The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible


Barbara Kingsolver

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Themes and Colors
Freedom, Growth, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
Religion and Faith Theme Icon
Women and Sexism Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Culture Theme Icon
Imperialism Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Poisonwood Bible, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Freedom, Growth, and Coming-of-age

The magazine The Nation argues that The Poisonwood Bible is, fundamentally, a book about the struggle for freedom in all its different forms. (One could say that Freedom is the overarching theme of the book, while the 4 themes listed below are particularly important cases of the struggle for freedom.) As Kingsolver sees it, everything aspect of humanity—individual people, countries, etc.—participates in a natural process of growth and change that is the essence of human…

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Religion and Faith

As its title would suggest, The Poisonwood Bible studies the way that religion shapes—and at times imprisons—its characters. Nathan Price, the hypocritical patriarch of the Price family, is almost a mascot for all the ways that religion can go wrong. Yet the novel doesn’t condemn religion altogether (it is, after all, a book about missionaries who travel across the world to help the suffering). One could say that Kingsolver is offering two nuanced…

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Women and Sexism

Many of the characters in The Poisonwood Bible, especially Orleanna Price and her four daughters, struggle with society’s expectations for how women should behave. On one hand, they have to contend with Nathan Price, who represents one set of sexist social expectations for women (those of the Christian and Western world); on the other, the Price women face the sexism of the Congo, where the vast majority of women have no education, and…

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Race, Racism, and Culture

One of Poisonwood’s most important themes is race. The Price family is white, and (prior to traveling to the Congo) enjoys all the conveniences of life as a white citizen in the United States. In the Congo, however, the Prices’ new community is defined by black Africans—a novelty for a white American family used to (heavily segregated) 1950s Georgia society. While a few of the Prices (especially Leah, who marries the half-Congolese Anatole

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Right away, Poisonwood establishes a clash between the Third World, represented by the Congo, and the Western world, represented by Belgium and the United States. The Western world is portrayed as powerful, greedy, and sometimes deceitful, while the Third World is depicted as weak and the frequent victim of other, more powerful nations. This certainly doesn’t mean that every American character is deceitful and evil, or that every Congolese character is weak and exploited, but…

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