The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible Summary and Analysis of Chapters 62-71

In grief, Orleanna Price discusses her loss and her decision to leave her husband. With the death of her youngest child, she moves all of their furniture out into the yard to go through the "digestive tract of Kilanga." She compares herself to Africa, conquered by a force that she neither understood nor knew any way of resisting. But the conquerers mistake, she knows, is that the land they conquer keeps moving. Just as her emotions and person moved beyond Nathan Price with the death of her youngest child, so too would Africa move beyond the ability of the U.S. or any other foreign nation to control it.

The Price women leave the village in the downpour carrying only what they can on their backs. Some of Mama Mwanza's daughters help them by carrying oranges and water and they trudge through the mud and rain, staying one night with some of Mama Mwanza's relatives in a small village, until they reach Bulungu. Because of the rain there is an influx of mosquitos on their trip and Leah contracts malaria as they walk the two day trek. She becomes delirious with fever and only survives because a group of men find them on the road and carry her to the village. Her recollection is filled with crazy dreams merging with reality, but she knows that a deal is made with Eeben Axelroot for Rachel and that soon Anatole joins her family. As she recovers, Mrs. Price and Adah leave to go on to Leopoldville and eventually back to America, but they leave Leah in the care of Anatole until she is well enough to come along. Leah, however, slowly falls in love with Anatole until they decide together that she will stay and be his wife.

A year later, in 1962, Rachel is living in Johannesburg, South Africa with Eeben Axelroot. He had made a deal with her to get her to safety, and as a reward, the American Embassy paid him a large sum of money. Though they aren't married, yet, Rachel decides to start calling herself Rachel Axelroot and no one in "Joburg" knows different. She begins to make her way into Joburg society, making friends with the wives of Ambassadors and going to the Episcopal Church. She is once again reunited with the luxuries and conveniences of modern society and she is grateful to simply "not be dead" like her sister Ruth May.

Adah and Orleanna Price did make it out of Africa, however. After being ferried across the river in Bulungu, they hitch a ride on a banana truck until they are ditched again, wandering the roads for days until they are picked up by a group of soldiers and delivered to the Belgian embassy. After weeks of a being in the hospital being treated for all the various diseases and infections they had picked up on the journey, an American military plane plants them safely at Fort Benning, Georgia. Back home, Orleanna rents a small cottage where she starts gardening, growing flowers and food, and Adah journeys to Atlanta where she demands entrance into Emory University, and is given it. She is troubled, however, by the change in her situation: no longer is she the pariah who is owed something by society; instead, she now owes her mother her very life.

Two years later, in 1964, Leah finds herself in a convent in the Congo. After she had recovered in Bulungu, she finds that she is a hazard to everyone around her. As the pro-Lumumbists attempt to regather their strength to fight Mobutu, Leah finds that even being white is a liability. The Simba's, the pro-Lumumbu group, has engaged in war with Mobutu's forces, and Mobutu's forces have been indiscriminately killing anyone or burning any village that seems to support them. Under these conditions, Anatole arranges for Leah to stay at a French convent while he reorganizes with the pro-Lumumbu group. But he is captured quickly and taken to jail where Leah only gets letters from him. Her love for him deepens however, and as all out war breaks out between Mobutu's forces, with the United Nations to back him up, and the Simba's, Leah prays that he is protected. Meanwhile, in South Africa, Rachel has found marriage to Eeben Axelroot to not be as great as she thought. He routinely verbally abuses her, and she, for her part, punishes him by spending money on lavish clothes and vacations to the beach. According to her, he is once again involved in the diamond trade, leaving her for months at a time. In order to get back at him, she threatens divorce, and when that doesn't work, begins having an affair with an attache to the French Ambassador, who promises to move her away to another city.

Another year later, on January 17th, 1965, Leah and Anatole mourn their respective losses. They were married after Anatole was released from prison without ever being charged for anything, and they made their way to a safer place where they set up a home - she attending to the duties of the house and he teaching children in a new school. January 17th is the anniversary of two deaths they mourn: Ruth May and Patrice Lumumba. The political situation in the Congo continues to worsen as Mobutu's government gives into corruption and waste. All of the government services have been shut down and the people's anger over everything is kept in check by the money that Mobutu is able to spend on military and police forces. Leah and Anatole's lives become harder and harder as their money dries up and the people of their village realize that simply getting an education is putting them in danger. News does reach Leah about her father though. He has become a wild man, setting up a church in the jungle after his house in Kilanga burned to the ground. One day he wanders into a missionary doctor's office crying that he'd swallowed a snake. He has becomed ravaged by disease and sickness. After he is treated, he simply wanders back into the jungle.

Two more years pass, and now it is Christmas eve of 1968. Adah recounts what has become of her family as she knows it: her mother has found a new religion, Civil Rights, and moved to Atlanta where she marches and demonstrates. Leah and Anatole have also moved to Atlanta, and have had a child, where she starts school at Emory for Agriculture. Her religion is suffering, Adah says, and they are constantly shocked by the abundance of America. Adah herself has started medical school and is faced everyday with issues of life and death, the same issues that still haunt her from the Congo. When a teenage mother gives birth to premature triplets, Adah has to remember the Congolese tradition of taking twins out to the forest to die, and she has to wonder whether her practice of medicine is a better solution for this teenage mother. Adah is also undergoing changes - a neurologist diagnosed her limp as a habit, not a deformity, and after months of retraining her body, she is finally learning to walk correctly. The whole of her identity, then, is now fully under question. After a night of dreams of dying children and a changing world, Adah calls her mother and asks why it was her that she decided to save from the Congo and not Leah. Orleanna admits that once Ruth May died, Adah was the youngest, and a mother takes care of her children from the bottom up.

