The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible

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The Poisonwood Bible Quotes

Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harper Perennial edition of The Poisonwood Bible published in 1999.
Book 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

God says the Africans are the Tribes of Ham. Ham was the worst one of Noah’s three boys: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Everybody comes down on their family tree from just those three, because God made a big flood and drowneded out the sinners. But Shem, Ham, and Japheth got on the boat so they were A-okay. Ham was the youngest one, like me, and he was bad. Sometimes I am bad, too.

Related Characters: Ruth May Price (speaker)
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

Ruth May Price, the youngest of the Price children, describes the attitude of her father, Nathaniel Price, toward Africans. Nathan has decided to bring his family with him to the Congo, where he plans to do Christian missionary work. In spite of his devotion to Christian evangelism, Nathan seems to have little respect for the African people he hopes to “save”—indeed, he says that inferiority and sin are in their blood. The Biblical story of Ham, which Ruth May summarizes here, says that Ham—the youngest of Noah’s sons—was a disobedient, dark-skinned boy. To punish Ham for his disobedience, God cursed Ham’s descendants. Over the centuries, Ham’s curse has been regularly cited as a justification for slavery and imperialism—people have argued that black people “deserve” their subjugation because God wants them to be punished.

Although Ruth May never explicitly says so, it’s clear that Nathan’s beliefs are bigoted and absurd. Ruth May doesn’t quite realize it, but she interprets the story of Ham in such a way that she seems to identify with Ham: she thinks of herself as a bad child. In other words, Ruth May takes a story that’s supposed to justify racism and cruelty to black people and interprets it as a story about identification and sympathy. 


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Book 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

“Nakedness,” Father repeated, “and darkness of the soul! For we shall destroy this place where the loud clamor of the sinners is waxen great before the face of the Lord.” No one sang or cheered anymore. Whether or not they understood the meaning of “loud clamor,” they didn’t dare be making one now. They did not even breathe, or so it seemed. Father can get a good deal across with just his tone of voice, believe you me. The woman with the child on her hip kept her back turned, tending to the food.

Related Characters: Nathaniel Price (speaker), Rachel Price (speaker)
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

Nathan and his family have arrived in the Congo. There, they’re welcomed into the Congolese village where they’ll remain for the next two years. Yet when Nathan is asked to say a few words to the villagers, his first instinct isn’t to extend his gratitude—instead, he uses his platform to rail against the Congolese way of life. Nathan attacks the villagers for their nakedness, implying that by refusing to wear clothes, the villagers are being sinful.

Nathan’s speech tells us a few things about the kind of man he is. First, it’s clear that Nathan is a strict, fundamentalist Christian: he has a rigid, unyielding understand of right and wrong—one that plenty of pious Christians would disagree with. Second, Nathan’s speech shows that he has no talent for leadership or politics—instead of trying to get the villagers on his side or show them any respect, he immediately treats them like naughty children. He’s so sure he’s right that he doesn’t care how many people he offends (and doesn't even care to learn the language of the people he's supposed to be "serving").

Book 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

Several days later, once Father had regained his composure and both his eyes, he assured me that Mama Tataba hadn’t meant to ruin our demonstration garden. There was such a thing as native customs, he said. We would need the patience of Job. “She’s only trying to help, in her way,” he said.

Related Characters: Nathaniel Price (speaker), Leah Price (speaker), Mama Tataba
Related Symbols: The Hills of Soil
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

Early on in their time in the Congo, the Prices set to work planting seeds on their property. Nathan—a boorish, tyrannical man—refuses to take any advice from Mama Tataba, an experienced Congolese woman, even after Tataba points out that Nathan is planting seeds the wrong way. Tataba insists that Nathan should makes piles of soil to protect against rain—Nathan, who’s been planting seeds since he was a child, insists that Tataba is wrong. When Mama Tataba deliberately re-plants every single seed in the garden, Nathan condescendingly says that Mama Tataba is just “trying to help.” Nathan is a pompous, arrogant man, who thinks he’s far more talented and competent than he really is. He “forgives” those like Tataba who try to help him, not realizing how good their advice really is. In a broader sense, one could say that the passage is a metaphor for the way that the continent of Africa was managed for many years: ignorant colonial leaders from the U.S. and Europe governed the Congo and other countries, convinced that they knew what was best for Africa, but actually doing more harm than good.

