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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 3: The Congo has a new prime minister, other Americans leave the Congo, and Leah and her father fly to Leopoldville for supplies and to watch the inauguration of Patrice Lumumba. Adah discovers the death of the parrot and tries to see how independence makes a difference in the lives of the people.)



Patrice Lumumba is to be the new prime minister of the Congo. The land itself will be known as "The Republic of Congo" rather than Belgian Congo. The Underdowns have sent the Pricesí a letter telling them to prepare to leave, but Nathan has no intention of going anywhere.

Ruth May


The plane sent by the Underdowns comes to collect the Price family and their belongings. Leah and Nathan board as they are making a trip to Leopoldville but they will be returning. Rachel tries to get on the plane, but Nathan shoves her aside. Ruth May is worried about her mother who goes to bed as soon as the plane leaves and refuses to get up again. Finally, unable to get a response, Ruth May climbs into bed with her.



Leah and her father fly to Leopoldville to watch the inauguration of Patrice Lumumba. The Underdowns are shocked that they have come alone. Mrs. Underdown says that Nathan is out of his mind, but Leah defends him.

At the inaugural ceremonies, the whites speak high praise for the Belgian king Leopold who "made the Congo what it is." When Lumumba takes the podium, he begins by talking about Belgium as an equal partner, but then changes tone and delivers a tirade about colonialism, slavery and the extreme inequality of life between white immigrants and Africans. Leah agrees with as much of the speech as she can understand. She has seen enough of the opulence of the Underdowns juxtaposed with the poverty and deprivation of even their own houseboy. Lumumba promises his people that oppression is over.


Adah tries to see the difference independence has made in the lives of the people around her. What she finds is a trail of feathers from the bird Methuselah who has been killed. His death symbolizes true, if mute, freedom as she quotes lines from Emily Dickinson. The bird was released from its cage by her father, but having been in captivity all its life, it did not know how to fly away and live a life on its own, so it had taken up residence in their latrine. Symbolically, the African people likewise have no real freedom or benefits from independence but seem to be only helpless recipients of the leavings of the conquerors.


The lives of the Price family change subtly and slowly after the declaration of freedom, but the change comes and might be considered the beginning of the end. Orleanna reacts to her husbandís stubbornness by going to bed and refusing to get up. At first it seems like she is surrendering to depression, but it is soon discovered that she has been fighting malaria and is unable to fight it any longer. The illness of the mother and baby of the family forces the other three girls to work together in order to survive. Rachel tries to act grown-up, although Adah thinks the idea of Rachel cooking is pretty useless.

Leah thinks she has gotten back into her fatherís good graces because he lets her go to Leopoldville with him. He chooses her because she is the one of his daughters who most sincerely tries to be close to him and to believe in his work. However, she understands the contradictions brought out in Lumumbaís speech. The contradictions of cruelty, repression, and forced labor have not been alleviated by the missionaries. What she does not understand is the threat the nationalist movement creates for white skinned people.

While waiting for her father and sister to return, Adah tries to see a difference in the lives of the people around her. The death of the bird, a form of independence, also foreshadows the death of any hope for real Congo Independence in the near future.

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