of Anatole and what he represents in the novel.

    A: Anatole, the local schoolteacher who marries Leah, represents the struggle of education in the African context. Education is never derided as an imperialistic force in the novel, though some might argue that it is. Instead, Anatole fights for a kind of education that helps free people from the cycles of disease and poverty that the Western world brought to Africa. Though Anatole himself is never fully released from these cycles, his mind and heart are, so that he sees a vision for African prosperity that rises above the harsh nature of the world.

  5. 5

    Q: Compare Brother Fowles's view of religion and that of Nathan Price.

    A: The God of Nathan Price is a God of the white oppressors of African culture. In terms of severity, he is a harsh God who punishes those that do not think and act in a certain way. Nathan Price's God is sure to bring destruction to the world and damnation to the individual and thus, his wrath must to be avoided. In contrast, Brother Fowles sees God in the nature surrounding him. Nature offers new creation everyday - and where Nathan Price only sees sin and destruction in the world around him, Brother Fowles sees new creation and redemption.

  6. 6

    Q: How is Adah's view of nature different from that of Brother Fowles?

    A: Adah Price's view of nature can be described as that of Darwin and hard science, while Brother Fowles's view of nature is more optimistic one. Adah sees the cruelty in nature, but not just cruelty for the sake of cruelty - rather, she sees the processes by which nature both fights with itself and cleanses itself, just as the swarm of ants cleanse the African landscape of bugs and bacteria that might otherwise be harmful. In Adah's view, humanity's job is to stay out of nature's way. Brother Fowles would see the ant invasion as an act of God, but would see God's redemption in the process. The ants simply make room for more life.

  7. 7

    Q: In your view, is it acceptable for oppressed persons to rise up and overthrow their rulers?

    A: Historically, there have been several views as to what action oppressed people should take against their oppressors. In the Marxist view, oppressed people are encouraged to rise up against their governments and to distribute the wealth they take amongst themselves. In democratic societies, moreover, this view is often formalized, as in in the Declaration of Independence which asserts that all persons have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Though the instances of violence that often accompany such acts of resistance are certainly regrettable, it cannot be forgotten that almost all cases of revolution - from the American Revolution to the Bolshevik Revolution - have been accompanied by times of violence and war. One's own personal ethics should inform how a person deals with such inevitable violence.

  8. 8

    Q: How is America's role in the novel portrayed? Do you agree or disagree with this portrayal?

    A: America is portrayed as another Western oppressor in the novel. Though American leaders might proclaim that their intentions were to bring freedom and democracy, Kingsolver argues through the book that America's version of freedom and democracy do not necessarily function appropriately in the traditions of the African context. Kingsolver also displays a darker side of the American presence in the Congo: one in which American forces seek to overthrow a ruler they do not like and, instead, install a dictator that will be kinder to American interests. This move only oppresses the people of Africa more, and ensures that Africa will forever be in the debt and control of the Western world.

  9. 9

    Q: What is the significance of Reverend Price's first sermon to the Congolese people upon landing?

    A: Reverend Price arrives to much fanfare amongst the Congolese people - they slaughter a goat for him, welcome him as a god, and host a dinner in his honor. But immediately Reverend Price gives a sermon condemning the natives as a villagers in a town of Sodom who must be reformed. Reverend Price, then, arrives in the Congo with a clear idea of who the Africans are and sets out to 'fix' them, without really making an effort to understand the traditions of the culture.

  10. 10

    Q: How might you best describe the relationship between Orleanna and Nathan Price?

    A: Nathan expects full acquiescence from Orleanna. Where he is aggressive, she is passive-aggressive, rarely stating her case in plain terms, but rather devising strategies to show she disagrees with her husband. This culminates in her fleeing with the children and severing ties with him. Even when she hears Nathan dies, she reacts passive-aggressively, violently planting flowers.