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Free Study Guide for The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver BookNotes

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The Thing We Carried: Kilanga 1959 (Continued)


(Cluster 3: Methuselahís cursing, the fishing incident, Leah craves understanding with her father.)



Rachelís birthday comes, but the intentions of making cake from store bought mixes brought with them from Georgia result in disaster as they have turned rock hard in the humidity. Realizing they have brought all the wrong things, Orleanna swears in frustration.

The parrot later repeats Orleannaís use of the word "damn"; Nathan hears it and believes that either Leah or Rachel has taught the bird to curse word. The girls protect their mother, taking their punishment of "the verse" in silence.



Adah describes one of her fatherís church services. It reminds her of the time he tried to reach the hearts of the half starved people by first filling their bellies with fish. He had exploded dynamite in the river, bringing up schools of stunned fish, far more than the Africans could dry and preserve. The stench of rotting fish stayed with them for several weeks.

At dinner following his animated service, Nathan tells the story of some men who supposedly drove from Leopoldville in a truck with a broken fan belt. They replaced the belt with woven grass and kept building grass belts as each one broke until they reached their destination. Adah thinks the sole purpose of the story is to make all the women feel stupid.



Leah and her father sit in the garden musing over the situation of the vegetables. The garden germinated beautifully, but has produced only oversize foliage without fruit. Nathan shares some ideas, which Leah doesnít understand although she listens attentively.

Nathan has two significant bits of insight. One is that the reason they have no vegetables is because there are no pollinators. In spite of a plethora of insects, Africa does not have the right insects to pollinate the non-native species of plants.

The second insight involves Mama Tataba who has left their home, refusing to cook or clean for them any longer. She had delivered a furious lecture regarding Nathanís attempt to baptize the natives, then walked out. The people are afraid to go near the river because of crocodiles and because they have previously lost unsuspecting children to the animals. Nathan is quietly irritated that it took six months for anyone to explain the crocodiles to him, but his conclusion is that sometimes God delivers people through their hardships rather than out of them. Still, in a sudden outburst, he frees the parrot from its cage.


The Price women have discovered that they "carried" all the wrong things from cake mixes that donít work in the humidity to garden seeds that grow without producing the desired foods. The curse word inadvertently taught to Methuselah by Orleanna reminds Leah of other times when the girls had tried to protect their mother from their fatherís angry words.

Adah ponders the source of the dynamite Nathan used to produce the feast of fish, deciding that he must have given their meager monthly stipend to Eben Axelroot for the purchase. Adah sees her father as a man of extremes in his attempts to convert the Africans as quickly as possible without the least understanding of their point of view. He ridicules or ignores anyone whose ideas differ from his and takes advantage of any opportunity to belittle the women who make up his family. He spends the supper hour giving them a lecture on adaptability, but is the least adaptable person in the household.

Nathan shares his gardening frustration with Leah, using it as an opportunity to give her a lesson on surviving affliction. His admonition that "God sometimes delivers us through our afflictions" rather than out of them may be true enough, but it is not one that he has learned to apply to himself. He is frustrated that no one bothered to tell him about the native fear of the crocodiles, but does not understand that he has never given people a chance to explain anything to him. He tries to turn the problem in to a sermon, but loses control of himself and tells the chatty parrot to "piss off." Finally, as if determined to accomplish something, he sets the parrot free. Given his temperament, however, he is most likely trying to free himself from the occasional cursing of the bird and from the reminder that a missionary prior to himself had better success with the people.

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Ruff, Karen DA. "TheBestNotes on The Poisonwood Bible". . 09 May 2017