After the first rainstorm, Nathan’s garden thrives, growing pumpkins and beans. Meanwhile, Rachel’s 16th birthday arrives. Orleanna tries and fails to bake Rachel a cake—the oven in the house isn’t good for baking. Also, the humidity of the climate makes the Betty Crocker cake mix crumbly and foul-smelling.
The family’s experiences in Africa have challenged their assumptions about culture and community: the atmosphere of the Congo has destroyed the Betty Crocker cake mix (a symbol of traditional, all-American life).
Methuselah learns a new word, “Damn.” Nathan finds this infuriating, and he demands to know who taught the bird that word. Leah feels extremely guilty, especially after her father reminds her that the parrot will never be able to beg for forgiveness from God; i.e., it’s condemned to blaspheme God forever. Rachel blurts out, “We’re sorry.” Angry, Nathan tells the children to proceed with copying Bible verses.
Nathan’s anger with the children seems hilariously petty. There’s nothing particularly ”evil” about a parrot saying a dirty word, but for Nathan, it’s the worst thing imaginable.
As Leah copies verses, she hopes that Nathan took Rachel’s comment as a confession. Secretly, though, Leah knows that it was Orleanna who accidentally shouted “Damn” about the Betty Crocker cake mix. The children have kept their mother’s secret. Leah is used to protecting her mother from Nathan’s verbal abuse, “and worse.”
This is an important turning point in the novel: it’s the first time we’ve been made aware of the fact that Nathan hits his children and his wife. It also points to a growing divide between Leah and her father: as Leah becomes more aware of herself and the outside world, her idealized view of her father and his faith crumbles.