Book 1, Chapter 10 Quotes

Once in a great while we just have to protect her. Even back when we were very young I remember running to throw my arms around Mother’s knees when he regaled her with words and worse, for curtains unclosed or slips showing—the sins of womanhood. We could see early on that all grown-ups aren’t equally immune to damage. My father wears his faith like the bronze breastplate of God’s foot soldiers, while our mother’s is more like a good cloth coat with a secondhand fit.

Related Characters: Nathaniel Price (speaker), Leah Price (speaker), Orleanna Price
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Leah Price paints a tragic picture of life in the Price household. Nathan is the only man at home, but he's also in charge—and he has a rigid, sexist view of domestic life. The result is that whenever his wife or daughters do anything wrong, he's quick to yell at them or even hit them for their "sins of womanhood." Leah, her mother, and her siblings must join together to protect themselves from Nathan—and yet at this point, Leah still admires and loves her father greatly.

The passage closes with an interesting analogy; Nathan's faith, it's implied, is proud and militaristic. From what we've seen, Leah is right on target: Nathan is aggressive in his faith, and seems to think of himself as being superior to the people around him. Orleanna, Nathan's wife, is a religious woman, but she doesn't rub her religion in other people's faces, and she seems to have some objections to Christianity (it fits her second-hand, suggesting that she's only remained a Christian because of her family and her husband).

Book 1, Chapter 11 Quotes

“That road,” said our mother, bemused, gesturing with a lazy bent wrist out the window. “Why, I can’t imagine.” She shook her head, possibly not believing. Can she allow herself not to believe him? I have never known. “It was at the end of a dry season, Orleanna,” he snapped. “When it’s hot enough the puddles dry up.” You brainless nitwit, he did not need to add.

Related Characters: Nathaniel Price (speaker), Orleanna Price (speaker), Adah Price (speaker)
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage offers a good example of the way that Nathaniel belittles his family and keeps his wife "in line." When Orleanna asks a natural question, Nathan shoots back with an angry, irritable reply, sending a clear message that Orleanna should keep quiet.

It's interesting to consider that while Kingsolver's novel is full of scenes like this one, in which Nathan uses words in an almost violent way, there's no actual domestic violence in the novel. Kingsolver suggests that Nathan does the greatest damage to his wife and children by making them doubt their own intelligence and competence—snapping at them again and again until they've been trained to be quiet and obedient.

Book 2, Chapter 13 Quotes

The likes of Eleanor Roosevelt declared we ought to come forth with aid and bring those poor children into the twentieth century. And yet Mr. George F. Kennan, the retired diplomat, allowed that he felt “not the faintest moral responsibility for Africa.” It’s not our headache, he said. Let them go Communist if they feel like it. It was beyond me to weigh such matters, when my doorstep harbored snakes that could knock a child dead by spitting in her eyes.

Related Characters: Orleanna Price (speaker)
Page Number: 95-96
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Orleanna, reflecting on her time in the Congo, thinks about the United States's relationship with Africa. Years before, when Orleanna and Nathan were both in the Congo, the U.S. had a conflicted relationship with Africa. Some diplomats believed that foreign aid to the continent would be pointless, while some like Eleanor Roosevelt pointed out the country's moral responsibility to help the Third World. It's important to note that Kingsolver portrays women as being more sympathetic to foreigners' pain than men—an idea that generally plays out in the novel.

For the time being, Orleanna sees no real connection between her own situation and that of the Africans—in other words, there's no experiential overlap between her life and the Congolese villagers'. Over the course of the novel, Orleanna will reevaluate her relationship with the Congo, seeing a great similarity between the Congolese sense of helplessness and submission and her own. 

Book 2, Chapter 15 Quotes

The boys said, “Patrice Lumumba!” I told Leah that means the new soul of Africa, and he’s gone to jail and Jesus is real mad about it. I told her all that! I was the youngest one but I knew it. I lay so still against the tree branch I was just the same everything as the tree. I was like a green mamba snake. Poison. I could be right next to you and you wouldn’t ever know it.

