The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible Book 1, Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
When Rachel Price arrives in Kilanga, her first thought is that “we”—the Prices—are badly outnumbered: there’s a huge crowd in the street. She feels a wave of sympathy when Ruth May, who’s only five years old, faints. Rachel thinks to herself that Ruth May is surprisingly strong for a little girl. Orleanna grabs Rachel’s hand—something Rachel always hated back in Georgia—and pulls her out of the chaotic crowd.
Rachel immediately sees the Congo as an “us-them” situation: whites versus blacks. She’s the eldest Price child, and so has had more time to absorb the racist worldview of the Jim Crow South. At the same time, Rachel is sensitive to Ruth May, and seems to feel genuine love for her.
Themes
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Religion and Faith Theme Icon
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Race, Racism, and Culture Theme Icon
Out of the crowd, Rachel takes a good look at her siblings: the twins (Leah and Adah) and Ruth May. Adah is shorter than Leah because of her “handicap.” Together, the Price children are feeling tired and dirty—but there’s no time for that. Rachel is particularly mortified that her hair is tangled and her dress is dusty.
Rachel isn’t cruel or oblivious to her siblings, but her first priority always seems to be her own appearance and well-being.
Themes
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Women and Sexism Theme Icon
Nathan Price leads his family to his church. There, a group of locals—many of whom are completely naked—has prepared a feast: they cook animals in the fire, and roast vegetables in a pot. As the locals cook, they sing songs in a foreign language. Slowly, Rachel realizes that they’re singing to the tune of Christian hymns like “Onward Christian Soldier.”
The song the locals sing is evidence of the influence of Christian missionaries on the community. And yet this influence isn’t really what the missionaries were aiming for. The Congolese haven’t really become Christians at all; they’ve just adopted bits and pieces of Christian culture.
Themes
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Women and Sexism Theme Icon
One of the locals welcomes Nathan to the village, and asks him to say a few words. Without hesitation, Nathan rises and greets the villagers. Rachel notes that Nathan always seems confident and energetic. Nathan quotes passages from the book of Genesis, and mentions the “sinners of Sodom.” Rachel, who knows the passage Nathan is quoting, remembers how Lot offered his own children to appease the city of lustful sinners, and she feels a wave of pure disgust.
This novel is full of Biblical allusions—here, for example, Nathan is citing a Biblical verse in which the virtuous patriarch Lot sacrifices his children for (supposedly) the greater good of his community. This is a hint that Nathan is trying to be something like Lot—endangering his family because of his ideals and values.
Themes
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Get the entire The Poisonwood Bible LitChart as a printable PDF.
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Nathan cries out that he will cure the villagers of their “nakedness and darkness of the soul.” The villagers have become very quiet—they seem dismayed. The people mutter, and a few women cover their naked breasts. Many of the villagers go home, even though the food isn’t ready yet.
From the beginning, Nathan makes no attempts to befriend the Congolese—they’re just ignorant children who need to be pulled into salvation. Nathan comes across as an especially boorish, uncurious man.
Themes
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When the food is prepared, Rachel and her siblings eat—but they find it disgusting. Although they want to spit it out, Orleanna hisses that they must eat it, or she’ll “thrash them to an inch of their lives.” Rachel begins to cry “for the sins of all who had brought my family to this dread dark shore.”
In contrast to Nathan, who holds himself at arm’s length from his new community, Orleanna at least seems to be making an effort to adapt to the culture of the Congo. (This is a pretty funny scene, too, as everyone’s gone through the agony of having to finish a disgusting food for the sake of politeness.)
Themes
Freedom, Growth, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
Religion and Faith Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Culture Theme Icon