The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible

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Reverend Frank Underdown Character Analysis

A missionary in Africa who provides Nathan Price and his family with supplies, shelter, and advice about how to get by in the Congo. Underdown is a useful expository device in the novel: whenever there’s a big historical event in the Congo, we can count on Frank Underdown showing up to explain it to the Prices—and, by extension, to us as readers. At the same time, the Underdown and his family serve as examples of the corruption and failure of missionary activities in the Congo, living in a mansion with servants rather than living among the people they have come, ostensibly, to serve. After the military coup that leaves the Congo in the hands of Joseph Mobutu, it is Underdown who advises Nathan to leave the country immediately. Nathan stubbornly decides to stay behind, ending his already strained relationship with Underdown.

Reverend Frank Underdown Quotes in The Poisonwood Bible

The The Poisonwood Bible quotes below are all either spoken by Reverend Frank Underdown or refer to Reverend Frank Underdown. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Freedom, Growth, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harper Perennial edition of The Poisonwood Bible published in 1999.
Book 2, Chapter 20 Quotes

Father said, “An election. Frank, I’m embarrassed for you. You’re quaking in your boots over a fairy tale. Why, open your eyes, man. These people can’t even read a simple slogan: Vote for Me! Down with Shapoopie! An election! Who out here would even know it happened?”

Related Characters: Nathaniel Price (speaker), Rachel Price (speaker), Reverend Frank Underdown
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Nathan clashes with Frank Underdown, his sponsor and (often reluctant) supporter. Underdown tells Nathan and the rest of the Prices that there will be some sudden, potentially dangerous changes in the Congo: the Belgians are pulling out of the country altogether, and there may well be democratic elections in the Congo within a few months. Nathan—as condescending as ever—refuses to believe that there will ever be elections in the Congo. Based on what he's seen in his village, the Congolese are too foolish and disorganized to ever support a democratic movemen—they can't even communicate a simple political message to one another.

Nathan's position is almost nonsensical—he's ready to believe that the Belgians are pulling out of the country, but he sees no reason to believe that the Congolese have the wherewithal to replace their overlords with any other leadership. In short, Nathan seems to believe that the Belgians, with all their cruelty and hypocrisy, were the best thing for the Congolese, because they provided law and order that the Congolese could never provide for themselves.

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Reverend Frank Underdown Character Timeline in The Poisonwood Bible

The timeline below shows where the character Reverend Frank Underdown appears in The Poisonwood Bible. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1, Chapter 2
Religion and Faith Theme Icon
Women and Sexism Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Culture Theme Icon
As Nathan speaks with Mr. Underdown , Mrs. Underdown playfully makes fun of Leah and her siblings for their thick Southern... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 20
Freedom, Growth, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Culture Theme Icon
Imperialism Theme Icon
...upcoming election. They explain that Belgium has agreed to accept the terms of the election. Frank Underdown says that both the Russians and the Americans have a stake in the Congo’s... (full context)
Freedom, Growth, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
Religion and Faith Theme Icon
Women and Sexism Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Culture Theme Icon
Imperialism Theme Icon
Frank Underdown reminds Nathan that he wasn’t really supposed to come to the Congo at all,... (full context)
Freedom, Growth, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
Women and Sexism Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Culture Theme Icon
Imperialism Theme Icon
Frank Underdown tries to restore calm, and he tells Orleanna and Nathan that he doesn’t know... (full context)
Freedom, Growth, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
Religion and Faith Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Culture Theme Icon
Imperialism Theme Icon
Frank proceeds to tell the Prices about what will happen in June: Belgium will pull out... (full context)