The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible Summary and Analysis of Chapters 10-14

Once the rains stop, Reverend Price's garden begins to grow quickly and all the Prices begin to look forward to the fruits and vegetables that they remember from home. Their luck is not as good, however, with the Betty Crocker cake mix they brought. Their stove is not really equipped to properly bake a cake, and even if it could, moisture and humidity had seeped into the cake mix packages and the mix "got transfigured like Lot's poor wife who looked back at Gomorrah and got turned to a pillar of salt." Mrs. Price can't be consoled, and she cries at the loss of the cake mix and at the realization that, "We brought all the wrong things."

Methuselah lets out a curse word and when Reverend Price hears it, he immediately wants to know which of the girls taught the bird to curse. When Rachel apologizes on behalf of all the girls, Revered Price uses the moment for a sermon on the "stink and taint of original sin." The Reverend has a special punishment for such situations: he gives the girls a Bible verse and they are expected to copy the next one hundred verses. The last verse will reveal their particular sin to them, so when the Reverend gives the girls a verse from the book of Numbers, the final verse gives them a lesson that "when you sin against the Lord you get found out, and to watch what proceeds out of your mouth." Leah, however, knows who really taught the bird to say the word: it was their mother, who had cursed over and over again when she realized the cake mix was unusable.

The Reverend comes up with the idea to "feed the belly and the soul will come," so he buys dynamite from Eeben Axelroot which he and the villagers use in the river to fish, though it kills many more fish than they are able to take in, all of which rot on the river banks since there is no ice to keep them from spoiling. In church that Sunday, the Reverend tells the story of the biblical character Daniel, and though Adah thinks the services translator, Tata Anatole, might have trouble with some of the concepts, she realizes that perhaps he is saying whatever he wants to the congregation and Reverend Price doesn't even realize it. As Adah looks around the sanctuary, she realizes that her disability helps her fit in much better with this African society than it ever had in Georgia. Here, everybody is broken. After the service, Mama Tataba is very upset with Reverend Price for still insisting on baptism.

Though the plants have grown in the Reverend's garden, they refuse to give fruit. The Reverend cannot figure this out and spends many days trying to figure why they grow but don't yield food. The Reverend takes this instance to teach Leah that sometimes "sometimes (God) doesn't deliver us out of our hardships but through them." Leah worries that her father is getting angry at God for not holding up his part of the bargain.

In August, after another sermon on baptism, Mama Tataba gives the Reverend "a good talking to." After they argue for a while, Mama Tataba returns and quits her job with the Prices. When Leah goes to find her father, she sees him looking at an insect. He has realized that the reason his plants have not developed fruit is because there are no bees to pollinate the plants. When Leah asks what Mama Tataba was so mad about, the Reverend tells here that she was upset about a little girl who had been killed by a crocodile. This was why no one would go down to the river and be baptized. When Methuseleh lets another curse word go in the Reverend's presence, he loses his cool and lets the bird fly away.

In a flashback scene, Mrs. Price remembers a day at the market when Leah accidentally knocked over a pile of oranges that a village woman was selling. The village woman's virulent reaction to Leah made her realize that she could not have things "both ways." She had thought that she could be a part of the village and faithful to her husband's vision of converting the villagers, but the villager's reaction to this folly makes her realize she is and will always be an outsider to their community. She also remembers the day that Mama Tataba and the parrot were released by her husband, and the extraordinary effort that was placed on her to take care of the family.

Slowly, the family begins to adjust to the culture of the Congo. They begin to learn the names of all the native fruits and trees and they begin to learn the names of all their neighbors. They know who each villager is by what they wear, "day in and day out," and Leah, bemused by one man who wears a ladies sweater, begins to wonder how anyone here could even know it was a ladies sweater, or how she even knows it. That same man is also a "sinner" because he keeps two wives, an old one and a young one. Reverend Price believes he should dump one of the wives, but Leah recognizes that it is a complicated matter of values and tradition.

The girls discover that all of the Congolese children find them fascinating, and Leah is frustrated by her inability to communicate with them. She has an adventurous spirit and tries very hard to keep an eye on all the happenings of the village, from the market days to the gatherings in the town square of all the villagers. She is fascinated by their activities and culture. She is also fascinated by Eeben Axelroot, who she spies on "for the cause of good." She discovers that he has a radio, as well as various other tools and guns.