Related Characters: Ruth May Price (speaker), Leah Price , Patrice Lumumba
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Ruth May describes the Congolese enthusiasm for Patrice Lumumba, the young, charismatic leader who rose to become the President of the Congo before his assassination. Here, nobody has any idea that Lumumba is going to die—as far as the Congolese are concerned, Lumumba is a savior. (In real life, Lumumba was an extremely popular leader, famed for his brave opposition to Western colonialism in Africa.)

And yet although neither Ruth May nor we know that Lumumba is doomed, there's plenty of foreshadowing that unfolds upon a second reading of the novel. Lumumba's danger is paired with the image of Ruth May as a green mamba—a very venomous snake. (Later on, Ruth May will die from a mamba bite on the same day that Lumumba is assassinated, emphasizing the connection between their fates.)

Book 2, Chapter 16 Quotes

Anatole leaned forward and announced, “Our chief, Tata Ndu, is concerned about the moral decline of his village.” Father said, “Indeed he should be, because so few villagers are going to church.” “No, Reverend. Because so many villagers are going to church.”

Related Characters: Nathaniel Price (speaker), Rachel Price (speaker), Anatole Ngemba (speaker), Tata Ndu
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Nathan Price begins to quarrel with Tata Ndu, the leader of the Congolese village where Nathan has been sent to practice missionary work. Although Nathan sees himself as doing God's work, Ndu thinks of Nathan as a nuisance, making the villagers lazy and putting their lives in danger.

The passage reinforces a point that was already obvious: Nathan is oblivious to the fact that most of the villagers don't care about his religion in the slightest. From their perspective, Christ is just another god to worship, and is even inferior to the gods already celebrated in the village. Nathan, so blindly devoted to his work (to the point where he doesn't spend time with his family), is genuinely surprised that Christianity has become so unpopular in the village, to the point that it is even seen as a bad influence on the village's morals. The fact that he's so surprised suggests that he's been a bad missionary, refusing to pay any real attention to his audience's feelings.

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.

Book 2, Chapter 25 Quotes

Set upon by the civet cat, the spy, the eye, the hunger of a superior need, Methuselah is free of his captivity at last. This is what he leaves to the world: gray and scarlet feathers strewn over the damp grass. Only this and nothing more, the tell-tale heart, tale of the carnivore. None of what he was taught in the house of the master. Only feathers, “without the ball of Hope inside. Feathers at last at last and no words at all.

Related Characters: Adah Price (speaker)
Related Symbols: Methuselah
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of Book II of the novel, Adah discovers that Methuselah, the talking parrot that the Prices have kept as a pet in their new Congolese home, has been "freed" from his cage and eaten by a carnivore. Adah muses on this, and how it relates to ideas of freedom and hope (quoting an Emily Dickinson poem in the process).

It's important to keep in mind that Kingsolver is paralleling Methuselah's "liberation" with the Congo's. Just as Methuselah is being exposed to the elements after a lifetime of imprisonment (and then is promptly eaten), so too are the Congolese being allowed to run their own government after nearly a century of subjugation to the European powers. Yes, the Congolese are "free," but as we'll see, freedom can cause almost as much pain and suffering as subjugation. (Kingsolver certainly isn't suggesting that the Congolese should have remained under Belgian rule; she's just foreshadowing the problems the newly liberated Congolese will encounter in the future.)

Book 3, Chapter 26 Quotes

My downfall was not predicted. I didn’t grow up looking for ravishment or rescue, either one. My childhood was a happy one in its own bedraggled way. My mother died when I was quite young, and certainly a motherless girl will come up wanting in some respects, but in my opinion she has a freedom unknown to other daughters. For every womanly fact of life she doesn’t get told, a star of possibility still winks for her on the horizon.

Related Characters: Orleanna Price (speaker)
Page Number: 192
Explanation and Analysis:

In the prologue to Book 3, Orleanna thinks back on her early life before she met Nathan. As a young girl, Orleanna lost her mother; yet she doesn't think of her mother's death as a great tragedy. Rather, Orleanna thinks of being motherless as a gift: a motherless woman, she suggests, is "free."

