The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible Summary and Analysis of Chapters 26-30

In a scene of flashback, Orleanna Price recalls how she met Nathan Price as a young girl and how they married. Orleanna grew up in Pearl, Mississippi. Her father had been an optometrist; her mother had died when Orleanna was very young. At the age of seventeen, she attended a Baptist tent revival where she met Nathan Price. After a brief courtship, it was decided that they would marry. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Nathan was drafted by the army and was sent to the Philippines. His company was attacked by Japanese soldiers and he was injured. But his injury proved to be his salvation as the rest of his company were rounded up and marched to a prison camp where they all died. When Nathan heard this news, something inside of him broke and Orleanna bemoaned that she never again heard from the man she had originally married. Back home, Nathan redoubled his efforts for God, proclaiming that his salvation meant that God was especially watching him and his wife - and everything they did. He was embarrassed by sex and the pregnancy that resulted and for months they lived in a station wagon while Nathan preached on a traveling circuit. They finally settled in Bethlehem, Georgia where Orleanna gave birth to the twins, and later Ruth May. But she relates how the harshness of her husband's ways, and the difficulty of rearing children in poverty, broke her own spirit. She compares herself to the Congo in this way; "barefoot bride of men who took her jewels and promised the Kingdom."

Leah and Reverend Price arrive back in Kilanga but now have new difficulties to face. They no longer have any money now that their stipend will no longer be coming. The villagers are confused by this as they had come to believe that white people have never ending supplies of money. Mama Mwanza takes pity on them, however, and gives them some oranges and promises that if her husband's catch is good, she will share some of their fish. Leah muses that "you know things are bad when a woman without any legs and who recently lost two of her own kids feels sorry for you." Nelson believes that a curse has bee placed on the family that will soon manifest itself in all the females of the house.

Nelson gives Adah a lesson in Congolese metaphysics. He explains that a thing gets its essence when it is named, and that everything is as it is because of the "nommo," the name. Adah understands this - she is the way she is because her name is Adah, Leah is the way she is because her name is not Adah. She asks Nelson about twins, and then explains to him that she and Leah are twins. Nelson is shocked and scared by this news. Twins, or "baza" as they are called in Congolese, is a very bad thing for a village. Any woman who has twins, he explains, is mandated by the village gods to take the babies out into the jungle and leave them there to die. If they do not, floods and disease will come to the village. Nelson is shocked that atrocities did not come to the USA when Leah and Adah were born. Nelson also explains that almost all the couples that attend the village church had had twins at some point. This leads to a further reflection on the type of congregation that Revered Price was assembling. "By pure accident" Reverend Price was attracting all of the refugees of Kilanga village life, though he failed to recognize this. Meanwhile, Mrs. Price was sinking further and further into a deep depression. Her and Ruth May mainly lay in bed all day.

Mrs. Price's depression leaves a vacuum of responsibility in the home. Leah, Adah, and Rachel convene to come up with a plan to put food on the table. Reverend Price remains willfully ignorant and scolds them when dinner is not ready on time. They inventory the food they have and come up with plans to find fruits and nuts. Each take a task - Leah finds oranges, Adah is in charge of the chickens, and Rachel claims she will bake the bread, though Leah is skeptical that Rachel can do any of those things.


Kingsolver introduces here another important theme: Africa as an analogy for femininity. Indeed, Orleanna Price has become a symbol for the continent. Like Africa, religion came upon her in the form of Nathan Price and ravaged her soul. Like Africa, political winds changed and left her and her family without food or support. Like Africa, her own spirit becomes broken and there seems little hope of ever being whole again. Orleanna Price, then, herself has been a victim of colonization and imperialism, and she is left bereft, ransacked as a result, devoid of identity. Her journey, then, like that of Africa is to renew her identity and find peace even though her independence comes at a terrible price.

The Prices are suddenly thrown into Kilanga life without the safety net of money or contact with the outside world. Indeed, they are fully cut off and now must fend for themselves. Leah has a revelation about the kind of society they have been living in and how they've simply brought their own presumptions of culture with them. She realizes that in Kilanga, a household is deemed strong when there is a man to find food and care for the family. But Reverend Price believes his job is simply to preach - something that might have provided for a family in Georgia, but does not put food on the table in Kilanga. Kingsolver, it seems, is critiquing the usefulness of religion. It is a theme that she comes back to repeatedly, but here is given new dimension - specifically one of economic utility. Religion, Kingsolver dryly notes, does not put food on the table. It was true for the people of the Congo before - Nathan Price's sermons have not helped them physically or materially - but all of a sudden it does not put food on the Price table either. The reader is allowed to imagine this same scenario in their own worlds and to question the utility of religion in their own lives.

The nuances of language and belief are also dealt with here. As the girls begin to pick up Congolese words, they realize the subtleties that they are unable to convey in the language. Reverend Price, especially, in his attempts to convey Congolese expressions often ends up butchering the meaning. The word for baptism, for instance, can mean both "to baptize" and "to frighten." These are things, moreover, that no one wants to tell him. By noting the ways in which the Prices cannot grasp the nuances of the language, Kingsolver is critiquing American and Western attitudes prevalent during that time - specifically the notion that African society is "primitive." Indeed, by revealing how the "civilized" American cannot understand the nuances of the language, Kingsolver suggests the bombastic pride inherent in any interaction between Western power and African culture.

Adah's realization that her father's church is only attracting the outcasts of the town suggests that the Reverend's work is doing more Christian good than he realizes. In the New Testament, Jesus ministers to the outcasts of society, usually critiquing the institutions of power instead of trying to accommodate them. Without knowing it, then, Reverend Price has created this kind of church - which embraces the outcasts into a fold which allows them to find value in their own lives and avoid the condemnation of their own society. But Kingsolver is only mocking the missionary enterprise here, for attracting the outcasts is certainly not what Price set out to do - and remains antithetical to his goal of civilizing an entire culture.

Reverend Price is also woefully unaware of the practical ways in which the villagers deal with religion. The Congolese pay their respects to a multitude of gods, of which Tata Jesus is simply one of many. If a child dies, a person might try to worship Jesus. If a drought comes, however, Jesus is believed to be inadequate, and so the person moves to another ancestral god. For Reverend Price, his teachings on Jesus make perfect sense; like the plants they brought with them from Georgia, however, these teachings are not able to flower in the cultural context of the Congo.