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Free Study Guide for The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver-BookNotes

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Orleanna Price: Sanderling Island, Georgia


Orleanna explains how she left the Congo. She felt a drive to keep moving as if she could keep grief from overtaking her if she simply stayed ahead of it. Thus, she had worked without stopping to prepare Ruth May for burial. When that was finished, she looked at all the things they had brought with them from Georgia and realized how useless everything was and that she no longer needed any of it. In giving it all away, it seemed as if she was giving up the burdens that life in the Congo had brought to her.

When there was nothing else to do in the house or for Ruth May, she began walking. She ordered her remaining children to follow and determined that she would leave the Congo even though she had to walk to do so. She says she did not actually intend to leave Nathan even if she should have. She simply started walking and he stayed behind.


Orleanna addresses Ruth May in her story telling. She has hinted at having a purpose and an unnamed audience in previous sections, but now she clearly speaks to "the eyes in the trees," the "burial mound in Nathanís garden," "my own flesh and blood, my last born." She struggles for forgiveness, blaming herself for all the tragedies of their lives. Her guilt is not only for the lives and tragedies of her family in the Congo, but also over her inability to let go of Ruth May. She thinks that her need for forgiveness and her eternal grieving is keeping the spirit of Ruth May with her.

What We Carried Out


(Cluster 1: The initial destination of each girl as she leaves the Congo)

Leah Price; Bulungu, Late Rainy Season, 1961


Orleanna and the girls walk in the pouring rain as far as the small village of Kiala. Several of the village women walk along with them, carrying food to their husbands who are in Bulungu for a large political meeting. As they provide the girls with water and food, it seems as though they are silently trying to help the white women get where they want to go.

The Price women all become sick with malaria long before they reach Bulungu. Leah is the worst; when she is unable to walk any further, she lies down under a tree and urges her mother and sisters to keep going without her. They are all rescued by a group of men who are returning from a jungle camp where they make charcoal. The men take them to Bulungu where Leah is given shelter in a hut that had belonged to one of Anatoleís pupils. There she is nursed slowly back to health by Anatole.

Leah sees a continuous stream of visitors who come to visit her, but most are just fever hallucinations. She does remember Rachel leaving on a plane with Eben Axelroot, and she gains enough strength in time to see her mother and Adah leave, transported on a banana truck. Anatole promises Orleanna that he will send Leah back as soon as she is well enough to travel.

Rachel Price Axelroot; Johannesburg, South Africa, 1962


Eben Axelroot takes Rachel to Johannesburg and eventually marries her. He delays for several months because rewards had been paid for getting white people safely out of Congo, and-according to him-it will look peculiar for him to receive a reward for rescuing his own wife. Rachel uses the name anyway and gets herself established among the socialite crown in South Africa. She has no love for Axelroot and very little respect, but she tolerates him because it puts her in touch with women whom she imagines to have "class."

Rachel recalls the Hope chest she had assembled in Kilanga and tries to get Axelroot to return to the house and get it for her. He never does. She finally refers to it as "the hopeless chest."

Adah Price. Emory University, Atlanta 1962


After being abandoned by the banana truck driver, Adah and her mother walk two more days, are picked up by an army truck, turned over to the Belgian embassy where they are treated for malaria and parasites and are finally transported to Fort Benning, Georgia. They take up residence in Bethlehem where everyone at first believes they are both insane. Orleanna lives in a shack and tries to grow every imaginable species of vegetable Summary wer-as if she can "grow tragedy out of herself."

Unable to live with her mother, Adah goes to Emory University and demands to be accepted. In spite of not having a high school diploma, she is accepted when she demonstrates her mathematical aptitude. She returns to visit her mother on weekends.

During one of her weekend visits, Adah explores a trunk of her fatherís belongings, looking for papers that will prove she is the daughter of a veteran and thus secure financial aid for college. Along with the papers, she finds the truth of her fatherís service medals-things that were awarded "only" for having survived a wound while his entire company perished. Adah realizes that the company of dead have marched with him ever since, that he has lived with the burden of guilt he could never escape.

Adah does not exactly understand why her mother chose to save her instead of Leah. Orleannaís last act as a mother had been to drag Adah out of the Congo with her.


This cluster increases a sense of irony along with identifying the beginning of adult life for each of the sisters. Leah who took her malaria pills faithfully is the one who nearly dies from it and her impetuous wish that she could stay in the Congo forever will be granted. Rachel who most wanted to return to the states never will, even for a visit, but she will discover that even places in Africa have modern luxuries and white communities where she will be right at home with her own racist ideas. Her schemes to agree to a marriage with Axelroot in return for getting her out of Africa backfire.

Adah who once felt rejected by her mother is now the one who is saved. After being the defective twin, she is the one who goes to college. Although she leaves Africa, she alone returns to visit and her lifeís work will be medical research in the interest of Africa.

Orleanna nearly loses all of her children while trying to outrun the grief of losing one. She had worked so hard to keep them all alive, but she chooses the next youngest-Adah-and leaves the rest to survive on their own ingenuity. Having never thought of leaving Nathan, she walks away from him without even saying goodbye.

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