Literature and Composition Name
Major Works Data
Sheet: Do not
cut/paste from a website, which is a form of plagiarism.
The Poisonwood Bible
Biographical information about the
Barbara Kingsolver, born in
1955 in Kentucky, is an American author with an international presence.
Her writing career began in1985, which has taken her on quite an
adventure. While writing her many books and novels, Kingsolver has worked
in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, and Mexico. Kingsolver has won
many awards for her works, including this one, as The Poisonwood Bible
was the recipient of the South African National Book Award as well as a
finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Orange Prize
Date of Publication: 1998
information about the period of publication or setting of the novel:
The Poisonwood Bible is set internationally in the mid to late
1900s. Although the story began in the small town of Bethlehem, Georgia,
the majority of the plot takes place in the Belgian Congo of Africa.
During this time-period, the Congo was fighting for independence from
Belgium, all the while dealing with the repercussions of the ongoing Cold
Characteristics of the genre:
fiction is a made-up story that conveys some historical accuracy in its
plot and setting. Kingsolver states, “Its principal characters are pure
inventions with no relations to the earth, as far as I know. But the
Congo in which I placed them is genuine. The historical figures and
events are as real as I could render them with the help of recorded
history, in all its fascinating variations.”
Plot Summary: Do not cut/paste from a
website, which is a form of plagiarism.
The Poisonwood Bible tells the story of the Prices, a southern Baptist
family from Georgia on mission in the Belgian Congo in the mid 1900’s.
Their story is told from the point of view of Orleanna Price and her four
daughters- Rachel, identical twins Leah and Adah, and Ruth May- in the
form of seven different books, or chapters. As the story spans nearly
three decades, the family’s lifestyle changes drastically, facing
challenge after challenge and constant sorrow all the while discovering
and rejoicing in new joys and loves.
first book introduces the readers to the Price Family and their
situation. As we watch them grow from struggling over what items to pack
to getting accustomed to their life in Congo, readers gain insight on the
personalities of the Price women.
The Revelation- The second book follows the Prices as they begin
to grow more comfortable in their new home. Just as they are beginning to
learn the languages and meet the people, the Belgian Congo enters a fight
for independence. Although it looks like the family will have to leave
for safety reasons, Nathan dictates that the family is staying.
In thee third book, both Ruth May and her mother get very ill, forcing
the sisters to mature and take on the responsibilities of taking care of
Bel and the Serpent- The fourth book documents a time of loss and
mourning in the Price family. Though both Orleanna and Ruth May make a full
recovery, giving hope to readers, tragedy strikes when a Green Mamba
snake bites Ruth May, poisoning her to death. The readers hearts are
broken as the girls are forced to tell their parents and learn to live
without their younger sister.
the unexpected death of Ruth May, Book Five documents Orleanna and the
girls leaving Nathan and the Congo as the family grieves.
Song of the Three Children-Book Six summarizes the girls’ lives after the
loss of their youngest sister. Rachel stayed in South Africa, and after
several failed marriages, found success in running a hotel. Leah, who
also remained in Africa, married Anatole and had four sons. Adah moved
back to Georgia with her mother, where attended medical school and her
slant was cured.
The Eye in the Trees- The last and possibly most powerful book is quite
different from the rest. Instead of hearing from the three remaining
Price sisters or a final word from an aging mother Orleanna, Book Seven
is told from the point of view of the deceased Ruth May. The novel closes
very similar to its beginning, as Orleanna and her daughters travel back
to the Congo to say a final goodbye to Ruth May, bringing closure to the
readers as well as the novel.
