The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver An Introduction
"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you. “ –Friedrich Nietzsche
Basic Framework of the Novel Told from the point of view of 5 women: Orleanna, Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May. Missionary family from Georgia in the late 1950’s who go to Africa to spread the word of God Africa is under Belgian control in 1959 when the Price family goes to Africa, and the Congolese are working towards a rebellion to gain their freedom.
The Price Family Nathan Price: Patriarch of the family. He is a southern Baptist preacher from Bethlehem, Georgia who moves his family to The Congo in Africa to do missionary work (obsessively so) in the name of God. He is an abusive father and husband. He is also a war vet, from World War II. He is the ONLY character in the novel that the reader never directly hears from.
The Price Women: 5 POVs in the novel Orleanna Price: Wife to Nathan Price and mother of the four Price daughters, Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May. She married young and with a very naïve view on marriage. Her point of view is heard from after the missionary trip to Africa (post crisis if you will). She writes, in the beginning, as if she is talking directly to the reader and she is very reflective of events that already occurred. She was also abused by her husband and, you could argue, regretted being a preacher’s wife.
The Price Women: 5 POVs in the novel Rachel Price: Oldest of the Price children. She is 15 going on 16 when the family moves to Africa. She is the typical teenager (no offense), thinking about her friends and her clothes and her hair. She is extremely selfish and there are many examples of Rachel butting heads with all the other characters in the novel. What makes her unique is that she is the only family member with pale blond hair and pale skin.
The Price Women: 5 POVs in the novel Leah Price: Leah and her twin sister Adah are 1 year younger than Rachel. Leah, in the beginning of the novel, idolizes her father and wants nothing more than to please him. She also begins the novel very devoted to God and Nathan’s mission in Africa. Leah and Adah are both gifted children and tend to understand ideas and concepts better than any other Price.
The Price Women: 5 POVs in the novel Adah Price: Adah is Leah’s handicapped twin sister. Adah suffered a complication at birth that enabled Adah from being able to use the right side of her body, therefore she walks with a limp. Adah also has a very unique was of thinking, since she chooses not to speak. She likes palindromes (pop quiz: what is a palindrome? ? ). Adah is the most cynical and skeptical in the beginning of the novel. You could argue she is agnostic, perhaps atheist.
The Price Women: 5 POVs in the novel Ruth May: Ruth May is 5 when the family moves to the Congo. She is the youngest and the most spirited. She quickly makes friends with the Congolese children and seems to be able to bridge a gap that her father, Nathan, is unable to do with the locals in Kilanga.
Kilanga, Congo: The people they meet Eeben Axelroot: The white pilot who flies the Price family into the Congo, to the small village of Kilanga. He also “helps” trade with the women of the village. He is smarmy (yes, that’s a word) and involved in a few illegal side jobs. Anatole Ngemba: He is the local teacher in Kilanga. He also helps Nathan translate each Sunday. He was an orphan and grows up to become a political activist.
Kilanga, Congo: The people they meet Nelson: orphan who moves in with the Price family in exchange for manual labor and help in surviving. He and Ruth May become friends. Pascal: a 9 year old boy that Leah befriends in Kilanga Mama Tataba: she worked for the previous missionary and starts out in the novel helping out the Price family until Nathan chases her away with his Christian beliefs.
Kilanga, Congo: The people they meet Tata Ndu: the Chief of Kilanga. He has many wives and welcomes the Price family until Nathan’s beliefs make him wary. He does not want his village to forget their gods. Tata Kuvundu: the village witch doctor who does not accept the beliefs of the Price family Mama Mwanza: Neighbor in Kilanga who has no legs because of a fire. She helps the Price women out.
Politicians: Seeking change in the Congo Patrice Lumumba: The charismatic first elected president of the Republic of Congo, who preached a gospel of peace and prosperity. He was beaten to death during a military coup orchestrated by the United States and Belgium in 1961. He wanted the Congo to be in control of their own resources (diamonds and rubber). Joseph Mobutu : The greedy and immoral puppet of the Western powers, put into the dictatorship after Lumumba was assassinated. For thirty years he kept his nation in abject poverty, while he himself lived like a king. Agostino Neto: A Congolese doctor-poet, who became the first president of the independent nation of Angola.
Abstract Characters: the non-humans Methuselah: the parrot that the former missionaries kept as a pet. Africa: imperialism in Africa parallels the conflict between the Price family and the Congolese, as well as the conflicts with in the family itself. Africa, one could argue, is one of the Antagonists in the novel Christianity/God: DO NOT FREAK OUT! Each character grapples with their own faith and belief in Nathan’s version of God in the novel.
What you need to know for Monday: Differences in the voices of the 4 Price daughters The significance of Nathan’s garden (think figuratively) How is imperialism evident in Part 1? Daughters' relationship with their father and how they view each other Methusela
What you need to pay attention to throughout the novel as you read: Darkness verses light Biblical/historical allusions Allegory Symbolism Animals Literary allusions Imagery