The Poisonwood Bible Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


The Poisonwood Bible:Summary:BOOK 4:part 2

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Summary: Tata Ndu calls for a large hunt that will involve everyone in the village. Leah announces her intention, with the encouragement of both Nelson and Anatole, to hunt with her bow and arrow alongside the men. The village elders as well as the Rev. Price oppose Leah’s plan; many of the younger villagers, however, support it. In the end, the village puts the matter to a vote. Leah wins (51 in favor, 45 against). Tata Kuvudundu angrily and emphatically declares nothing good will come of the plan. Nathan demands that Leah submit to his will, regardless of the vote; Leah refuses, and runs out into the night. She keeps her distance from her home before the hunt. Nelson reports that Anatole finds an “evil sign” outside his hut the night prior to the hunt, but will not specify what the sign is. On the morning of the hunt, however, Anatole finds a mamba snake curled up by his cot; whether by luck or divine intervention, the snake does not bite him.
Analysis: Leah’s gradually increasing separation from her father reaches a dramatic break in this chapter, as she decides to take her place alongside the Kilangan men in the hunt, despite the village’s traditions and her father’s will. Rachel attributes Leah’s motives solely to being “primarily a show-off” (p. 336), but readers may also fairly wonder whether her desire to take part in the hunt is also due to her attraction to Anatole and to her genuinely increased feelings of solidarity with the Kilangans. Tata Ndu’s announced hunt is, after all, for “the whole village… required participation” (p. 336); while Tata Ndu envisions the women playing a different role than the men (namely, the women will fan flames, trapping animals in a ring of fire so that the men can shoot them), Leah is certainly more willing to participate than is Rachel. Nonetheless, the village elders’ offense at having their traditional ways violated carries some weight. Tata Kuvudundu speaks metaphorically but no less truly when he declares, “The animals are listening to us tonight!... The leopards will walk upright like men on our paths… You decided the old ways are no good. Don’t blame the animals, it was your decision” (p. 339). The role reversal Leah undertakes—not, it must be said, without the support of Anatole and, to a lesser extent, Nelson—does represent a reversal of the expected order of things in the social world of Kilanga (as Adah pointed out in an earlier chapter). It also violates the expected order in the Rev. Price’s interpretation of Scripture’s view of how the world should work: “God has ordained that you honor thy father”—note that Nathan does not quote the rest of the commandment, that children must also honor their mothers—“and submit thyself to the rules of his house” (p. 339). The archaic language Nathan adopts only serves to highlight the archaic nature of his worldview, given Leah’s new maturity (and set as it is against the backdrop of the early 1960s, a decade in which women’s view of themselves and of their roles in society would dramatically change, at least in Western societies). Kingsolver juxtaposes the angry reaction of the village elders and the angry reaction of Nathan Price to provoke readers into considering how Leah’s act can be construed as both liberating and defiant, important and reckless, independence and “impudence” (p. 341), positive and negative, all at once. The world is no longer simple, just as Anatole has told her. Leah’s breaking from “the old ways” (p. 339) is indeed a radical change, and—as Adah has previously told us—such dramatic change cannot occur without (sometimes unforeseen) consequences.
Summary: The hunt occurs as Tata Nud planned. The women (save Rachel) light the grass on fire with torches; the jungle animals—“antelopes, bushbucks, broad-headed warthogs with warthog children running behind them”—are encircled and entrapped by flame; the men (and Rachel) shoot them. The villagers rejoice in the food the animals’ deaths provide for them, while Adah reflects on the inextricable nature of death in life.
