The Poisonwood Bible Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


The Poisonwood Bible:Summary:BOOK 2:part 4

Average Overall Rating: 4.5
Total Votes: 545


Summary: The Congo holds its election, and Patrice Lumumba wins. Meanwhile, the Underdowns have arranged for a plane to take the Prices out of Africa; the Rev. Price, however, remains intent on staying, despite all protestations from his wife and from Rachel. 
Analysis: Rachel’s brief chapter informs readers of Lumumba’s victory in the Congo’s first election. Nathan does not hold high hopes for the country’s first elected Prime Minister: “the problem is all of [the Congolese people] still like their own tribes and their own chiefs the best” (p. 177). As readers have seen, Nathan does not act in loving ways toward the Congolese, but his assessment of the political situation is accurate. As he said in Rachel’s previous chapter, the Congo is a country (albeit Nathan uses the derogatory phrase “so-called”) “invented by Belgians in a parlor” (p. 168). Whatever Nathan’s faults as a husband, father, and minister, he is right to think that one election will not immediately grant the Congo peace and stability. But that would seem, to many people, more than enough reason to leave! Nathan’s pride, cloaked in self-righteous religious justification, leads him to make a terribly risky decision on his family’s behalf. “Mother tries to explain to him day in and day out about how he is putting his own children in jeopardy of their lives, but he won’t even listen to his own wife, much less his mere eldest daughter” (p. 176). Again, readers can’t help but ask: Is this how a father rules?
Ruth May
Summary: The charter plane sent by the Underdowns to remove the Prices from the Congo arrives. Instead of using it for that purpose, however, the Rev. Price and Leah take it to go watch Patrice Lumumba’s inauguration. 
Analysis: In this brief chapter, Ruth records the reactions of the family to Nathan and Leah’s trip to watch the inauguration of Prime Minister Lumumba. Rachel, who first attempted to board the charter plane with her belongings so as to leave the Congo (cf. her “hissy fit” in the previous chapter, p. 176), is rebuffed by Nathan (he “flung her back,” p. 179), and threatens to “go drown herself in the river, but we knew she wouldn’t. Rachel wouldn’t want to get that dirty” (p, 179)—a brief flash of humor from Ruth as she narrates an otherwise tense, grim situation. Adah doesn’t even go to the airfield. Ruth and her mother lie in bed, and “don’t feel like getting up ever again” (p. 180). This is the first notable instance of Ruth sharing a bond with her mother. The fact that Orleanna bronzes all of her girls’ baby shoes symbolizes her attachment to her children, as well as the fact that—apparently, unlike Nathan—Orleanna loves them all. Ruth notes that Orleanna even bronzed Adah’s shoes, “and her one foot’s no count… Even that bad sideways-worn-out shoe Mama made into metal and saved, so she’ll save mine” when the time comes (p. 179). Of course, the thought may also occur to readers that, should Ruth be the child who dies, that time will never come. The detail thus contributes to the sustained suspense about which Price child will not survive their African sojourn.
Summary: At Patrice Lumumba’s inauguration, Leah listens, with her father and with Mrs. Underdown, as the new Prime Minister recounts in his speech the injustices that Belgium has perpetrated against the Congo, and promises his countrymen that “the homme noir” (the black man) will “make the Congo, for all of Africa, the heart of light.” The crowds enthusiastically hail him.
Analysis: Leah does not tell us how she and her father “patched things up” (p. 181), but she is at least in his good graces again enough to be chosen to go to Leopoldville to watch Patrice Lumumba’s inauguration. Even so, Nathan is still his usual reserved, authoritarian self toward his daughter: “Father wouldn’t have held my hand for the world—he isn’t like that” (p. 181). Even Mrs. Underdown is shocked by Nathan’s treatment of his family: “she told me it was her opinion that Father was not in his right mind and should think of his poor children” (p. 182). Leah, however, is swayed by her father’s religious rhetoric, and believes that he and they are doing God’s will by remaining in the Congo.