There's a lot to unpack here. First of all, it's important to note that Orleanna is looking back on her childhood: there's a sad, melancholy tone here, the tone of an older woman thinking back on her mistakes. Second, we should note that Orleanna is trying to see the "bright side" of life: instead of treating her mother's untimely death as a life-ruining tragedy, she thinks of the advantages of being motherless. Orleanna is experienced with finding silver linings: when she analyzes the changes in the Congo, for example, she refuses to accept tragedies as tragic—instead, she tries to find the hidden blessing. Finally, Orleanna's thoughts in this passage suggest her guilt about the way she's treated her own children: i.e, the fact that she sees motherlessness as an advantage suggests that she sees her own relationship with her children as being negative. As we'll see, Orleanna blames herself for allowing Ruth May to die and for being a poor role model for her daughters.

Book 3, Chapter 28 Quotes

Then there is batiza, Our Father’s fixed passion. Batiza pronounced with the tongue curled just so means “baptism.” Otherwise, it means “to terrify.” Nelson spent part of an afternoon demonstrating to me that fine linguistic difference while we scraped chicken manure from the nest boxes. No one has yet explained it to the Reverend. He is not of a mind to receive certain news. Perhaps he should clean more chicken houses.

Related Characters: Adah Price (speaker), Nathaniel Price
Page Number: 214
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Adah points out a translation problem. The word "batiza" means "baptism"—therefore, it's very important to Nathan, who has come to the Congo to baptize as many African children as possible. And yet "batiza" can also mean "terrify" if pronounced slightly differently.

Notably, Adah has only learned the difference between the two "batiza"s by spending time with the native Congolese. Nathan, who for all his interest in baptizing the Congolese, doesn't seem to like them or respect them at all, has remained ignorant of the finer points of Congolese language—and his arrogant aloofness guarantees that he can't communicate with his congregation. The ambiguity in the word "batiza" also symbolizes the way that religion and ideology can be twisted from something pure into something corrupt and wicked.

Book 3, Chapter 33 Quotes

But where is the place for girls in that Kingdom? The rules don’t quite apply to us, nor protect us either. What do a girl’s bravery and righteousness count for, unless she is also pretty? Just try being the smartest and most Christian seventh-grade girl in Bethlehem, Georgia. Your classmates will smirk and call you a square. Call you worse, if you’re Adah.

Related Characters: Leah Price (speaker), Adah Price
Page Number: 244
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Leah Price struggles with her Christian faith. Leah—who's always been Nathan's biggest fan—has learned from her father to work hard studying the Bible. But Leah also knows that studying the Bible doesn't count for much among her peers. No matter how pious and well-studied she is, her classmates in Georgia treat her like a square—all they care about is how pretty she is.

In short, Leah is beginning to doubt the lessons her father has always taught her. Although Nathan claims that Christian faith is sufficient to let a woman into Heaven, Leah has begun to notice that Nathan—and, for that matter, everyone else in her life—doesn't judge women according to their Christian faith at all. Nathan treats women like second-class citizens, no matter how learned or pious they are. Leah begins to realize that Christianity doesn't go far enough in addressing sexism. Eventually, Leah will turn to politics and the radical left as a way of addressing the bigotry of her society.

Book 3, Chapter 35 Quotes

Nelson squatted on his heels, his ashy eyelids blinking earnestly as he inspected Mother’s face. Surprisingly, she started to laugh. Then, more surprisingly, Nelson began to laugh, too. He threw open his near-toothless mouth and howled alongside Mother, both of them with their hands on their thighs. I expect they were picturing Rachel wrapped in a pagne trying to pound manioc. Mother wiped her eyes. “Why on earth do you suppose he’d pick Rachel?” From her voice I could tell she was not smiling, even after all that laughter. “He says the Mvula’s, strange color would cheer up his other wives.”

Related Characters: Orleanna Price (speaker), Adah Price (speaker), Lekuyu / Nelson (speaker), Tata Ndu
Page Number: 263
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Tata Ndu, the leader of the Congolese village where the Prices live now, has asked for Rachel's hand in marriage. The Prices are shocked by Ndu's request, not least because Ndu already has many other wives. Here, Orleanna and Nelson laugh about the absurdity of the situation. Nelson points out that Ndu wants to marry Rachel not because he loves her, but because her skin and hair color will complement that of his other wives.