Major Works Data Sheet
at least 3 – more is better
try to make life a mathematics 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.” (309)
of us know how we came by our fortune, and some of us don’t, but we wear
it all the same. There’s only one question worth asking now: How do we
aim to live with it?” (9)
quote from Leah as she, along with her mother and remaining sisters, are
leaving behind the Congo and her father is so significant because of her
relationship with her father. Even though he did not respect her, even
though he was abusive, Leah, by far, had the closest relationship with
her father. She had adored him, trying to do everything she could to
follow him for her whole life, yet after the death of her sister,
everything seemed to change. Her eyes were finally opened to the
realization that he didn’t know them at all. He didn’t care to know his own
daughters or wife. This is where readers begin to see a change in Leah,
as she decides to follow a new path- her own- starting by following her
mother for once.
powerful quote comes from Rachel in Book Four after the immediate and
unexpected death of Ruth May. Losing a family member is always difficult,
but given their circumstances, this quote opens the eyes of readers to
not only the pain that the Prices are going to experience, but also how
drastically their lives will change. Coming from Rachel, this quote is
major, because readers can feel a shift in her character’s personality
and attitude in that very moment. If Ruth May hadn’t passed, I feel like
it is very likely that her life would have taken a much different course,
taking her back to America and her old life at the first chance she was
given. Although unimaginably tragic, Ruth May’s death definitely inspired
growth in each of the Price girls’ lives, as seen in this quote from
quote from Anatole is significant because it gives Leah a true glimpse
into his world, a world completely different from all she has ever known.
As she had come to serve this world that her and her family didn’t
understand, this lesson is very important.
quote from the mother in the very beginning of the novel in Book One, as
she is speaking looking back at her time in Africa, captures the essence
of the family’s struggles in the Congo. Gradually yet somehow all at
once, the family faced small day to day challenges and great loss during
their time in Africa. Looking back now, all there is to do is move
forward, and her question is simple enough- how.
Major Works Data Sheet
in the story
second oldest Price daughter, identical twin to Leah.
second oldest Price daughter, identical twin to Adah, and eventual wife
is Nathan’s husband, and more importantly to her, the mother of her four
Price is the Orleanna’s husband and the father of the four price girls.
More importantly in his eyes, he is a preacher and missionary
youngest Price sister
oldest Price sister
Ruth May is the
youngest, and arguably the most important Price sibling. Though she
passes away at a young age in the Congo, her death is definitely the most
significant moment in the story,
as it sparks a change in nearly all of the characters lives.
enters the story with a brain handicap that causes her to have what she
refers to as a slant. Between that, her abusive father, and slightly
conceited sisters, Adah is a quite cynical person until she moves back to
the US and is cured.
is seemingly the most responsible of the four sisters. Looking up to her
father, Leah loves the outdoors. She longs to hunt, fish, and garden as
the men of her village do. Leah definitely makes the most of the Congo,
connecting with the people, grasping the language, and eventually
marrying a native African.
is the oldest sister, and in the beginning, she is the one that is the
most self centered and resistant to move to Africa. But, as the story
goes on, Rachel learns how to take responsibility and make success out of
the heartbreak and pain she has faced.
of her husband’s mission and consequential absence in his family’s lives,
Orleanna is everything her family has. She holds her family together, not
only physically providing for them, but also emotionally.
would expect the significance of this character to be his fatherly
guidance and love throughout all of the challenges his family faced in
Congo; however, he is quite the opposite.
The significance of this character is his insignificance to his
family. He is the definitely the definition of doing more harm than good
for the people in his life.
Real. Honest. Adorable. Loving.
hearted. Kind. Family Oreinted. Loving. Strong.
physically, verbally, and emotionally. Neglecting. Self centered. Self
righteous. Never present. Forceful.
yet Strong. Patient. Loving. Kind
hearted. Faithful. Enduring. Everything her girls needed her to be.
Cynical. Handicapped for the majority of her life. Judgemental, but at
the end of the day, still caring.
Conceited, yet still caring. Greedy. Vain.
Pedantic. However, by the end of
the novel, readers have seen that she does have a big heart.
