The Poisonwood Bible Summary and Analysis

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The Poisonwood Bible (1998) by Barbara Kingsolver tells a story about an almost fanatical missionary Nathan Price, together with his wife and daughters, leaves prosperous civilized America and goes to the dark continent, to the jungles of the Belgian Congo, with firm faith in God and with the hope that the Lord will help him convert the locals to Christianity. He preaches furiously and passionately, but the locals are not at all eager to accept the gifts of grace. They tremblingly protect their shrines, honor the traditions of their ancestors and continue to perform their wild, sometimes inhuman, rituals. But even in Nathan Price's own family, a rebellion is taking place, the household was not ready for the hardships of life in a remote African village. Everything seems alien and frightening to them, an ominous gloomy jungle, where death lurks at every step; people greet them with sullen silence.

Summary and Analysis

The year 1960 is a year of changes and an American Baptist preacher Nathan Price, together with his wife Orleanna and four daughters, goes to the heart of the Belgian Congo to carry the word of Christ to the savages who will perish without saving their souls. It turned out to be a wonderful truthful, as far as a possible, bold, and sincere book about people, Africa, and the world, in which, through the fate of four girls and their mother, it talks about the fate of the Belgian Congo in its various manifestations and the complex and contradictory relationships between black Africa and Europeans. Nathan Price was taught a lesson in the very first chapter when a local woman told him not to plow the land into a traditional western farming field, but to fill in humps and plant seeds on them. Nathan would not listen to her, and in the end, the vegetable garden was destroyed first or tropical rain (Kingsolver 54). Here, Kingsolver raises a point that blindly following biblical teachings does not bring any good and it often has to do nothing with religion. Should Nathan have been a good and open-minded Christian, he would respect an elderly woman as his neighbor and as someone more experienced than he is.

The story is told alternately by the mother of the family Orleanna and four daughters, and in this polyphony of voices, it is incredibly difficult to follow the plot, because each of them has her own voice, distinctive features, and troubles, which are paid more attention than the events themselves. The mother's voice is the most poetic, but her chapters are the most unmemorable, but the daughters turned out to be different and with bright personalities. The eldest, Rachel, only cares about clothes, cosmetics, and boys. She does not care about Africa and its culture, and the natives in the Congo are uninteresting savages to her. The middle ones, the twins Leah and Adah, are not at all similar to each other. Leah is an active and outgoing athlete interested in the outside world, Adah is disabled and half-paralyzed, but she has her own big world in her head, where she skillfully juggles words and notices everything around. The youngest, Ruth May, is the kindest child with still childish ideas about everything, naive and careless (Morgan 783). By demonstrating such a diverse family in a rather exotic context, the author attempts to point out that diversity is extremely important in the modern world and should be accepted in order to better understand the world.

They thought to bring light to Africa, but in the end, Africa walked over them like a skating rink, ground them up, and spat out, someone as a corpse, someone to live on with an eye to the past. Political events in the Congo, the struggle for independence from Belgium, the election of Patrice Lumumba, then his assassination, the rise to power of Mobutu and his thirty-five-year rule, during which the dictator built palaces around the world, and the population plunged deeper into poverty, go in the background plan (Morgan 788). As the Prices discuss these subjects, it becomes clear that they were not ready to face them practically. This again underlines an important notion of diversity and awareness of other people’s cultures and histories. Such challenges would not be as shocking to the family should they learn about the country they live in more.


The Price family ended up in the Congo in 1960, when the father of the family, a fanatical preacher Nathan Price, decided to go there on a mission to bring the light of the Christian faith to the dark pagans. The fact the Congo has its own rules and traditions, which have been established for centuries and exist for a reason, white people thought at all, neither during colonialism nor now. But Africa teaches lessons, sometimes cruel ones, and in the end, it becomes clear even to the most stubborn that it is not worth going there with your charter.

Works Cited

Kingsolver, Barbara. The Poisonwood Bible. Faber & Faber, 2008.

Morgan, April. "The Poisonwood Bible: An Antidote For What Ails International Relations?". International Political Science Review, vol 27, no. 4, 2006, pp. 379-403. SAGE Publications, Accessed 9 June 2022.

June 16, 2022
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