The passage is important because it reminds us of the sexism in Kingala—a parallel to the sexism in Nathan's own household. Evidently, Ndu thinks of women as objects to be collected, rather than people. Orleanna, even though she laughs at the absurdity of the situation, becomes serious as she contemplates Ndu's "desire" for her daughter. Orleanna's aim is always to protect her children, and here she realizes that her child is in danger of being "bought" by the sexist leader of the village.

Book 3, Chapter 43 Quotes

My knees plunged, a rush of hot blood made me fall. A faintness of the body is my familiar, but not the sudden, evil faint of a body infected by horrible surprise. By this secret: the smiling bald man with the grandfather face has another face. It can speak through snakes and order that a president far away, after all those pebbles were carried upriver in precious canoes that did not tip over, this President Lumumba shall be killed.

Related Characters: Adah Price (speaker), Patrice Lumumba
Page Number: 297
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Adah Price discovers something shocking. Eavesdropping on Axelroot, the secret American agent who lives in the village, Adah learns that President Eisenhower is planning to assassinate Patrice Lumumba, the democratically elected leader of the Congo. (In real life, Eisenhower was supportive of a military coup in the Congo. He believed that Lumumba, a suspected socialist, would be more sympathetic to the Soviet Union; wanting to avoid an African alliance against the United States, Eisenhower had Lumumba murdered and replaced with a pro-U.S. dictator.)

Adah can't believe that Eisenhower—whose popular image is that of a kind, grandfatherly old man—is secretly capable of ordering the murder of innocent people. On a more symbolic level, Adah's surprise in this scene reflects her general distrust of patriarchy in general, whether that of Eisenhower or Nathan himself. The image of respectability and trustworthiness that strong, authoritative men project is often an illusion, concealing hypocrisy or duplicity.

Book 4, Chapter 49 Quotes

Oh, it’s a fine and useless enterprise, trying to fix destiny. That trail leads straight back to the time before we ever lived, and into that deep well it’s easy to cast curses like stones on our ancestors. But that’s nothing more than cursing ourselves and all that made us. Had I not married a preacher named Nathan Price, my particular children would never have seen the light of this world. I walked through the valley of my fate, is all, and learned to love what I could lose.

Related Characters: Orleanna Price (speaker), Nathaniel Price
Page Number: 324
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Orleanna thinks about the tragedies that have hurt her family, and the nation of the Congo, in the last few decades, Although Orelanna recognizes that these tragedies have hurt many people, she concludes that there's no point trying to imagine a world in which they didn't occur: there's no point trying to "fix destiny."

It's interesting that Orleanna thinks of her life as a manifestation of destiny: she thinks of her decision to marry Nathan and move to the Congo, for example, as fate, pure and simple. In other words, Orleanna has a hard time thinking of herself as a free agent: as she sees it, "her" decisions aren't really her own (the universe decides everything on her behalf). Orleanna is so used to being docile and submissive that she can't even conceive of a world in which she's free to do as she pleases: if she's not a prisoner to Nathan, then she's a prisoner to fate.

Book 4, Chapter 55 Quotes

And so it came to pass that the normal, happy event of dividing food after a hunt became a war of insults and rage and starving bellies. There should have been more than enough for every family. But as we circled to receive our share of providence, the fat flanks of the magnificent beasts we’d stalked on the hill shrank to parched sinew, the gristle of drought-starved carcasses. Abundance disappeared before our eyes. Where there was plenty, we suddenly saw not enough. Even little children slapped their friends and stole caterpillars from each other’s baskets. Sons shouted at their fathers. Women declared elections and voted against their husbands. The elderly men whose voices hardly rose above a whisper, because they were so used to being listened to, were silenced completely in the ruckus. Tata Kuvudundu looked bedraggled and angry. His white robe was utterly blackened with ash. He raised his hands and once again swore his prophecy that the animals and all of nature were rising up against us.