Analysis: Before describing the hunt, Adah offers readers an extended reflection on the relationship between the nommo and the muntu, the word and the self. The muntu, she says, is, in the Kilangans’ thought, “a vision residing inside [the physical body], peering out through the eyeholes of the body, waiting for whatever happens next. Using the body as a mask, muntu watches and waits without fear, because muntu itself cannot die” (p. 343). This dualistic conception of the human being is in some ways reminiscent of traditional Western concepts (derived ultimately from ancient Greek philosophy) of the immortality of the soul. For Adah, however, the concept is significant because it enables her to define herself in a way she heretofore could not: “In that other long-ago place, America, I was a failed combination of too-weak body and overstrong will. But in Congo I am those things perfectly united: Adah” (p. 343). Adah renames herself; recall that she had previously preferred the palindromic spelling “Ada” of her name. Now, however, she sees herself as an integrated, whole person. She claims “the power of nommo, the force of a name to call oneself” (p. 343). Also, Kingsolver is once more ringing changes on her novel’s theme of vision and sight in this passage. Adah is, in a sense, vision incarnate, the muntu looking out at the world through the eyes of the body, and even—in terms reminiscent of those that Ruth May used while sick with malaria in previous chapters—“the muntu dead and unborn who watched from above” (p. 344). Adah herself comments on some connections to Ruth in this chapter. She notes that Ruth is Orelanna’s “chosen child” (p. 345), a reference to the fact that Orleanna did not help Adah flee from the ants at the end of Book Three. She also says she sees in Ruth’s “faraway” eyes “the muntu of Ruth May, chained to this briefly belligerent child through forelife, life, and afterlife, peering out through her sockets” (p. 346). Adah is defined—defines herself—by her ability to observe, to perceive, to see. (Appropriately enough, then, this chapter is marked by richly descriptive language for the hunt: e.g., “Birds hit the wall of fire and lit like bottle rockets,” p. 346). And one of the things that Adah sees clearly in this chapter is the relationship of death and life: “On the day of the hunt I came to know in the slick center of my bones this one thing: all animals kill to survive, and we are animals” (p. 347). Adah’s knowledge that “the death of something living is the price of our own survival” (p. 347) reintroduces the specter of mortality into the novel, reminding readers that death is lurking, not only for Patrice Lumumba but also for someone in the Price family.
Summary: During the hunt, Leah kills her first game. She shoots a male impala through the neck. Tata Ndu’s eldest son, Gbenye, tries to take credit for the kill; but his arrows only hit the impala’s flank. Nelson ridicules Gbenye for shooting like a nkento—a woman.
Analysis: Often in literature, the protagonist’s first killing of an animal represents a coming-of-age moment, or an initiation into a new way of life. Most typically, of course, such stories are told of male characters. In this brief chapter, however, readers watch Leah undergo such an initation, a liminal moment of transition from an old life to a new. The text does not evoke the word “baptism” (as it does so frequently elsewhere in the novel), but it is likely not too far off the mark for readers to regard Leah’s killing of the impala as a “baptism” of sorts—a baptism in blood (“Only when I saw the spay of brown blood did I understand I’d hit him,” p. 348). Unlike Christian baptisms, however, this “baptism” involves prayer not only to Jesus but “to any other god who would listen” (p. 348). It is a remarkable admission from one who was so recently desperate for the approval and love of the Rev. Price. On the other hand, like Christian baptisms, this “baptism” involves the conferring of a new name—not, ironically, on Leah, the “baptizand,” but on Gbenye. “Nelson had ridiculed Gbenye’s aim by calling him a nkento. A woman” (p. 349). Does this mean Leah is (symbolically) no longer a woman, or that she is now some new kind of woman? The moment is an important transition not only for her but for Kilangan society. It represents a challenge to the conventional order of life for all involved.
Summary: Rachel is repulsed by the villagers’ rejoicing over the dead animals, as well as by Leah’s participation in the hunt as she and Nelson skin the fallen impala. She races back to the Price house, resolving to live her own life from this time forward, taking solace in the smiling portrait of President Eisenhower. She makes a vow to become a vegetarian.
Analysis: “Everything changed,” Rachel tells us of the hunt. “The villagers transformed into brutish creatures before my very eyes” (p. 350). Of course, Rachel has already been inclined to think of the Kilangans as less than human; she is simply more explicit her identification of them as such as a result of the hunt, which she cannot seem to see as anything but bloody violence. She does not see how it provides food for the village. She does, however, see something of what Adah has already seen: the necessary connection of life and death, a connection obscured in the West when food comes already killed and prepared for consumption from a grocery store, as Leah explained to Anatole in Book Three. Rachel is aware of the connection, but she wishes to go on choosing not to see it: “I stood and prayed to the Lord Jesus if he was listening to take me home to Georgia, where I could sit down in a White Castle and order a hamburger without having to see its eyes roll back in its head and the blood come spurting out of its corpse” (p. 350). She does vow not to eat the animals killed in the hunt, but we have already been told this vow will not be long lasting. Rachel is unwilling to let go either of her view of herself as somehow different and superior to the Kilangans; or of her view as people as superior to animals; or of her view of her Western culture as unreservedly safe and benevolent—she wishes President Eisenhower were her father, because she wants “to live under the safe protection of somebody who wore decent clothes, bought meat from the grocery store like the Good Lord intended, and cared about others” (p. 351). The great irony, of course, is that we have seen on multiple occasions how the Kilangans care for others and even for the Prices (recall Mama Mwanza giving them chickens—something even Rachel, in the past, took note of), while we, being privy to the American-led plot to assassinate Lumumba, know that Eisenhower’s “caring for others” has its definite limits. In several respects, then, Rachel sees truths that she is unwilling to accept. She sees the villagers, and even her sisters, as “no different from animals” (p. 351), but exempts herself from the same judgment, preferring to cling to her illusions about herself and her society.
