Free Study Guide for The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver BookNotes|
STUDY GUIDE THE POISONWOOD BIBLE BY BARBARA KINGSOLVER
QUOTES - IMPORTANT QUOTATIONS AND ANALYSIS
1) "One has only a life of oneís own." Orleanna,
2) "We aimed for no more than to have dominion over every creature
that moved upon the earth. And so it came to pass that we stepped down
there on a place we believed unformed, where only darkness moved on the
face of the waters." Orleanna, pg 10.
Orleannaís words have ironic echoes of both Conradís novel Heart
of Darkness and the creation story from the Bible. Her husband also
places himself in a god-like position over his family and over the people
he is attempting to convert even though he himself is emotionally prostrate
before God. It is a misplaced perception of himself, and the observation
comes as close to satire as Orleanna is able to get. Neither she nor her
husband had dominion over themselves, let alone the "creatures"
of the earth. And the darkness which they imagined to be a part of Africa
was in reality a blindness in their own hearts.
3) "We are supposed to be calling the shots here, but it doesnít
look to me like weíre in charge of anything, not even our own selves."
Rachel, Pg 22.
4) "Itís a heavenly paradise in the Congo, and sometimes I want
to live here forever." Leah, pg 104.
5) "Father says a girl canít go to college because theyíll pour
water in your shoes." Ruth May, pg. 117.
6) "I wonder that religion can live or die on the strength of
a faint, stirring breeze. The scent trail shifts, causing the predator
to miss the pounce. One god draws in the breath of life and rises; another
god expires." Adah, pg. 141.
Adah had gone with Leah to get water, but as usual had wandered a little
farther and returned to the house at her own slower speed while Leah went
on ahead. While walking along the trail, Adah thought she heard footsteps
behind her, but each time she stopped the noise also stopped. She arrived
home and slipped into a hammock to rest. While she lay there, Tata Ndu
came to report to her father that they had found evidence of a lion having
killed a little girl who dragged one foot. It was a report of thinly veiled
triumph as Tata Ndu had been predicting that something would happen if
people stopped serving the old gods. When Adah appears in the doorway,
Tata Ndu appears defeated, and Nathan acts as if he has won something.
Adahís observation reflects that fragile nature of faith and foreshadows
her own abandoning of Christianity.
7) "When I finally got up with sharp grains imbedded in my knees,
I found, to my surprise, that I no longer believed in God." Adah,
8) "We are going to make the Congo, for all of Africa, the heart
of light." Patrice Lumumba, pg. 184.
9) "I have pictured it many times-Hope!-wondering how I would
catch such a thing one-handed, if it did come floating down to me from
the sky. Now I find it has fallen already, and a piece of it is here beside
our latrine, one red plume. In celebration I stooped down to pick it up."
Adah, pg. 185.
Adah frequently quotes Dickinson, finding a personal connection in the
terse verse. The feather on the ground, however, is from the bird Methuselah.
He was killed by a cat on the same day that the Congo was supposedly granted
10) "You always think you know more about their kind than they
know about yours, which just goes to show you." Rachel 253.
11) "In Congo, it seems the land owns the people." Leah,
12) "You still think youíre the epicenter of a continent, donít
you Princess?" Axelroot, pg. 293.
13) "Why why why, they sang, the mothers who staggered down
our road behind small tightly wrapped corpses, mothers crazy-walking on
their knees, with mouths open wide like a hole ripped in mosquito netting.
That mouth hole! Jagged torn place in their spirits that lets the small
flying agonies pass in and out. Mothers with eyes squeezed shut, dark
cheek muscles tied in knots, heads thrashing from side to side as they
passed." Adah, pg. 296.
A description of the expression of grief from Kilanga mothers who have
lost children to malaria and dysentery. The description reads like poetry
and could perhaps be called a "found" poem. Yet it is also a
subtle foreshadowing as the mothers will one day be singing their mourning
song for her family.
15) "Live was I ere I saw evil. Now I do not wonder at all.
That night marks my lifeís dark center, the moment when growing up ended
and the long downward slope toward death began. The wonder to me now is
that I thought myself worth saving. But I did....And if they chanced to
look down and see my struggling underneath them, they saw that even the
crooked girl believed her own life was precious. That is what it means
to be a beast in the kingdom." Adah, pg. 306.
During the attack of the ants, Adah sees her mother carry Ruth May to safety. She thinks she sees her mother hesitate as if trying to decide whom to save and then choosing the more perfect Ruth May. Although that isnít exactly what is in her motherís mind, Adah spends several years believing that she had been left behind as not worth saving. She also sees that although she was in the process of being trampled, even she struggled for life. The "beast in the kingdom" is a metaphor for the value of every living thing and is echoed later on when she sees once again that the price of survival is always the death of some other living being.