Related Characters: Leah Price (speaker), Tata Kuvudundu
Page Number: 354
Explanation and Analysis:

In this long scene, Kingsolver offers us an allegory of capitalism. The Congolese village has successfully completed a huge hunt: the hunters have killed a large number of wild animals, with the help of the children, the women, etc. In short, everybody has earned their equal share of the food. But instead of dividing the food equally, the villagers quibble over portion sizes. People greedily take too much, meaning that other people are given too little. Over time, a scarcity arises—somehow, there's not enough food to go around. Just like in a capitalist society (at least according to Kingsolver), the competition for more results in an overall deterioration of social relations: the villagers become each other's enemies.

It's important to note that the hunting scene arrives shortly before the assassination of Patrice Lumumba—the political tragedy that will usher in an era of rampant capitalism and foreign investment in the Congo. Kingsolver foreshadows the economic depression and social breakdown that Lumumba's death will ultimately cause.

Book 4, Chapter 60 Quotes

Until that moment I’d always believed I could still go home and pretend the Congo never happened. The misery, the hunt, the ants, the embarrassments of all we saw and endured—those were just stories I would tell someday with a laugh and a toss of my hair, when Africa was faraway and make-believe like the people in history books. The tragedies that happened to Africans were not mine. We were different, not just because we were white and had our vaccinations, but because we were simply a much, much luckier kind of person. I would get back home to Bethlehem, Georgia, and be exactly the same Rachel as before.

Related Characters: Rachel Price (speaker)
Page Number: 367
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Rachel reacts to the death of her little sister, Ruth May. Rachel has been living in a dream world up to this point: she's been living in the Congo, but she holds her community at a distance. In other words, Rachel thinks of her peers and neighbors as strangers—unlike her siblings, she makes absolutely no effort to get to know them (she's just counting the days until she's back in the U.S.A.) But Rachel can no longer pretend that her life in the Congo just a bad daydream: the Congo has killed her sister.

In this moment, Rachel's racism and self-absorption are made especially clear. She's always had an easy time distancing herself from her life in the Congo—not because she thinks the Congolese are necessarily inferior, but because she just assumes that they are "unlucky," and Africa could never become anything like America.

Book 5, Chapter 62 Quotes

But his kind will always lose in the end. I know this, and now I know why. “Whether it’s wife or nation they occupy, their mistake is the same: they stand still, and their stake moves underneath them. The Pharaoh died, says Exodus, and the children of Israel sighed by reason of their bondage. Chains rattle, rivers roll, animals startle and bolt, forests inspire and expand, babies stretch open-mouthed from the womb, new seedlings arch their necks and creep forward into the light. Even a language won’t stand still. A territory is only possessed for a moment in time. They stake everything on that moment, posing for photographs while planting the flag, casting themselves in bronze. Washington crossing the Delaware. The capture of Okinawa. They’re desperate to hang on.

Related Characters: Orleanna Price (speaker), Nathaniel Price
Page Number: 384
Explanation and Analysis:

In this prologue, Orleanna thinks about the way that history plays out over time. As she sees it, history always has a happy ending. Even if evil people (people who, more likely than not, are hypocritical, authoritative men) cause great misery, their reign will always come to an end. The Pharaoh of ancient Egypt may have hurt a lot of Jews (according to the Bible), but ultimately this injustice led the Jews to escape and find their "promised land." Similarly, oppressive patriarchs like Nathan cannot always maintain their control—those they persecute will eventually rise up against them.

Orleanna's philosophy of history is fascinating because it reminds us how uncomfortable she is with the concept of individual agency. Orleanna is so used to being submissive and docile that she has a hard time conceiving of a world in which individual people accomplish anything lasting. Instead, she thinks of the world in broad terms like "fate" and "destiny." Regardless of what individual people do, she believes, things will "work out" in the end. In all, Orleanna's worldview is a strange combination of passivity and optimism.

Book 5, Chapter 68 Quotes

Neto is about Anatole’s age, also educated by missionaries. He’d already gone abroad to study medicine and returned home to open a clinic, where his own people could get decent care, but it didn’t work out. A gang of white policemen dragged him out of his clinic one day, beat him half to death, and carted him off to prison. The crowds that turned up to demand his release got cut down like trees by machine-gun fire. Not only that, but the Portuguese army went out burning villages to the ground, to put a damper on Neto’s popularity. Yet, the minute he got out of prison, he started attracting droves of people to an opposition party in Angola.

