The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible Book 1, Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Leah watches as her sisters explore their new home. Ruth May is scared of the neighbors, claiming that they’ll eat her alive. Rachel claims that she’s sick, but eventually she, Ruth May, and Adah help with unpacking. They put up mosquito netting and take quinine pills to avoid malaria—the “number one enemy” in Africa.
Ruth May isn’t the only one of the Prices to be “afraid” of the neighbors—the Prices are all feeling like outcasts in Kilanga. For the first time in their lives, they are the clear minority. The mention of malaria is also important because it foreshadows problems the Prices will deal with later on.
Themes
Women and Sexism Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Culture Theme Icon
Nathan notices a big clump of grass growing in a garden outside the house. He rips up the grass without thinking, and Leah is disgusted. She notes that Nathan thinks of himself as “the captain of a sinking mess of female minds,” and she senses that her father finds her boring. And yet Leah enjoys spending time with her father.
The more time we spend with Nathan, the less appealing he becomes. Here, for instance, Nathan seems like the very embodiment of the imperialist aggressor, literally destroying the land of the Congo. Nathan’s insensitivity to the Congolese is paralleled with his insensitivity to women, even those in his own family.
Themes
Freedom, Growth, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
Women and Sexism Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Culture Theme Icon
Imperialism Theme Icon
Nathan asks Leah why God gives mankind seeds instead of providing him with his nourishment in an easier way. Privately, Leah jokes to herself that seeds are easier to smuggle aboard a plane than whole fruits and vegetables. She also considers the fact that she’s 14 years old, and recently began menstruating. Nathan tells Leah the answer to his own question: “the Lord helps those that help themselves.”
Leah is the only member of the family who really gets along well with Nathan. This mostly seems to be because Leah shares Nathan’s faith more than the other Price women. Significantly, we’re also told here that Leah just began menstruating, a symbol that she’s becoming a woman—and for her, part of growing up will mean growing away from her father.
Themes
Freedom, Growth, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
Religion and Faith Theme Icon
Women and Sexism Theme Icon
Nathan proceeds to spend the afternoon farming his small square of soil, and Leah feels inspired to work hard for God and for her father. But she considers the fact that there are flowers growing near the soil—flowers which no one seems to have planted. Leah decides that God planted these flowers “by himself.” Leah remembers how Nathan and his family came to be called to the Congo. At first, the religious organizers in Africa turned down Nathan. Only later did they accept him, knowing that they would need someone with a big, reliable family.
Nathan seems to have used his family like a bargaining tool—a way to ensure that he’d be sent to the Congo. Although we as readers can recognize that Nathan isn’t the most honest or reliable of people (he’s dragged his family to the Congo without consulting them), Leah seems not to realize this about her father at all.
Themes
Freedom, Growth, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
Religion and Faith Theme Icon
Women and Sexism Theme Icon
Imperialism Theme Icon
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As she thinks about her father, Leah notices Mama Tataba, an elderly woman who’s been sent to help the Prices with their cooking and cleaning. Leah and her sisters fear Mama Tataba because of her blind 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 since he was a child. This angers Mama Tataba, who insists that nothing will grow unless Nathan makes hills.
Mama Tataba’s presence in the Price household is an inconvenience to Nathan, even though it should be a blessing for the family to have a native Congolese woman helping them out. Instead, Nathan resents the fact that a black woman is presenting herself as an authority in his family—he likes to be the “head of household.”
Themes
Freedom, Growth, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
Women and Sexism Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Culture Theme Icon
Imperialism Theme Icon
In the following days, Nathan wakes up with a horrible rash. He wonders aloud to Orleanna why God is punishing him for farming the soil so carefully. Undeterred, he goes outside to continue farming. There, he’s surprised to 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 then re-flattens the soil. Leah admires that her father is so forgiving of other people. Leah is also impressed with her father’s diligence: he taught himself Hebrew as a child, taught his children French from an early age, and fought in World War II.
Although we recognize Nathan’s actions as foolish, condescending, and arrogant (he doesn’t want to admit that anyone else is right and he’s wrong, or, more broadly, that Africans could have wisdom that Europeans/Americans lack), Leah finds them to be admirable: determined, tolerant, and forgiving. Even if we see through Nathan’s attitude, we might also recognize that Nathan is a somewhat impressive figure to others: he’s clearly a hard worker, and very disciplined.
Themes
Freedom, Growth, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
Religion and Faith Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Culture Theme Icon
Imperialism Theme Icon