Free Study Guide for The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver BookNotes|
STUDY GUIDE THE POISONWOOD BIBLE BY BARBARA KINGSOLVER
SYMBOLISM / MOTIFS / IMAGERY / SYMBOLS
Producing fruit has multiple meanings. Nathan was always successful in growing
a spectacular garden in Georgia, but the same conditions did not apply
in Africa. Symbolically, he also fails in producing human fruit as a result
of his mission. After returning to Georgia, Orleanna’s first activity
is to grow a huge variety of flowers and vegetables as if she "could
grow tragedy out of herself." In the Congo, Leah never stops trying
to grow vegetables for her family and the people of her community. She
at least succeeds in Angola, but she has to learn to grow her crops, both
literally and symbolically, on African rather than American terms.
Nathan Price tries to be a fisher of men and at one point dynamites the river
to create a huge meal for the people. It is, however, more than they can
manage and the result is failure and rot. His mission has a similar end.
Symbolic of vanity and of the preservation and discovery of self. The Africans were fascinated by the mirror and visited the Price home to see themselves in the mirror. It was given a frame and set in a place where all could use it. It suggests an attempt to hang onto something from the past.
The people of Kilanga had a tradition of decision making based on unanimous
agreement. The concept of rule by majority is foreign to them, but one
they learn quickly how to use and how to turn against the white inventors
of the system. The votes on whether to accept Jesus and whether to let
Leah hunt emphasize the incongruity in the forced application of one cultural
tradition onto another.
Green mamba snake
Although the snake is feared and ultimately causes the death of Ruth May,
it is also symbolic of the spirit of the jungle. The snake is Ruth May’s
hiding place, the muntu that she becomes after her death.
Baptism - Symbolic of conversion for Nathan Price
He could not be satisfied with people merely attending his church but was
intent on finding some way to baptize them, thereby symbolically admitting
them into the Christian religion. It was ironic that his first observation
on the death of Ruth May was that she had not been baptized. He had been
saving her baptism to use as an example on some occasion when he could
talk the Africans into submitting to the ritual and had thereby neglected
for his own daughter the thing that he considered the most important for
The Poisonwood Tree
Symbolic of the effect Nathan’s drive has on his family, himself, and the
people of Kilanga. The word for poisonwood also means precious if said
with a different tone. Nathan refers to Jesus as "balanga" but
uses the wrong accent. Figuratively, he is creating his own religion;
his bible is poison to the people on whom he is trying to force it.
The ants represent the power of the jungle and graphically illustrate the impotence of religious faith apart from an understanding of "the way things are." They also bring an additional ironic element to the story, for in devouring every particle-both living and dead-of organic matter in their path, they enact a cleansing process. Forgotten crumbs, spoiled food, mold or fungi that could bring disease-the ants remove all and give people a fresh start prior to the next rainy season.
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