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Free Study Guide for The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver BookNotes

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The Things We Learned. Kilanga, June 30, 1960 (Continued)


(Cluster 1. Leah develops an appreciation for the Congo language and people, Ruth May breaks her arm and discovers that Eben Axelroot is smuggling diamonds, Rachel sees Anatole as a moderator between the people and her father, and Adah brings a scare and a triumph to her father when she unwittingly escapes a lion attack.)

Ruth May Price


Unknown to her sisters or mother, Ruth May wanders in the jungle where she climbs a tree to watch the passage of African "Communist" boy scouts. She falls out of the tree and breaks her arm on one occasion. Axelroot transports Ruth May and her father to a hospital in Stanleyville where doctors set her arm and put a cast on it. On the trip, Ruth May has to sit on a pile of brown bags, which she discovers to be full of raw diamonds. Axelroot threatens her with a curse if she ever tells anyone what she has seen.

At the hospital, Nathan and the doctor discuss the political situation and the name Patrice Lumumba comes up although Ruth May does not understand the significance. Upon returning home, she shows Leah the pear tree she had been climbing and shows that she can climb "just dandy" with only one arm.

Ruth May also unwittingly upsets her mother by asking questions about the color of "mayonnaise" and other American commodities. She likes the African animals and tries to catch everything except the snakes. However, she assumes that she will never have much education because of her fatherís statement that "educating girls is like pouring water into their shoes." Ruth May interprets it literally, believing that in college, people actually pour water into girlsí shoes.



The family entertains Anatole for dinner. Rachel is fascinated and somewhat repulsed by the lined pattern of scars that appear to have been deliberately cut into his face. He speaks several languages and is the translator for Nathanís sermons. The Underdowns had found him as an orphan in the diamond mines and had rescued him from a life of slavery. They had raised him, educated him, and then installed him as the village schoolteacher.

Anatole tries to discuss the effect Nathanís church is having on the people. Tata Ndu, a respected village leader, fears that so many people are abandoning the old ways that the traditional gods will become angry. Rachel suddenly realizes- although her father never seems to see it-that all the people who attend the church are village cast-offs, people whom the chief is glad to get rid of because they were associated with bad luck in one way or another. The chief does not want the "normal" people to follow the missionaryís "corrupt" ways.

Anatole tries to explain the peopleís regard for Tata Ndu and Tata Kuvudundu, the village witch doctor. He refers to the days of Brother Fowles as "missionary times" when practically the whole town had prayed to Jesus without anything terrible happening and admonishes Nathan not to think of Kuvudundu as competition. Nathan is insulted and dismisses Anatole, vowing to create a sermon that will clear up any misunderstandings. After Anatole leaves, Orleanna dares to rebuke her husband. Nathan responds by smashing her cherished platter and ridiculing her cooking attempts.

Adah Price


Adah and Leah are sent everyday to fetch water from the river. Adah has made up her mind to use the forest path as a tool to improve her walking ability and to walk a little further each day. As she walks, she learns to identify the creatures seen in Brother Fowlesí books. However, Leah does not have the patience to walk with her or to walk so slowly, so Adah usually lags behind and returns home alone. One day after doing some additional exploring, she returns home and slips into a hammock to rest. She is lying there when Tata Ndu comes to break the news to the family that his men found evidence of a lion stalking and attacking a child who dragged one leg when she walked. Tata Ndu tells his story a little too triumphantly and appears nonplused when Adah reveals herself as safe and sound.


The girls comment on events in a seemingly random fashion, almost conversationally. In addition to learning that they brought all the wrong things to Africa, they are learning that the Africans are not blank slates simply waiting for Nathan to show them the light of Jesus. They learn that previous missionaries had done things differently, even to the point of marrying the natives as had Brother Fowles. They discover that Eben Axelroot is using his missionary transport business as a cover for what is probably illegal activity, that Anatole may be translating their fatherís sermons, but is not necessarily buying into Christianity for himself, and that their father is becoming an increasingly frightening and unreasonable man. His lack of respect even for Orleanna does nothing to endear him to them.

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