Free Study Guide for The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver BookNotes|
STUDY GUIDE THE POISONWOOD BIBLE BY BARBARA KINGSOLVER
The Thing We Carried: Kilanga 1959 (Continued)
(Cluster 2. Price girlsí analyses and observations of themselves. Provides initial insight into their characters both from their own perspectives and from each othersí. Conflict over Nathanís method of gardening.)
Leah notes that her sisters work with unusual gusto to help their mother with the housework to cover that fact that they are afraid to go outside. Leah herself follows her father around like a self-appointed shadow trying to please him, learn from him and help him in the garden. She introduces the reader to Mama Bekwa Tataba and the parrot Methuselah, both inherited from former missionary Brother Fowles. Nathanís explanation for Fowles departure is that he had been dismissed for "consorting with the inhabitants of the land."
The first minor crisis occurs when Mama Tataba tries to correct Nathanís garden and warns him about handling the poisonwood tree. He plants in the customary straight rows; in the night, Mama Tataba rearranges the garden into raised beds. Nathan ignores her warnings about the poison wood plant and finds out for himself that it causes a painful rash. Nevertheless, he drags himself into the garden to redo the garden in his own way.
Rachelís initial concern is with the lack of new clothes for Easter Sunday. As it is, she has the only mirror for the household. Her mother sets it up on a desk for all of them to use.
The Congolese children wear rummage sale rags or nothing at all while the women wrap themselves in colorful sarongs that show no understanding of color coordination. The men dress in long flowing shirts or American styled shirts and shorts as well as in every imaginable combination of accessories from rubber boots to plastic thongs, sunglasses and even woolen caps.
Led by their father, the Prices celebrate a "counterfeit Easter" on the fourth of July because Nathan wants a focal point by which he can get the church "geared up." He plans an Easter pageant followed by a baptism and a picnic. It doesnít work out very well because the Congolese are afraid of the river and will not go anywhere near the wide Kwilu River he wants to use for the purpose.
Orleanna is the one who wins the crowd over by cooking chickens and distributing the pieces among the people, but Nathan doesnít seem to notice.
Ruth May gives her impressions of the people, especially the children. She sees their bloated bellies and does not understand why people say the children are hungry. Because she is a child herself, the adults talk in front of her about things they think she is too young to understand. Thus she learns that Mama Mwanza has no legs because she lost them in a fire. The village woman scoots around on her hands which have grown as calloused as feet. She also has seven or eight children and a devoted husband who adore and protect her.
"Mother" has a subtle way of expressing her disagreements with Nathan, a mere tone that Ruth May has no trouble detecting. In spite of her age, Ruth May realizes that her mother is the one with the most accurate understanding of the Congo people.
Because of her presumed disability, Adah has been able to get away with reading a lot of literature her father would disapprove of including Poe and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde with whom she feels a peculiar sympathy. She has also read the poetry of Dickinson, Pilgrimís Progress and Paradise Lost.
The girls had a special relationship with Orleanna when they were little. She encouraged their literary pursuits and found time in Georgia to roll in the grass while the twins covered her with clover. Orleannaís attitude changed when it was discovered that Leah and Adah were gifted. Adah herself chose to ignore rewards and learn the things she wanted. She is a genius at math and can turn whole sentences backward and recite them; she is also fluent in French.
During the rainy season, the girls amuse themselves with the parrot Methuselah. Nathan calls him a catholic bird because of his propensity for cursing. The girls enjoy a secret chuckle over the bird because he can curse without receiving "the verse," which is their fatherís favorite punishment and involves writing an assigned verse a hundred or more times.
Their house is a simple cabin with a large main room where they have a heavy table and a cabinet in which they keep their dishes, canned goods, and Orleannaís prize possession, a bone china platter.
On the day after their first heavy rain, the girls find their fatherís garden ruined, the seeds washed out of the narrow rows. The incident convinces him of the wisdom of planting in hills instead of flat Kansas rows.
Leah shows an early inclination to be involved with the land itself. Although her view of her father is mildly satirical, she also has a genuine admiration for his gardening ability and a sincere desire to work with him. She struggles to demonstrate her own intelligence for him and is aggravated with herself when she fails to think quickly enough to answer his questions. His philosophy that "the Lord helps those that help themselves" seems logical enough but fails her in the end.
Rachelís initial reaction to Kilanga is an observation of the people and the way they are dressed. Her lifelong priority is established early on as focused on possessions, the more luxurious, the better. Her discussion of Easter Sunday, a time when she was accustomed to having new clothes is typical. Rachel also notices motherís labor contrasted by her fatherís lack of interest. Her father is little more to her than an authority figure from whom she can expect little in the way of either provision or affection.
Ruth May explains her observations in the language of a child, but her descriptions are often ironically accurate. Because she is a child, she can also get away with being very blunt; thus, the children have "fat bellies" and Mama Mwanzaís hands "look like feet, only with fingers." From her we get an initial introduction to customs of address. All the women are "Mama something" even if they have no children while the men are addressed as "Tata Something." Ruth May sees a sort of fire in her mother that Nathan fail to notice, for her mother has a "certain voice, not exactly like sassing back, but just about nearly." Yet, she tempers her words with "sir" in the same way that she calls the girls "sugar" or "hon." Ruth May interprets everything literally, including her fatherís affection for his green swivel rocker that he left back in Bethlehem, Georgia. She imagines the minister who rented their house facing a confrontation with her father as a result of sitting in that chair.
Adah likes to use her knowledge of literature to trick her sisters and make them feel stupid, but she usually does so by writing notes for them to answer rather than orally. She describes a special ed class that she was placed in when early schoolteachers assumed that she was retarded. She amazed them all by adding grocery bills in her head faster than the clerk could do it on the cash register. She also recognizes that her motherís attempt to keep their education a secret was a waste of effort as Nathan didnít notice the girlsí achievements anyway. He did not approve of educating girls and was fond of saying that "sending a girl to college is like pouring water in your shoes." Adah is also the one who refers to Nathan sarcastically as "Our Father."
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