The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible

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The Poisonwood Bible Book 2, Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Rachel is thrilled that the Prices are hosting “company” for dinner. Anatole, their guest, is a 24-year-old schoolteacher, though Rachel isn’t interested in him, both because of his skin color and his facial scars. Nevertheless, Rachel is excited about spending some time with Anatole because she’s so “unaccustomed to the male species” nowadays. She’s also a little intrigued by Anatole’s appearance—he’s African, but his eyes seem vaguely Asian.
While her siblings educate themselves in Congolese culture and overcome their aversion to meeting Congolese people, Rachel continues to cling to a more racist, narrow-minded worldview.
Themes
Freedom, Growth, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
Women and Sexism Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Culture Theme Icon
Anatole is an impressive young man, who teaches at the local school, which he also runs himself. Six days a week, he teaches young children about the French and English language. Congolese children don't go to school past the age of 12 or so, and girls don’t go to school at all. Anatole’s parents, Rachel learns, are gone—his mother was sent to work in the Belgian mines. At dinner, Anatole tells Rachel that a quarter of the diamonds on the planet come from the Congo. This makes Rachel think of Marilyn Monroe singing “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”
Anatole is clearly an educated man: he’s had plenty of unforgettable life experiences (including losing his mother to European tyranny) yet also has a dispassionate, scientific perspective on European imperialism. Rachel’s reaction to Anatole’s information—to compare this tragic fact with a Marilyn Monroe song—is a good example of her foolishness and superficiality.
Themes
Freedom, Growth, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
Women and Sexism Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Culture Theme Icon
Imperialism Theme Icon
Anatole uses the dinner to tell Nathan that Tata Ndu is angry with the “moral decline” of the village—a decline he attributes to Nathan’s Christian sermons. Nathan is offended by this, and he insists that Christianity purifies the Africans, rather than corrupting them. Nathan says that he’ll pray for Anatole, something that Anatole finds unnecessary, since Anatole has been a loyal ally to Nathan from the beginning, translating his sermons every Sunday. Nathan boasts that he’s not afraid of any man in Kilanga, since the Lord has made him strong.
Anatole’s point in this section is partly that Nathan doesn’t know whom to trust: if Nathan were a wiser man, he would recognize that Anatole is a reliable ally to him. Instead, Nathan treats all Congolese people as equally unreliable and untrustworthy. Nathan thinks in rigidly dogmatic terms, so from his perspective, all the Congolese are the same: they’re all unbaptized.
Themes
Freedom, Growth, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
Religion and Faith Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Culture Theme Icon
Imperialism Theme Icon
Anatole goes on to describe the other religions that the Kilanga villagers are attracted to. There’s a man named Tata Kuvudundu—someone whom Orleanna had dismissed as the town drunk—whom the villagers actually regard as a preacher and a priest, and a loyal adviser to Tata Ndu. Tata Kuvudundu is perceived as magical, in part because he has six toes on his left foot. Nathan yells that this man is a “witch doctor.” Orleanna takes this as her cue to get up and tell her daughters to help her in the kitchen, leaving Nathan and Anatole alone.
The Congolese practice other religions, which have a lot more credibility in the village than Christianity does. Naturally, Nathan doesn’t like the notion that Anatole is comparing Christianity to a “pagan” form of mysticism. From a Congolese perspective, though, Christianity is just another form of worship—not an overarching truth that sweeps all others away.
Themes
Religion and Faith Theme Icon
Women and Sexism Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Culture Theme Icon
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From the kitchen, Rachel hears Anatole tell Nathan that Nathan shouldn’t think of Tata Kuvudundu as his competition. Instead of responding to this, Nathan tells Anatole that he should leave at once. Anatole does so. Orleanna walks back into the room. Nathan angrily grabs a plate out of her hand and smashes it on the ground. Rachel recognizes that this was Orleanna’s favorite plate, one that she’d brought all the way to the Congo from Georgia. Nathan then claims that Orleanna was getting too attached to the plate, and being too vain and superficial. He suggests that Orleanna was using her favorite plate in order to impress Anatole, the “young negro.” Quietly, Orleanna admits that she was wrong to be so fond of the plate.
Although Kingsolver never once writes a scene in which Nathan actually hits his family members, we get a sense for the violence that is always lingering under the surface of the family dynamic. We also see some of Nathan’s weaknesses and insecurities here: he seems to resent that Orleanna is beautiful. Tragically, Orleanna doesn’t stand up for herself, even though it’s clear that her husband is being ludicrous. She’s so frightened of Nathan that she stays silent.
Themes
Women and Sexism Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Culture Theme Icon