Related Characters: Leah Price (speaker), Anatole Ngemba , Agostinho Neto
Page Number: 431-432
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Leah describes the life she's made for herself after Ruth May's death (the event that broke up her family). Years have passed, and Leah is now married to Anatole Ngemba, the young man who tutored her when she first arrived in the Congo. Anatole has been in correspondence with Agostinho Neto, a young, ambitious political leader who sees himself as the successor to Patrice Lumumba. Like Lumumba, Neto is enormously popular with the people of the Congo (and Angola), though he alienates the government with his socialist views.

Leah's impressions of Neto suggest how political she's become since Ruth May's death. By marrying Anatole, Leah has committed to a lifetime of political engagement: support for Neto and other elected leaders, and general investment in the wellbeing of the Congo. Although Leah is clearly shocked by the way the government has treated Neto, she has a quiet optimism that Neto will succeed in his political goals—he has enough supporters to guarantee his success in the long run.

Book 5, Chapter 70 Quotes

“He is the one wife belonging to many white men.” Anatole explained it this way: Like a princess in a story, Congo was born too rich for her own good, and attracted attention far and “wide from men “who desire to rob her blind. The United States has now become the husband of Zaire’s economy, and not a very nice one. Exploitive and condescending, in the name of steering her clear of the moral decline inevitable to her nature. “Oh, I understand that kind of marriage all right,” I said. “I grew up witnessing one just like it.”

Related Characters: Leah Price (speaker), Anatole Ngemba
Page Number: 456
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Anatole (Leah's husband) gives Leah an analogy to explain the troubled history of the Congo. Anatole suggests that the Congo is like a beautiful but fragile woman, exploited by various powerful men (Belgium, Europe, the U.S.). Anatole implies that the Congo, while full of resources and strong, intelligent people, has never been allowed to grow to its full potential. Like a housewife forbidden from pursuing her own dreams, the Congo has been held in captivity, forced to work for others.

It's important to note Leah's reaction to Anatole's story—she immediately sees an analogy between the Congo and Orleanna's marriage to Nathan. At one point, Leah admired her father, but now she sees him for the hypocrite he is. Nathan has held Orleanna in "captivity" for years, ignoring her feelings and forcing her to serve him. Furthermore, Nathan has justified his behavior by accusing Orleanna of being weak and sinful--i.e., he's used Christian dogma to hold Orleanna accountable for her sinful femininity.

In short, the passage is something like a "thesis statement" for the novel itself. By studying the close, intimate relationship between Nathan and his wife and children, Kingsolver suggests, we can better understand the broad, historical relationship between the Congo and the international community.

Book 5, Chapter 71 Quotes

What happened to us in the Congo was simply the bad luck of two opposite worlds crashing into each other, causing tragedy. After something like that, you can only go your own way according to what’s in your heart. And in my family, all our hearts seem to have whole different things inside. I ask myself, did I have anything to do with it? The answer is no. I’d made my mind up all along just to rise above it all. Keep my hair presentable and pretend I was elsewhere. Heck, wasn’t I the one hollering night and day that we were in danger?

Related Characters: Rachel Price (speaker)
Page Number: 465
Explanation and Analysis:

Rachel, now a grown woman living in South Africa, thinks back on everything that's happened to her family since moving to the Congo. Rachel has always held herself aloof from other people, even her sisters, and here she doesn't seem particularly upset by the fact that the family has essentially split up.

In other words, Rachel has always been selfish. She's so obsessed with her own beauty and wellbeing that she can barely force herself to care about her sisters or mother. Rachel isn't presented as an evil character, but rather one with a very "Darwinian" worldview—life is about looking out for one's self. Rachel acknowledges that she herself is fortunate enough to be white, pretty, wealthy, and American, but she doesn't feel that this means she "owes" anything to anyone else, or ought to help them.