The story then moves to 1974. Leah and Anatole have moved back to the Congo, though Mobutu has renamed the country Zaire, and renamed all the towns to rid the entire landscape of any sign of foreign oppressors. But Leah and Anatole's situation proved that one oppression is simply replaced with another. Her story in 1974 tracks the political failings of the country: Mobutu has ceased paying for any public service and now all the people of Zaire are forced to negotiate and steal for what they need. To add insult to injury, Mobutu announces that two famous American boxers, George Forman and Muhammad Ali, will be coming to fight in the nation's capital at a cost of $20 million, a sum that enrages Leah because she hears this news just as one of Anatole's students tells her that she is quitting school to become a prostitute at ten years of age. Her own family is constantly ravaged by parasites and disease and she has never had less in her entire life. She feels foolish now, remembering how she and her sisters planned their survival when their mother lay in bed depressed - even then they had infinitely more food than they have now. To make matters even worse, the U.S. loaned Zaire a billion dollars for a power grid that never worked. This leaves the country in a debt they can never pay off and makes true independence impossible.

More years pass, and now it is 1978. Rachel recounts how she married the French Ambassador to the French Congo, but that he soon left her for his mistress. She then found another husband, an older businessman, who died and left her a hotel, the Equatorial. In the hotel, Rachel finally finds a semblance of independence. She runs the operations and improves the place until it becomes known as a luxury destination for business travelers. She laments, half-heartedly, that her family won't come to visit her, but she doesn't think much of what they've decided to do with their lives anyway - Leah, especially, who she simply believes to be unnatural for marrying a Congolese man and having children with him.


The narrative arc of the book picks up a great deal of pace, moving through almost twenty years in the span of a few chapters. The lives and dealings of each of the Price children are detailed as well as the manner in which they deal with the demons of their experience in the Congo - and, of course, the death of their youngest sibling. Several themes are highlighted in each of their respective new legacies.

The women's trek out of the village is symbolic of the Hebrew people's escape from Egypt, detailed in the book of Exodus. The journey begins after the death of the youngest child after a visit by an angel of death, the green mamba. This is the final plague that now sends the remaining women on a journey. Though the Price women do not find such overt miracles like the parting of the Red Sea, they do make the trek through the pouring rain, with the help of Mama Mwanza's daughters. Just the as the Israelites left Egypt looking for their freedom, so also do the Price women leave the village in search of their own. The deal that Mrs. Price makes with Eeben Axelroot for Rachel, is symbolic of the Faustian deal that Africa made with Western powers. When Western powers, such as Europe and the U.S. make promises to save the land, there is inevitably a trade off of something very valuable. For Orleanna, that tradeoff is giving up her oldest daughter to the country she will abandon. Adah and Orleanna do, eventually cross a river to leave the country, just as the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. It was the final obstacle to leaving the land and they soon return home.

For Leah, her life several years later is intimately tied up in the political situation of the Congo, which has been renamed Zaire. For her, she correlates the passively abusive relationship of her mother and father with the abusive relationship between Zaire and the industrialized countries of the world. Anatole calls Mobutu the wife of these white countries, manipulated and forced into doing whatever they will, and Leah proclaims that she understands because that was the very same tension that brought her and her family to the Congo so many years before. To break that cycle, she willingly devotes herself to a life of poverty and sickness and suffering with the people of Zaire though she knows she and her children could return to the U.S. at any point. She refuses to be a part of the oppression of the people of Zaire. Ruth May and Patrice Lumumba represent the death of hope, and grief has overtaken them as well.

The story comparing the boxing match between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali with Leah's own poverty is particularly striking. This story represents the the imperialism of American culture. It is ironic that Mobutu has attempted to wipe out all signs of foreign influence since American culture has so thoroughly infiltrated the country. Kingsolver suggests this is the imperialism of capitalism - money and greed are the values that take hold in Africa, not democracy and freedom.

Adah sees her time in the Congo in a more dramatic light. Her experience is forever influenced by the night in which her mother chose to save Ruth May instead of her when the ants attacked. Once Ruth May was killed, however, her mother chose her and explains that a mother provides for her family from the bottom up. Adah has difficulty reconciling the hard choices that her mother had to make regarding the lives of her daughters and finds small bits of forgiveness in her mother's new devotion to her. Adah begins to see her African situation in the light of hard science and the hard choices of life and death that must be made by the Congolese people everyday for their survival. In this way Adah continues to symbolize the arc of reason versus religion. Reason, however, has a hard time accounting for the nature of love, and thus Adah's own worldview begins to undergo another transformation as a result.

Rachel remains as aloof and greedy as she was as a child. She moves from husband to husband, never able to find true love until her third husband dies and leaves her a large sum of money and a hotel to run. She oppresses the people of the Congo just as the white nations of the world do - exploiting the country's wealth and neediness - but the reader also understands that she is haunted by the death of her sister and her family's unwillingness to see her, though glosses ove rthis by reframing her family's history in Africa as one in which she was simply in a helpless situation. Indeed, she buys a hotel - which represents hospitality for others - when the last thing that Rachel has ever done is think about the comfort of others. Though she buys the hotel for herself, she finds that being hospitable is meaningful work for her. Kingsolver does not completely absolve her, though, as the hospitality she is offering is one of lavish capitalism while the rest of the continent starves.