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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 5: Rachel turns 17, Ruth May begins to get well, and Leah works with Anatole at the school house.)



Rachel turns 17 but is depressed because no one seems to notices. Everything goes wrong for the entire day. Ruth Mayís fever spikes, and a mongoose gets into the hen house and eats all the eggs. Later in the day Mother gives Rachel a pair of earrings and matching bracelet that she had long admired. She remarks that the jewelry is only cut glass but is a pretty shade of green. She feels as though people have done things on purpose to take attention away from her.



Ruth May is finally beginning to get well partly because her mother is forcing her to take her malaria pills. However, she seems like a zombie and has no interest in anything. Anatole has given Leah a bow and arrow and has been teaching her to hunt although many in the village do not approve. Adah sees that Anatole is breaking social custom for Leah; the result the village people are gradually regarding Adah as the more normal of the twins.



Leah has taken up her French at the school house where she is also helping Anatole by tutoring some of the students. She is frustrated because some of the boys show disrespect for her. Anatole explains that it is because she is white and female. What she really wants to know, however, is whether or not Anatole hates her for being white.

They discuss the differences between America and the Congo. Leah struggles for words to explain the concepts of cities, modern transportation and the availability of cars and other commodities. She canít explain about soybean fields where men drive huge tractors. In the Congo, it seems like the "land owns the people."

Anatole tries to explain the reason that he translates Nathanís sermons. It is not because he himself believes or disbelieves but because he thinks the people should know what they are choosing. He calls Leah "béene-béene" which means "true as truth can be." Anatoleís secret longing is to see a map of the whole world at once; Leah promises to make a globe for him.


Rachelís 17th birthday helps to create a time reference. The family has now been in the Congo for over a year.

Adah is becoming more outspoken in her observations of her father. As Ruth May at last begins to recover from malaria, he is quick to claim a miracle. Adah points out, however, that the real miracle is nothing more than the fact that Orleanna made Ruth May eat the same malaria pills twice.

Adah sees a rather bitter irony in her fatherís sermons. Every Sunday he declares "Jesus is Bangala." "Bangala" means something precious and dear, but the way her father pronounces it, it means the poisonwood tree. In other words, Nathan is actually preaching that "Jesus will make you itch," and is completely unaware of his mistake. Adah also realizes that the Congo is changing them but that her father is the same Nathan Price as always. She is actually mistaken about that. Nathan is becoming increasingly insane, but it is happening so gradually that they think it is just commitment to his mission.

Poisonwood is a motif that is mentioned several times in the novel. In the first book, they discovered that it was poisonous, and Nathanís unwillingness to pay attention resulted in days of painful blisters and itching. Orleanna once tried to use poisonwood branches for kindling and was saved from her mistake by Mama Tataba. Nathanís mispronunciation creates a special irony-for by so doing, he is creating a doctrine of his own, one of fear and repulsion for the people. His mission is poison to the people, for it asks them to make changes in their personal identities, to give up cultural traditions by which they define themselves. It is also poison to his own family, for it brings about increased isolation for them and makes them look ignorant.

Leahís growing understanding of the extravagance of American life is beginning to have an effect on her own priorities. It foreshadows the eventual discomfort she will experience when trying to return to the states.

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