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Free Study Guide for The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver BookNotes

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The Things We Didnít Know: Kilanga, Sept. 1960 (Continued)


(Cluster 2: Adah, Leah and Rachel try to divide up the household chores. Leah finds herself innocently drawn to Anatole and Ruth May imagines a safe place in the way Nelson has taught her.)



Within a month the household is in chaos. The three older girls take stock of their supplies and try to figure out how to divide up the food and chores in order to survive. Adah does the writing, creating a little visual to try to show the state they are in. Rachel decides that she will be the one to learn how to make bread and cook their meals.



Ruth May seems to be improving a little, so Leah takes her into the yard in an attempt to give her some fresh air and get her to exercise a little. The child is listless, reacting only when Leah tries to make a game of torturing ants. Ruth May asks her to stop as the ants didnít do anything wrong.

Anatole shows up while Leah is out with Ruth May. He brings a gift in the form of a rabbit for them to make into a stew. He also delivers more political bad news: Patrice Lumumba is facing opposition by Moise Tshombe of the Lunda tribe who has declared himself the leader of Katanga Province and has declared it separate from the Republic of Congo. Tshombe wants to make his own deals with Belgians and Americans and has received encouragement due to his willingness to practically give away Congoís mineral wealth. Lumumba will not "give away the store" and has called for the UN to restore unity and establish order. In fact Lumumba has threatened to contact Khrushchev for help.

Leah feels embarrassed and naive when Anatole explains to her that Congo is not merely a land of diamonds and cobalt for someone to own, but that is made up of people who simply want to be able to live. She puts Ruth May back to bed and prepares the rabbit for their supper amid premonitions of losing her little sister.

Ruth May


Although she is desperately ill, Ruth May overhears her parents talking about the way white girls in Stanleyville have been treated and about other whites who have been murdered. Rachel and Orleanna both beg Nathan to return home to the states but he refuses. In her semi-delirium, Ruth May recalls a little matchbox Nelson had given her. It symbolizes a "safe place" which is a place of her own choosing to which she can retreat. According to African tradition, she must contemplate her safe place every day; then, if she is ever close to death, she will be able to send her spirit to the place and will live forever. She will "disappear" only for a second, but will turn up someplace else, where itís safe.


Ruth Mayís dreams of being in the trees are foreshadowing as well as an indication of a connection between her own spirit and that of the land. Sick though she is, she understands the will to live in other creatures. Leah tries to amuse her by pushing an ant into an ant-lion trap. The ant lion is scorpion like insect with pinchers. It makes holes and catches the ants as they pass. Ruth May rouses enough to feebly scold Leah for killing the ant.

Anatoleís gift of meat is genuine but is also a ruse to see how well Leah understands the politics of the day. She makes the innocent mistake of saying that she thought the Congo belonged to Belgium. Anatoleís gentle lessons about the Congo and its people awaken a sense of identity in Leah that she had not thought about before. She begins to understand that a nation does not have to be what others think of as civilized to understand who and what they are.

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