Blood:Water Book Club: “The Poisonwood Bible,” Section 7
In Book Five: Exodus and Book Six: Song of the Three Children, we can see how differently the Price sisters have all chosen to see their pasts and move forward, and how their philosophies have been shaped over time.
Adah studies viruses and has made important discoveries related to Ebola and AIDS. Along the way, however, she has “lost her slant” by conforming to society and wonders if it is right to leave one’s old self behind. She realizes, however, how much of our own world views, and in fact, civilization itself, is based on misunderstanding.
Rachel is the least changed. In a sense, she regrets never having returned to the US, but knows she never would have been able to fit in after all she experienced, which is still of the utmost importance to her. She is proud of the life she has created at The Equatorial, but has further developed racist and classist views.
She and Leah especially share a very tense relationship. Whereas Rachel sees herself as being above others, Leah struggles greatly with her whiteness. She mourns the lack of justice she sees in the world and is desperate for forgiveness, not just for the impact her family had on Kilanga, but also for America’s impact on the Congo.
All three were forever shaped by the time spent in Kilanga, and while they show it in different ways, revere and respect Africa and its spirit.
Finally, in Book Seven: The Eyes in the Trees, the spirit of Ruth May reflects on a final voyage Orleanna and her sisters make to say a final goodbye to her. She observes that change is created by even the smallest actions that we may never realize. After so many years of seeking forgiveness, Ruth May’s spirit urges them on this journey to grant themselves that and move forward.
Consequence; Redemption; Forgiveness; Search for belonging; Learning to live with history
- I rock back and forth on my chair like a baby, craving so many impossible things: justice, forgiveness, redemption. I crave to stop bearing all the wounds of this place on my own narrow body. But I also want to be a person who stays, who goes on feeling anguish where anguish is due. I want to belong somewhere, damn it. (Leah, 567)
- All human odes are essentially one. “My life: what I stole from history, and how I live with it.” (Adah, 590)
- You have nothing to lose but your chains. But I don’t happen to agree. If chained is where you have been, your arms will always bear marks of the shackles. What you have to lose is your story, your slant. You’ll look at the scars on your arms and see mere ugliness, or you’ll take great care to look away from them and see nothing. Either way, you have no words for the story of where you came from. (Adah, 594)
- [Father] came on strong, thinking he’d save the children, and what does he do but lose his own? … You can’t just sashay into the jungle aiming to change it all over to the Christian style, without expecting the jungle to change you right back. (Rachel, 618-619)
- History holds all things in balance, including large hopes and shorts lives. (Adah, 631)
- Poor Africa. No other continent has endured such an unspeakably bizarre combination of foreign thievery and foreign goodwill. (Adah, 632)
Questions to Ponder
- In these sections, Leah and Adah reflect often on learning to deal with one’s past. How have each of the girls chosen to deal with their past?
- Adah and Orleanna returned to Georgia and found purpose in medical research, and gardening and the civil rights movement, respectively. Rachel settled in South Africa and found “success in [her] own right” with The Equatorial. Why do you think Leah struggled so much to find a place where she belonged?
- In the final reflection from Ruth May, she observes that even the smallest of moments have consequences and can lead to change in unforeseen ways. How can we keep this in mind in our daily lives?
*Quotes cited according to 2003 HarperTouch edition.