16) "Donít expect Godís protection in places beyond Godís dominion.
It will only make you feel punished....when things go badly, you will
blame yourself....Donít try to make life a mathematics problem with yourself
in the center and everything coming out equal. When you are good, bad
things can still happen. And if you are bad, you can still be lucky."
Anatole, pg. 309.
Leah interprets Anatoleís words as an indication that he thinks her
faith is childish. Rather he is simply trying to get her to understand
that regardless of a personís religion, the processes of the earth take
place and effect all life unevenly. It is senseless to try to find a religious
or personal cause for everything that happens. Anatoleís words are the
exact opposite of the teachings of Nathan Price; according to Nathan,
God rewards the just and punishes the unjust. Leah will eventually decide
that Anatoleís view makes more sense.
17) "The death of something living is the price of our own survival,
and we pay it again and again. We have no choice. It is the one solemn
promise every life on earth is born and bound to keep." Adah,
After watching the outcome of the hunt, Adah echoes her summation on
life from the night of the ants.
18) "For women like me, it seems, itís not ours to take charge
of beginnings and ending...I only know the middle ground where we live
our lives....To resist occupation, whether youíre a nation or merely a
woman, you must understand the language of your enemy. Conquest and liberation
and democracy and divorce are words that mean squat, basically, when you
have hungry children and clothes to get out on the line, and it looks
like rain." Orleanna, pg. 383.
20) "My little beast, my eyes, my favorite stolen egg. Listen.
To live is to be marked. To live is to change, to acquire the words of
a story, and that is the only celebration we mortals really know. In perfect
stillness, frankly, Iíve only found sorrow." Orleanna, pg. 385.
Orleannaís words echo the sentiment of American Indian N. Scott Momaday
who said, "In the end, the words are all we really have." The
theme of story telling as healing is the underlying thread of the entire
21) "What happened to us in the Congo was simply the bad luck
of two opposite worlds crashing into each other, causing tragedy. After
something like that, you can only go your own way according to whatís
in your heart. And in my family, all our hearts seem to have whole different
things inside." Rachel, pg. 465.
22) "The King of Kings aroused the anger of Antiochus against
the rascal. And when Lysias informed him this man was to blame for all
the trouble, he ordered them to put him to death in a way that is customary
there. For there is a tower there, seventy-five feet high, filled with
ashes, and there they push a man guilty of sacrilege or notorious for
other crimes to destruction. By such a fate it came to pass that the transgressor
died, not even getting burial in the ground." Adah, 487.
Adah quotes a verse from the Apocrypha, a favorite section of the Bible
for Nathan although most churches did not recognize it as a valid part
of the Bible. Adah had been made to copy the section numerous times as
punishment and recognizes the irony. According to the stories they have
heard, their father perished in a tower that had been set on fire. The
end he received was one he had quoted, preached on, and inflicted metaphorically
23) "Betrayal bent me in one direction while guilt bent her
the other way. We constructed our lives around a misunderstanding, and
if ever I tried to pull it out and fix it now I would fall down flat.
Misunderstanding is my cornerstone. Itís everyoneís come to think of it.
Illusions mistaken for truth are the pavement under our feet. They are
what we call civilization." Adah, pg. 532.
Adah reaches a final understanding of the misconceptions that were a
part of her entire family. Each person had her own misconception of guilt
or responsibility. Each had their own belief about the way things ought
to be, and their beliefs did not coincide with their fatherís or any one
elseís. In fact, Adah realizes that illusion was not limited to her family.
The Congo people thought they were about to get independence and received
dictatorship. Lumumba thought he was to be prime minister and was assassinated.
Her own mother thought she was at last freeing herself from Africa but
found herself driven to continuously gaze over the ocean in that direction
as if pieces of her were still trapped in the Congo. Perhaps freedom itself
is intertwined with a peopleís success or failure in living out their
24) "My baby, my blood, my honest truth: entreat me not to leave
thee, for whither thou goest, I will go. Where I lodge, we lodge together,
Where I die, youíll be buried at last." Orleanna, pg. 382.
In an interesting reversal of a passage of the Bible from the Book of Ruth, Orleanna acknowledges that although she buried Ruth May, she never let her go. In this she is taking on an additional burden of guilt, for she feels Ruth Mayís spirit and feels that she has forced the child to remain a part of her world. In her mind, when she dies, Ruth May will then die with her. She does not understand the muntu.
Downloadable / Printable Version
The Poisonwood Bible Free BookNotes Summary Study Guide