The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible Book 1, Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Leah notices that Nathan prays and thinks alone in the garden. Later, he tells Leah about a Bible convention he attended in Georgia. Leah enjoys it when Nathan talks to her about such things. Nathan explains that the Bible convention attendees discussed the size of Heaven—its length, width, etc. Nathan remembers that the convention was unable to reach a conclusion, because the Bible measures the size of Heaven in various contradictory ways. Leah says that she hopes there’s enough room for her. Nathan assures her that there will be.
While many Christians in America are trying to help the poor, fight racism, or wipe out disease, Nathan and his colleagues are using their faith and training to debate over the size of Heaven—a purely academic, pointless question with no possible answer to be found this side of the afterlife. Nathan’s view of Christianity is very literal and narrow-minded, and Leah still follows her father’s lead.
Themes
Religion and Faith Theme Icon
Imperialism Theme Icon
In August, Nathan preaches about baptism. Later in the day, Mama Tataba yells at Nathan, though Leah can’t hear what they’re arguing about. Later, Mama tells everyone that she can’t stay any longer. With these words, she leaves the house. Leah goes to Nathan, wondering what could have happened. She’s surprised to find Nathan studying a wasp he’s caught—the wasp, Nathan explains, is a creature made by God for the purpose of pollinating African plants. Cautiously, Leah asks Nathan why Mama Tataba left. Nathan explains that Mama was arguing about a young girl who was killed by a crocodile last year. It’s because of this girl that the people of the village don’t want their children setting foot in the river for their baptisms. Nathan was furious that it took him 6 months to find out that this was the reason why nobody has been baptized yet. As Nathan explains this, Methuselah cries, “Piss off.” Nathan angrily grabs Methuselah from his cage and throws him toward the trees. Methuselah opens his wings and flies away.
This long, humorous scene tells us a lot about the way the Congolese have been interacting with Nathan and the rest of the Price family so far. They've already decided how they’re going to live their lives, and they don’t really need any advice from Nathan. But because of politeness and respect, the Congolese have refrained from telling Nathan the plain truth: they’re never going to endanger their children by allowing them to be sent to the river. Nathan has been so obsessed with the abstract, rules-based dimensions of religion that he’s ignored the concrete, real-world facts: there are crocodiles in the river where he wants to “save” the children. It’s an appropriate metaphor for the flaws in his religious values.
Themes
Religion and Faith Theme Icon
Women and Sexism Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Culture Theme Icon