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Free Study Guide for The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver BookNotes

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The Poisonwood Bible


Barbara Kingsolver

First Published


Meaning of the Title

Poisonwood is a plant that is poisonous to humans. The title relates to the Nathan's mispronunciation of the word and the irony of the un-intended meaning that his mistake conveys.

Type of Novel/Genre

Epic; Political Allegory; Coming of Age Story; Post-colonial Fiction.

Point of view / Tense

First person / Present tense. We are told the story through the eyes of each narrator as the events happen to them, with the exception of Orleanna, who narrates in the past tense recollecting the events.


The mood is somber overall and there is an overwhelming sense of loss and tragedy.


Orleanna Price and her daughters Ruth May, Adah, Leah, and Rachel


Most of the novel takes place in Africa, specifically in the Belgian Congo (later known as Zaire) from 1959 to the late 1980's. In the later part of the book, events take place in Georgia, in the Congo and in South Africa, depending on which narrative voice is engaged.


There is no single protagonist in this novel unless a reader chooses to analyze the Congo as a silent protagonist. The female characters are equally important as each tells the story of learning to cope. Their father, Nathan could also be characterized as a protagonist through his influence on the lives of his daughters.


The initial antagonist for the women is Nathan Price.


Each of the Price women has been transported to the Congo and must figure out a way to either leave or live with the situation into which they have been placed. Nathanís feels called to convert and civilize a culture about which he knows nothing.


The death of Ruth May who is killed by a green mamba snake.


The members of the family separate and live their individual lives and careers and meet different fates.

Rising Action

The decision to stay in Congo during the period of independence and the increased threats.

Major Themes

The Power of the Land; The Spirit of the Congo; Salvation/Redemption

Minor Themes

Love of Self and Family; Political Changes; Understanding culture; Light vs. Darkness; Freedom


The Poisonwood tree; Gardening; Fish; Mirror; Elections; Green mamba snake; Baptism - Symbolic of conversion for Nathan Price; The ants; Methuselah, the parrot.

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The Poisonwood Bible Free BookNotes Summary Study Guide

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