Book 5, Chapter 73 Quotes

“Oh, Rachel, Rachel,” Leah said. “Let me give you a teeny little lesson in political science. Democracy and dictatorship are political systems; they have to do with who participates in the leadership. Socialism and capitalism are economic systems. It has to do with who owns the wealth of your nation, and who gets to eat. Can you grasp that?”

Related Characters: Rachel Price (speaker), Leah Price (speaker)
Page Number: 478
Explanation and Analysis:

Years after Ruth May's death, the remaining Price sisters reunite in Africa. During their trip across the continent, Rachel claims that the socialists of the Congo are immoral and un-American, and that Ronald Reagan is going to install democracy and freedom in the country. Leah, clearly impatient with her sister's small-mindedness, corrects her sarcastically, pointing out that socialism and democracy are unrelated concepts—one doesn't exclude the other.

Leah's exchange with her sister shows how ignorant Rachel is of the realities of global politics: Rachel is totally willing to believe that socialism is un-American, simply because Ronald Reagan says so. As teenagers, Leah and Rachel were equally ignorant of politics and economics, but now that they're adults, it's clear that they've grown apart, intellectually and emotionally.

Book 5, Chapter 74 Quotes

Don’t we have a cheerful, simple morality here in Western Civilization: expect perfection, and revile the missed mark! Adah the Poor Thing, hemiplegious egregious besiege us. Recently it has been decided, grudgingly, that dark skin or lameness may not be entirely one’s fault, but one still ought to show the good manners to act ashamed. When Jesus cured those crippled beggars, didn’t they always get up and dance off stage, jabbing their canes sideways and waggling their top hats? Hooray, all better now, hooray!

Related Characters: Adah Price (speaker)
Page Number: 493
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Adah, now an adult (and a prominent scientist), thinks about the shallowness of the Western world's notion of imperfection. In the West, Adah realizes, pain and disability are thought of as hideous diseases, to be transcended through religion or medical treatment. Disabled people are thought of as imperfect—they're pitied for their physical problems, and expected to act apologetic and grateful at all times. Adah, who was disabled for many years (she could barely walk), has a more complex and subtle relationship with her disability. She doesn't resent her "imperfect" body—on the contrary, she embraces it, even after she regains full motor control.

Adah goes further, seeing in the Western world's treatment of disabled people a more general problem. Westerners, she believes, think of "different" people either as monsters to be killed or invalids to be pitied—but never as human beings. In other words, the West's shallow treatment of disabled people reflects a more general bigotry—the same racism that led Belgium and later the U.S. to intervene militarily in the Congo. Adah embraces her body in all its perfections and imperfections, and by the same token, she embraces people of all races.

Book 6, Chapter 78 Quotes

My work is to discover the life histories of viruses, and I seem to be very good at it. I don’t think of the viruses as my work, actually. I think of them as my relations. I don’t have cats or children, I have viruses. I visit them daily in their spacious glass dishes, and like any good mother I cajole, I celebrate when they reproduce, and I take special note when they behave oddly. I think about them when I am not with them. I have made important discoveries about the AIDS and Ebola viruses. As a consequence, I must sometimes appear at public functions where I am lauded as a savior of the public health. This startles me. I am nothing of the kind. Certainly I’m no mad exterminator bent on killing devil microbes; on the contrary, I admire them. That is the secret of my success.

Related Characters: Adah Price (speaker)
Page Number: 530
Explanation and Analysis:

As a grown woman, Adah has developed her own unique philosophy. Adah has become a medical researcher—her job is to study viruses, including Ebola and AIDS. While most of her colleagues think of these viruses as deadly enemies, to be wiped out Adah thinks of them as fascinating strangers--to be greeted, embraced, and understood.

In short, Adah's attitude toward AIDs and Ebola reflects the way she's learned to treat unfamiliar people, and also her rather detached way of viewing the world and morality itself. By the same token, her colleagues' attitude toward viruses reflects the Western world's narrow-minded way of understanding difference. Most people think of viruses as enemies to be eradicated; Adah, trained by her years in the Congo to understand strangers, opts for a more nuanced, accepting point of view. While it may seem unusual to treat a deadly disease as anything other than an enemy, Adah has had great success in curing sick patients because of her unique worldview.

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