Free Study Guide for The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver BookNotes|
STUDY NOTES THE POISONWOOD BIBLE BY BARBARA KINGSOLVER
What We Lost: Kilanga, January 17, 1961 (Continued)
(Cluster 2: Leah kills her first game. The people fight over the meat, and Kuvudundu plants a snake in the hen house.)
Leah kills a young male impala. She is sickened at first, but then Gbenye, Tata Ndu’s oldest son tries to claim the meat was his. Nelson comes to her rescue, pointing out that Leah’s arrow struck the animal in the neck while Gbenye’s only grazed the flank. Nelson ridicules Gbenye’s aim by calling him a woman.
Unable to stomach the mix of ashes, death and gore, Rachel gets sick. She returns alone to the kitchen house and sits crying in a scalding bath. She vows not to eat any of the animals that have been killed on this day, but is too starved to follow through on plans to become a vegetarian.
The celebration that should follow the hunt becomes a melee of shouting, grabbing, and fighting. Gbenye snatches away Leah’s meat, and then Tata Ndu slices off a hindquarter and throws it in the dirt in front of Leah. Instead of taking it, she loses her own tempter and throws it at Gbenye, hitting him in the back. Tata Ndu accuses Leah of rejecting her family’s share and tosses it at Anatole.
In the end, what should have been plenty for all is barely enough to go around. The Price family creeps home with their meat, feeling like victims themselves.
The Price family eat their leg of antelope. Leah and Nathan "argue" in an understated way, both speaking with a deliberate and dangerous calm. Nathan says he will no longer stoop to punishing Leah as she has proven herself unworthy of being corrected for the service of the Lord. Rachel notes that someone might have pointed out that a person other than her father finally put food on their table. Orleanna shows her sympathy for Leah by slamming dishes around.
Before supper is over, Nelson runs into the house claiming he has seen the sign of his own doom in the form of the shadow of an X over the chicken house door where he sleeps. He reminds them that poisonous snakes have been appearing in unusual places and that everyone in the village is afraid. Nathan refuses to let Nelson sleep in the house and issues threats if any of the girls give in to pagan superstitions.
Nelson slinks out of the house in a terrified state and sits in the front yard begging for protection in a high-pitched voice until Nathan yells for him to shut up. Leah finally decides to help him, and the other girls follow along. Remembering the story of Bel and the Serpent, she gathers up a basket of cold ashes. Together the girls and Nelson spread the ashes all across the ground in front of the door to the shed. Thus if anyone crosses the area, their footprints will be revealed. Leah’s idea is to catch the person who is setting all the traps and paralyzing the village with fear. Nelson spends the night at Anatole’s, promising to be back before daybreak.
In the morning the girls and Nelson visit the hen house to see what their trap has caught. As Nelson had predicted, their two hens are dead, a green mamba snake curled around the hens and their eggs. The snake strikes at a pole wielded by Nelson and shoots past them into the forest. When the snake is gone, they look at the floor and see the markings of a foot as it had stamped out a dance. It is the foot of a man who had six toes on his left foot-Tata Kuvudundu, the witch doctor.
The green mamba snake is intended for Nelson. But it is the last time the girls will work together to accomplish anything. It is also the moment of complete emotional separation between Nathan and the rest of his family. In maintaining an unnaturally calm voice, as he virtually disowns Leah, he thinks he has beaten her. He eats her meat however, and she is able to perfectly match his tone. Her complete defiance toward him and his inability to enforce any punishment is the total breakdown of his control over her and a critical weakening in his authority over the remainder of the family. The discovery of the six-toed foot, however, validates the girls’ belief that there is an explanation for the strange happenings in the village; a real person is behind the curses. Understanding the realities behind the superstition will be critical to Leah’s future existence and work in Africa.
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