Major Works Data Sheet
of the opening scene
setting of this novel changes quite a bit as time passes and the Price
sisters grow up. Book one begins as the family moves from Bethlehem,
Georgia to Kilanga in the Belgian Congo in 1959. The family stays there
until approximately 1961 in Book Five, Exodus. After the death of Ruth May, Orleanna and the girls
leave Nathan in the Congo. Rachel remarries several times, moving around
Southern Africa, before settling down to manage a hotel called The
Equatorial. Leah marries Anatole, and their family ends up moving around
Africa as well. Adah and Orleana move back to America and reside in
Atlanta, Georgia. Nathan died in Africa after the departure of his
The opening scene of this novel is Orleanna
setting up to tell the story of her family and their life after moving to
Congo. She is back in Georgia at this point looking back on her life. She
begins by painting a picture of the African forest by a river, as a
family- a mother and her daughters- have a small picnic by the river. An
okapi drinks from the other side of the stream. Though Orleanna doesn’t
specifically reveal this, the readers can tell she is looking back on her
own family’s time in Africa, a picnic that she had had with her
daughters. This picture she has painted is one of serenity, stillness,
and beauty shining through the pain in her voice. This picture she had
painted, the good and the bad, was the Congo.
Another significant part of Orleanna’s opening
is the way she speaks about life,
not only hers but that of her daughters. From this opening, the readers
knows that Orleanna will lose one of her daughters at some point in the
story, giving readers a glimpse into the challenges and pain the Prices
will face during their time in Congo.
or Motifs (at least three)
of the ending / closing scene
One important symbol in this novel is the Poisonwood Tree, where
the novel gets its name. When Nathan touches the tree in Book One, the
poison causes his hands and arms to swell. Nathan and his fierce
evangelism is symbolic of this tree for the citizens of Congo. The
poisons of his preaching cause their culture and way of life to suffer.
All of the items the Prices brought with them versus the things
they realized they needed when they got to the Congo are vastly different
and a major motif in this novel.
From cake mixes to a handheld mirror, the majority of the things
the Prices brought were useless in their new world- a world where the
essentials were minimum. This symbolizes how different the lifestyles and
values of people around the world are.
Some of the symbols in this story are as simple as the water in
the Congo. While the Prices had grown up taking the simplest things like
having clean drinking water from a faucet for granted, the citizens of
Congo would need to go to the river and carry up buckets of water before
having to boil the bacteria out to ensure that it was safe for drinking.
Things like this symbolize how different even the simplest things are in
novel closes in the same place it begun, creating a beautiful full circle
for readers. Like the first book, the last also begins with the same
picture of the same picnic. After everything they had suffered, all of
the heartache and the pieces of their hearts left behind in the Congo all
those years ago, Orleanna and the girls travel back to Africa to mark
Ruth May’s grave- a final goodbye. While there, Orleanna is given a small
wooden okapi figurine, reminding her of that picnic by the stream with
her daughters, especially Ruth May. The story closes as Ruth May tells
her mother that it is okay to move on, for she is always with her.
Readers haven’t heard from Ruth May since her death in Book Four, so to
have the final book be narrated by her spirit was an extremely powerful
way to close this story.
Themes – Topics of Discussion (elaborate) minimum of 3
The theme that occurs the most in this story is probably the
importance love and support within a family. With the exception of Nathan
and Rachel’s many husbands, the Price family is definitely there for one
another in the joys and the heartbreaks. From Orleanna and her daughters
to Leah and Anatole, the love this family shows one another throughout
the novel is pivotal to the their survival. This teaches readers just how
important the support of your loved ones is to success.
Another major theme in this story is independence. While Congo
fights for independence from Belgium, Orleanna and her daughters also
seem to be fighting a silent battle for independence of their own. Nathan
Price is so focused on his mission that he has no room to be anything but
abusive towards his family, and the girls need an escape. The death of Ruth May is the final
straw, causing Orleanna and her girls to leave Nathan in the Congo. This
theme of independence teaches readers the value of standing up for
yourself to protect yourself and those you love
Another major theme in this book is the cultural divide between
nations today. This can be seen in the beginning of the novel as the
family faces a major culture shock when they arrive in Africa. They were
completely unprepared for the culture and way of life that would meet
them in the Congo. We often are only mindful of the culture we live in,
but this novel teaches the importance and value of other cultures around