The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible

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The Hills of Soil Symbol Analysis

The Hills of Soil Symbol Icon

There’s no better symbol for the fallacies of imperialism than the hills of soil that Mama Tataba builds for the Prices’ garden in Kilanga. Mama Tataba knows from personal experience that the best way to grow hearty crops is to arrange the seeds with little piles of soil around each one, so that the seeds can withstands the heavy rains. But because of his arrogance, Nathaniel Price refuses to listen to Mama Tataba, and re-arranges the garden as soon as Mama Tataba is done with her work. When the rains come and Mama Tataba is proven correct, the hills of soil become a sinister symbol for the foolishness of the Western colonizers who arrived in Africa and ignored the African people’s experiences and ideas altogether.

The Hills of Soil Quotes in The Poisonwood Bible

The The Poisonwood Bible quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Hills of Soil. 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 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.

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The Hills of Soil Symbol Timeline in The Poisonwood Bible

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Hills of Soil appears in The Poisonwood Bible. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1, Chapter 6
Freedom, Growth, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
Women and Sexism Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Culture Theme Icon
Imperialism Theme Icon
...eye. Mama Tataba tells Nathan that he’s farming the soil wrongly—he needs to make tiny hills of soil around each seed. Nathan insists that he’s doing his job right—he’s been farming... (full context)
Freedom, Growth, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
Religion and Faith Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Culture Theme Icon
Imperialism Theme Icon
...find that Mama Tataba has been reshaping the entire plot of soil to make small hills. Nathan, annoyed, says that Mama Tataba is just trying to help, in her way, and... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 9
Religion and Faith Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Culture Theme Icon
Imperialism Theme Icon
...notice that the plot of soil that Mama Tataba had advised Nathan to reshape into piles has been destroyed by the deluge: the seeds have been swept away as a result... (full context)