The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible Summary and Analysis of Chapters 31-35

Leah takes the responsibility of trying to cheer up Ruth May, but she remains despondent to her pleas. As Leah is braiding Ruth May's hair, Anatole shows up with news for the family. He tells Leah that Katanga, a southern province with large diamond mines, is seceding from the Congo. Leah asks why and Anatole tells her it is because the leader of Katanga is making deals with the Belgians for the natural resources. Patrice Lumumba wants to keep the Congo's resources for the people, but he is fighting a difficult battle. He has threatened to bring in Russia to defeat the Belgian's and make the Congo a communist country. These are worries for Leah, but she can't help but feel they are far off as she comes more and more to admire the local culture and people of the village.

Ruth May and Mrs. Price spend most of their time in bed. Ruth May recounts how she sometimes hears Mrs. Price arguing with Reverend Price, telling him how in Stanleyville they rounded up the white missionaries and shot two of them. Revered Price simply tells her that the meek will inherit the earth and that the first shall be last. To cure Ruth May, Nelson brings her a talisman, a small bone that was burned in a magic fire. He tells Ruth May to breathe into it and that if she ever is faced with death, she can disappear and go to a magic place where she will be safe.

Rachel and Leah get into a huge fight when Leah burns their dinner one night. Rachel begins cursing and throwing things, and suddenly Mrs. Price emerges from her bedroom and stoically tells her daughters to serve the food and that tomorrow she will teach Rachel to cook. From that point on, Mrs. Price begins to raise herself out of her depression a changed woman. She openly flaunts Reverend Price's authority and tells everyone that she will get her and her daughters out of the Congo regardless of the price she has to pay. Leah, herself, begins to have more and more grave doubts about what her father has gotten them into. Though she still admires him, she can't help but think that "If his decision to keep us here in the Congo wasn't right, then what else might he be wrong about?"

One afternoon, as Rachel was "slaving" away in the kitchen, the village stirred with the news that "Tata Bidibidi" was arriving. It turns out, it was Brother Fowles, the missionary that had preceded the Prices in Kilanga. Brother Fowles was an old man with a long gray beard. He had married a Congolese woman, Celine, and they had several children. They were on their way to visit Celine's family up the river and stopped in Kilanga to check on the Prices and to visit friends. Brother Fowles tells great stories about nature and birds and has a tight grip on memorizing scripture. He tells them that the Congolese people are actually very religious, though it may be hard to see sometimes. When Reverend Price comes home, he and Brother Fowles begin debating scripture, and though Brother Fowles keeps his good nature about it, Reverend Price does not invite them to stay for dinner. As they are leaving in their house boat, Brother Fowles gives the Price woman extra food and medicine and tells them about a Baptist Missionary hospital in a neighboring town. As they leave, Brother Fowles reminds Mrs. Price that they are all "branches grafted on this good tree...The great root of Africa sustains us." He encourages her to talk with Tata Ndu to ask for help and relates that though he may not have saved souls the way that Nathan Price wanted to, good things were done while he was there, like the practice of wife-beating falling out of favor with the village men.

After Brother Fowles's visit, the summer months pass in a daze. The drought worsens and there is little or no food for the Price family besides what little they can muster. Then, the village undergoes a festive five day market time in which, unexpectedly, Tata Ndu brings five successive gifts of food to the Price household. Each time he comes in and lines up the Price girls and has conversations with Reverend Price. Reverend Price thinks that Tata Ndu is finally coming around to the side of the Gospel, but Nelson explains to Mrs. Price that he is actually looking to take another wife, Rachel. He explains that Tata Ndu could see that they Price's didn't have enough food, and so he thought he might be able to bargain for Rachel, whose pale skin, Nelson says, would "cheer up" Tata Ndu's other wives. Both Mrs. Price and Nelson laugh at the idea of Rachel taking on the responsibility of a Congolese wife.


Ruth May's decline in health precipitates a reawakening for Mrs. Price, who doggedly rises from her own depression to take the household back from Rachel, Leah, and Adah. She has a new determination now, and does not care what her husband thinks or says. She often tells her daughters now that she will do whatever is necessary to get her and her children out of Africa, especially when news of a the killings of white missionaries starts to leak in. Eeben Axelroot, who is reluctant to help, decides that even he has a price that he is willing to accept for flight to Leopoldville - money or sex.

The character of Leah grows in complexity through these chapters. At the beginning of the novel, Leah represented the naivete of mission work, specifically the belief that she and her father's mission were right - but as the novel progresses, her character begins to embody doubt and she comes full circle to the Congolese point of view. Indeed, she will grow in admiration for the unique culture around her and begin to more fully engage in it. But the arrival of Brother Fowles changes the mood of the Price children. They are shocked to discover that this white man has decided to live and work here in the Congo, voluntarily. More shocking are his ministry practices. He is a nature lover and reads God's creation as the ultimate Bible. He tries to explain to Leah that the Bible is really a tool of culture, written in a specific time and place with specific cultural markers for those that wrote it 2000 years ago. This sets Leah's head to spinning, and it angers Reverend Price.

The character of Brother Fowles represents an alternate religious vision than the hard-edged Protestantism of Nathan Price. Brother Fowles represents pantheism, the belief that all created things hold within them a measure of divinity. His belief that all of creation is divine in its own way is more in line with the traditional beliefs of the people of Kilanga. It is also no coincidence that his last name sounds so similar to "fowl" - birds, and it reminds the reader of the Dickinson line from earlier in the novel that "hope is a thing with feathers." Brother Fowles, and the pantheistic approach to religion, offers hope to the Price women, espeically Leah, who, as mentioned above, is undergoing a spiritual transformation of her own.

Brother Fowles's arrival, his relative prosperity, and his friendship with the villagers is also a revelation to Mrs. Price. He tells her that though his missionary style is very different from Revered Price's, much good was done while he was there - including the banning of wife beating. The love that the villagers have for Brother Fowles is, in a way, an indictment of the Price's failed style of missionary work. Brother Fowles, through his charity and willingness to bend to the cultural norms of Congolese society, was more successful than the Prices could ever be in the work of loving their neighbors. His arrival brings the cloud of doubt to the Price women, not just about their work in the Congo, but about the way they live their religion as well.

In this way, then, Brother Fowles is also a critique of the Western notion of the Protestant work ethic. The Protestant work ethic, a theory formulated by the social theorist Max Weber, argued that Protestantism, with its focus on "working" for salvation also increased economic prosperity for Western nations. But the pantheism of African religion and culture, in which working for salvation is not necessary, critiques the style and culture of the Western way of life. Brother Fowles has managed to have a very comfortable life, living in a houseboat, without the Western Protestant understandings of salvation or work. Kingsolver uses African culture to critique the idea that Western religion and Western notions of work and economics are inherently better than others.