Leah accurately reports the flavor, content and impact of Lumumba’s famous inaugural address (to which you can listen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzPO4KQCZP8). According to Ludo de Witte, the address was not even an original part of the independence ceremonies; though its text had been provided beforehand to the press, it had not been given to the assembled foreign dignitaries, and its content “makes their blood run cold. The prime minister does not address himself to his former masters, but to ‘Congolese men and women, fighters for independence, who are today victorious.’ Suddenly, the foreign dignitaries disappear from the centre of the political stage and become spectators at the celebration of a nationalist movement and its first victory… Lumumba’s speech is interrupted eight times by sustained applause from all the Congolese present and honoured by a veritable ovation at the end. In no time, the thousand following the festivities on the radio have spread the news of the bombshell to the four corners of the Congo. Lumumba has spoken in a language the Congolese thought impossible in the presence of a European, and those first few moments of truth feel like a reward for eighty years of domination. For the first time in the history of the country, a Congolese has addressed the nation and set the stage for the reintroduction of Congolese history. By this one act, Lumumba has reinforced the Congolese people’s sense of dignity and self-confidence” (de Witte, The Assasination of Lumumba, 2001; London and New York: Verso, 2002, pp. 2-3). The significance of Lumumba’s speech makes it possible that he in himself is thus at least part of “the revelation” from which this second book of Kingsolver’s novel takes its title. The speech carries additional import, for in just a few chapters, Nelson will introduce Adah to the concept of nommo, the powerful word, “the force that makes things live as what they are” (p. 209). Lumumba’s words reject an identity forced upon his people by the West, and articulate his country’s own sense of self and destiny. So powerful is the nommo from Lumumba, in fact, that Leah notices that she is eventually able to understand the sense, if not all the details, of his speech without the benefit of Mrs. Underdown’s translation: “Much of the rest of it began to come to me in bursts of understanding, as if Patrice Lumumuba were speaking in tongues”—an allusion to the biblical miracle of glossalalia as reported in Acts 2, the defining event of the first Christian Pentecost, when Jews from many nations were able to understand Jesus’ disciples “declaring the wonders of God in [their] own tongues” (2:10)—“and my ears had been blessed by the same stroke of grace” (p. 184). Lumumba, with his “secular” message of freedom and dignity for the Congo, nevertheless emerges as more of a divinely anointed spokesperson than the Rev. Nathan Price, even to Nathan’s own daughter—even, specifically, to Leah, whom we know to be very concerned with retaining her father’s respect and earning his affection. Nathan, as we have seen (and as Orleanna will tell us shortly in the chapter that begins Book Three), styles his preaching in the revival tradition: but while watching Lumumba speak, Leah says, “I have seen preachers at revival meetings speak like that, with voices rising in such a way that heaven and anger get mingled together” (p. 183). Leah is aware that Lumumba’s words have a vitality and an urgency that her father’s weekly sermons in Kilanga lack. She can sense, even if she cannot fully articulate, that Lumumba’s word, his nommo, is going to prove powerful and efficacious—for good or for ill—in a way that Nathan’s words will not.
Summary: On June 30, the Congo’s Independence Day, Adah finds Methuselah the parrot dead on the ground.
Analysis: This brief, final chapter of Book Two depends for its power on the previously established symbolic identification of Methuselah with the Congo. The once-caged bird who was never able to live freely has finally found an ironic and grim freedom in death: “At last it is Independence Day, for Methuselah and the Congo… Methuselah is free of his captivity at last” (pp. 185-86). As usual, Adah has a perception few others share: she is the first to see a feather from the fallen bird: “One red feather for celebration. No one yet has seen it but me” (p. 185). Of course, the feather does not turn out to be reason for celebration, but for fear, as Adah indicates by the ironic invocation of Emily Dickinson’s famous poem about hope (“Hope is the thing with feathers…”). So far from being representative of Dickinson’s singing bird (in Dickinson’s verse, the bird of hope “sings the tune--without the words, / And never stops at all”), Methuselah is more akin, as Adah recognizes, to Edgar Allen Poe’s Raven: the phrase “only this and nothing more” directly quotes Poe’s bleak verse about the bird that is a harbinger of the sweet Lenore’s death, croaking “Nevermore” (and Adah’s use of the phrase “the tell-tale heart”—the title, of course, of one of Poe’s most famous short stories, further solidifies this connection). Methuselah’s fate does not bode well, symbolically, for the fate of the Congo. As Adah asks, “Does anyone here know about the new freedom?” (p. 185)—and, if they do, how will they live in it?


Quotes: Search by Author