Summary: The hunt leads to trouble and division among the Kilangans. Still angry at Gbenye for his attempt to claim credit for killing the impala, Leah flings the beast’s leg at him, which Tata Ndu interprets as the Price family refusing its share of the meat from the hunt. This action sets off a chain reaction of the Kilangans arguing over each other’s meat, rather than dividing it fairly. 
Analysis: The greedy grab for meat after the hunt reveals to Leah the extreme degree to which her presence in the hunt specifically and, more generally, Western interference in Africa has upset the traditional balance of life for Africa’s people. “And so it came to pass that the normal, happy event of dividing food after a hunt became a war of insults and rage and starving bellies… Abundance disappeared before our eyes… What was surely the oldest celebration of all, the sharing of plenty, had fallen to ruin in our hands” (p. 354). As Leah astutely notes, her argument with Gbenye deteriorates into “a shouting match between people who’d voted for me and those who’d voted against” (p. 353). As Adah foresaw, Leah’s violation of Kilanga’s social boundaries has dire consequences for that society, regardless of whether she and Anatole were in the right to press for her inclusion. 
Summary: Rachel’s resolve to become a vegetarian crumbles quite quickly when she smells her mother cooking the meat from the hunt (even though she insists, mentally, that she would have gone to a grocery store on her own for food, were one available). Over dinner, Leah and Nathan argue about Leah’s participation in the hunt. Nelson interrupts the meal, claiming to have seen an evil sign, snakes outside the chicken house, where Nelsons usually sleeps. He is afraid he is doomed. Refusing to cater to local superstition, Nathan will not allow Nelson to sleep in the Price house. That night, however, moved—and frightened themselves—by the sound of Nelson’s terrified crying,  the four girls sneak out of the house to help Nelson set a trap for anyone or anything that might enter the chicken house, by spreading ashes in front of its door. Nelson promises to hide that night at Anatole’s house.
Analysis: Leah and her father’s relationship seems to reach a complete breaking point in this chapter. Nathan refuses even to punish Leah for her disobedience, dismissing her in self-righteous terms as “a shameful and inadequate vessel for God’s will” (p. 356). Leah, for her part, declares, as she leads her sisters in sneaking out to help Nelson, that “Father can go straight to hell” (p. 358). While less dramatically so, the chapter also marks a break between Rachel and her father. As she and her sisters go out to help Nelson set a trap for whatever he believes is out to get him, she reflects, again, how “everything has changed”: “being American doesn’t matter and nobody gives us any special credit. Now we’re all in this stewpot together, black or white regardless” (p. 358). The idea is both continuous and discontinuous with her images, before the family came to Africa, of cannibalists trapping poor Westerners in cauldrons. Although she is not welcoming of a greater solidarity with the Kilangans, her actions in agreeing to help Nelson, with her sisters, suggests that she might be developing such a sense of solidarity despite herself. No question she still wants to go home (as her plans to “use [her] feminine wilds” to get Axelroot to fly her home demonstrate, p. 355); but while she is in Kilanga, at least, she is not entirely above some show, however small a beginning it may be, of connection with her neighbors.
In a small but notable biblical allusion, Rachel observes that her father “was washing his hands left and right that evening” (p. 357)—figuratively speaking: washing his hands of Leah’s “moral education” (p. 356), and washing his hands of any responsibility to help Nelson in his fear. This figure of speech may evoke memories of Pontius Pilate in Matthew’s gospel, who washes his hands literally, but symbolizing his self-absolution, of any responsibility for the death of Jesus. Without knowing it, the Rev. Price is thus symbolically casting himself in the place of a figure traditionally regarded as a villain, an enemy of Christ. Even on a strictly literal level, his hard heartedness toward both his daughter and Nelson calls into question, once more, his fitness as a pastor and a father.


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