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Free Study Guide for The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver BookNotes

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BOOK FOUR: Bel and the Serpent


Orleanna Price: Sanderling Island



Orleanna ponders the political ramifications of the removal of Patrice Lumumba by American and Belgian agencies. In 1960, Allen Dulles in charge of the CIA telegrammed his Congolese station chief, suggesting that he replace the Congolese government and remove Lumumba as soon as convenient. A man by the name of Gottlieb was hired to create a poison that would either kill or disfigure Lumumba and permanently remove him from a position of influence in the Congo.

In September the state department helped put Mobutu in power. Mobutuís hand picked army took control of the Congo and placed Lumumba under house arrest. In January, Lumumba and his family escaped under cover of rain but got bogged down in mud and eventually recaptured. Lumumba was brutally beaten, his body so mangled that it could not even be returned to his wife for burial.

Orleanna tries to recall the details of her own life during the days of political crisis and change. She realizes that she had tried to hold herself apart from the world of men, and that the effort was fruitless. She lost a life (Ruth May) on the same day in January of 1961 that Lumumba was killed.


Orleanna imagines a political scene in which the fate of the Congo was being decided by men who wanted only the vast wealth of the land; in her mind, on the same day the fate of Lumumba was determined, fate, need and misunderstanding was silently determining the fate of her youngest child. She tries to imagine "what if." What if the people of Belgium and American had never touched the Congo at all; what if she had never married Nathan Price; what if the Baptists had not taken upon themselves the conversion of the Congolese. At length she decides that all the things that happened were "destiny," something humans can do little to direct and nothing to fix.

What We Lost: Kilanga, January 17, 1961


(Cluster 1: The village takes a vote on religion and Leah plans to take part in a hunt, dividing the village and bringing the wrath of the village leaders onto her family.)



On a Sunday morning, Nathan is preaching from the apocrypha, using a story called "Bel and the Serpent." In the story, the prophet Daniel caught some thieves by scattering ashes on a floor, thereby getting the thieves to accidentally reveal themselves. In the middle of the sermon, Tata Ndu who is sitting just outside the door, interrupts and declares that the people are going to vote on whether they want Jesus or the old gods for their religion. Nathan tries to protest, but Tata Ndu throws his own words regarding elections and improved ways of thinking back at him. If voting is a good thing, then it should be a good thing regarding Jesus as well.

Nathan argues that decisions about elections and Christianity are made in different houses in American. Tata Nguza responds that a white man who cannot even provide food for his own family is not to be considered an expert on which god can protect the village. Nathan explodes, shaking his finger in Tata Nduís face and telling him that he canít even run his own "pitiful" country, but thinks he can take or leave the "benevolence" of Jesus Christ. Tata Ndu remains calm, merely pointing out to Nathan that the African ways had worked fine for centuries before the white man ever arrived. The use of decisions by a majority of one makes no sense to people who have always required unanimous agreement for their decisions. Nevertheless, since "Jesus is a white man" he will understand the law of rule by majority. Jesus loses the vote, 11 to 56.

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