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Free Study Guide for The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver BookNotes

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STUDY GUIDE THE POISONWOOD BIBLE BY BARBARA KINGSOLVER

 

THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS

 

Power of the Land

The power and magnitude of the Congo is introduced from the very first page with Orleanna’s description of the jungle, which "eats itself and lives forever." Into that jungle she introduces a single file of five women whom she calls "pale doomed blossoms." Orleanna addresses her dead daughter who is one with the spirit of the jungle. Throughout the novel, the major events are connected to the dominance of the land itself-- the torrential rains that destroy Nathan’s garden, the river that is a source of both life and death to the people, the "refusal" of the forest to grow vegetables on plants that do not belong, the long dry season culminating in the attack of the ants and forcing the people to get creative in their hunt for meat. Adah finds it presumptuous to assume the right to preserve lives the jungle would take, Orleanna finds herself drawn emotionally back to Africa, and Leah discovers that if she is to help the people grow additional food, it must be on jungle terms. It is a great capitulation that leads only to conflict when intruders fail to understand.



Salvation / Redemption

Nathan Price takes his family to the Congo, believing that he is called by God to deliver salvation to the people. Nor is the idea entirely out of place as Brother Fowles illustrates in his cultural interpretations of the Scriptures. However, Nathan’s real need for salvation is for himself; the more desperately he tries to satisfy his God for his own perceived failings, the farther he gets from delivering a message that has any relevance for the Congo people. Each of the women has to find her own salvation, first from the dominance of Nathan Price, secondly from a sense of responsibility for events that cost them the life of their sister. Salvation or redemption for the Congo people is not a religious sort, but rather a redemption from decades of abuse and deprivation at the hands of whites.


Story telling

The story for the sake of the telling itself is the thread that ties all of the remembrances together. Each of the women tells her portion of the story without criticism or contradiction from any of the other storytellers. One can almost envision them around a campfire or picnic table of a family reunion, listening intently as each woman tells what she remembers about various parts of their lives. As each tells her story, her individual priorities and values are expressed along with her regrets and self-reconciliation. It is noteworthy that the individual who demanded that their lives revolve around his expectations is given no voice at all. Nathan Price is quoted by his daughters and wife, but never given an opportunity to explain himself. Nor is it merely because he is dead by the time the girls tell the story; Ruth May is also dead, but her voice is not only part of the story but also the grand finale. It’s as if Nathan is a poison with emanations that constantly keep everyone alert to his presence but also keep them so distant that no one can hear his real story. The only story Nathan has is the one that lives in the memories of each of his family members. In spite of his drive to be the only voice of note in the lives of his family and congregation, in the end, he has no voice at all.


POINT OF VIEW

The novel is written in first person, but with multiple narrators. Each narrator has limited omniscience; therefore, the narrators each tell slightly different stories about the same events. The result is a verbal jigsaw puzzle. When all the pieces are put together, it is possible to see how each major event impacted the entire family.


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