Free Study Guide for The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver BookNotes|
STUDY NOTES THE POISONWOOD BIBLE BY BARBARA KINGSOLVER
BOOK THREE: The Judges
Back in George, Orleanna labors under her guilt, imagining that her girls are demanding answers to why she let Nathan possess and control them as he did. She tells the story of her own childhood and eventual romance with Nathan Price.
Orleanna herself grew up without a mother as her own had died while Orleanna was a small child. Her father was an eye doctor with too few patients to provide the family with a living, so they survived by selling the proceeds from their vegetable garden. She met Nathan Price almost by accident at a tent revival meeting when Orleanna and her teenage friends took an altar call for a lark and marched to the front of the tent. However, she was spotted by Nathan, a young minister who took a fancy to her. He began to appear at Sunday dinners at her Aunt Tessís house until the aunt suggested that Orleanna ought to just marry him. Nathan like the idea and took it as his own. Thus he and Orleanna were married. They worked in cotton fields until Nathan was drafted into the military during WW II.
Nathan was shipped to the Philippines where he was injured by a shell fragment, crawled into the brush and was eventually picked up by a PT boat and taken to a hospital. Meanwhile, his commander moved the company to Bataan Peninsula where the entire company was caught and marched to a prison camp. The few who survived the march died in the camp. When Nathan discovers that he is the only living member of his company, he feels like a deserter and traitor.
Nathan returns home a different man. He is passionless, burdened with guilt about his own presumed cowardice, and determined to make some sort of compensation to God. He drags Orleanna from one post to another trying to establish a ministry. He has a thirst for sex, but feels violated and blames Orleanna afterward. Consequently, Orleanna has one baby after another, which she has to raise and care for almost entirely without his help. She herself suffers her own share of guilt after giving birth to twins, one of whom has disabilities. Orleanna lives under the watchful and critical eye of Nathan, hardly daring to complain about their plight. In the end, she convinces herself-at least temporarily-that Nathanís interests belong to the entire family and that his idea of good encompasses the best for all of them.
Orleanna had been taught to take whatever life has to offer and make the best of it. She falls for Nathan because she knew that she and her friends had been making a joke of his sermon, and she thought he knew it as well and was simply determined to save her. During the depression, families did not have unlimited funds for entertaining, so the act of visiting her and taking dinner with her family every weekend was easily interpreted by Aunt Tess as romantic interest on Nathanís part. Tess was easily motivated to get Orleanna married off as quickly as possible as that would make one less mouth for her to feed.
Nathan was a dedicated young preacher, but did not start their marriage with the drive that took over his life after his return from the war. In fact, his letter home after his injury was even cheerful. But when he returned to Orleanna, it was with an injury, weakened vision and "suspicion of his own cowardice." He begins by rejecting her welcome kiss, a rejection that only grew worse as he struggled to please a God he couldnít seem to reach.
One thing Nathan had taught her was that the Lord notices righteousness and rewards it but punishes failure. He convinced her that any hardship they endured had to be the result of some failure, and she understood that failure to be hers, often related to her attractiveness, occasional cursing, or vanity. Anytime something good came her way, she attributed it to something the Lord had done for her. Little by little, she gave up her personal identity, trying to be a shadow of what Nathan expected. It took her a lifetime to understand that what she had lost was her own freedom. Her plight, as she comes to see it, is a microcosm of the Congo, a "barefoot bride of men who took her jewels and promised the Kingdom." In the same way that Nathan took her very womanhood away from her, promising her the rewards of heaven, Europeans and Americans took the diamonds and other wealth from the Congo while missionaries offered hope of eternal life and freedom from old traditions and fears.
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