Ruth May is the first Price child to make friends with the Congolese children. She teaches them all the game "Mother May I," and all the children play it for weeks together. Leah also makes close friends with one of the children, Pascal, who begins to teach her the language and the culture, as well as what plants to watch out for. Through their friendship, Leah begins to realize that there was a gulf of difference between her childhood and Pascal's. The Price's sorts of games - "Mother May I" and "Hide and Seek" - were quite different from his games - "Find Food" and "Recognize Poisonwood" and "Build a House."


The book slowly transitions from an examination of the effects of all the material things that the Prices brought with them to Africa to a wider perspective of how Africa begins to affect the Prices. Indeed, the Prices felt that they could simply bring their things from home - wonder bean seeds, cake mix, even the English language and religion. Yet, now they realize that their American ways are limited in the larger world - American plants don't grow because there aren't bees to pollinate them, American communication is difficult because of the language barrier. Even the Reverend's notions of religion don't work - such as baptism - because he fails to understand that the villagers are afraid of the river because of a simple barrier like crocodiles. Even his attempt at using dynamite to teach the villagers to fish ends up a failure because so much is wasted in the process. Additionally, the scene involving the dissolution of the cake mix - and the parallel allusion to the story of Lot and his wife from the book of Genesis - is a parable examining the value of leaving things behind. Indeed, the Price women are finding it increasingly difficult to leave their belongings behind. In the Biblical narrative, when Lot's wife looks back at all she is leaving from her home in Sodom, God turns her into a pillar of salt to be blown away in the wind. Like Lot's wife, Orleanna finds herself struggling between adapting to the new land the family finds themselves in and the comforts and safety of their home.

In her chapters chronicaling the Price's navigation of the Kikongo language, Kingsolver is alluding to the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel. In that story, men tried to become more powerful than God by building a giant tower up to heaven. God destroyed their tower because of their pride, and as punishment made each person speak a different language. Thus, the Prices, on a mission propelled by the pride of their father, find themselves unable to translate the culture and language of the place they find themselves in. As the reader will find out, God, or some other force, will scatter the family as well, creating in each member a language indecipherable to each other. Orleanna reflects, in a flashback scene, that she cannot have it "both ways" - meaning she cannot hang onto her American self while providing for her children in the context of Africa.

The overarching theme of "Genesis," then, has another feminine meaning: the theme of new birth. In a sense, the Price family is undergoing the labors of child birth, being made into new things. They are being forced to leave slough their old selves and, painfully, inhabit new selves fully enmeshed in the culture and life of the Congo. Mrs. Price, for instance, remembers the day that Mama Tataba and Methuseleh, the parrot, were let go by Revered Price. She calls it their "independence day," but it was a time of deeper frustration for her. She now had to assume the role of caretaker for her household without Mama Tataba's help of navigating the dangers of disease and bacteria in the food and water. Her greater challenge, however, is seeing the death and pain around her and knowing that she and her family are responsible for bringing so much of it.

Adah's reflection on fitting in because of her handicap allows Kingsolver to address the ideas of 'brokenness' as well. In one sense, Adah can represent the continent of Africa: broken, overlooked, dark and brooding, but fierce in her own silent intelligence, with much to teach others. Each of the characters, in her own way, represents a certain aspect of the African land and Kingsolver exploits these characteristics to further explore the theme of humanity and nature. In the same vein, Leah's curiosity with the Congolese culture leads her to make her first friend, Pascal. Though Leah has tells the reader that she begins to think she could "stay forever" in the Congo, she also begins to recognize that she brings her own American perspective to Congolese culture. This both frustrates her and excites her. When she sees a man wearing a woman's sweater, she realizes that she is the only one who recognizes that garment as a woman's sweater, and the only reason she recognizes it as that is because her culture has taught her to think that way. Likewise, she also recognizes the differences between her own childhood and that of her friend's. Childhood, she realizes, is just an invention of her culture as well, since Pascal didn't really have a childhood in her sense of that term. For the first time Leah begins to resent her father for making her a "white preacher's child from Georgia." This frustration begins, more and more, to be felt by each of the Price children.

It is in these chapters that the book makes a transition from the theme of "Genesis" to the theme of "Revelation." The sub-theme to "Revelation" is "The Things we Learned." Thus, "Revelation" signifies the sense of new understandings for each member of the family - namely the process by which each member of the family engages with their culture. Each character, like the main characters in Biblical stories, wields their own emotional arc, which allows them to learn their lessons through triumph and tragedy, ultimately fulfilling their potential in the larger moral framework of the narrative. The theme will also have another meaning, that of apocalypse and new creation, explored in future chapters.