CT Journal: Write an essay in which you a) identify one issue, concept, or concern which you think is thematic in The Poisonwood Bible, b) show by means of one or more quotations from the text where that idea is stated or implied, and c) discuss in an organized way your own thoughts on the subject.

Lauren C.

The Poisonwood Bible is a book that is composed of a mass of intertwining connections which resurface themselves throughout the book. In order to catch and make meaning out of these connections, one must keep an alert eye open, almost as if the book contains hidden clues which eventually would add up to a final meaning. Due to the vast amount of these "clues", I spent a considerable amount of time wracking my brain in class trying to think of one which I thought had been woven throughout the pattern of this story.

While searching for the larger theme in the book, I came across several smaller ones which I found to be quite interesting but decided not to pursue in this paper. For example, while in class I had been flipping around my book during a discussion that we were having. I just opened the book in the middle and found myself in the section of the book following Ruth May's death in the scene where the father is baptizing all the Kilangan children in the rain. I suddenly realized the meaning of the last line of Ruth May's last entry in Book 7. She states, "Move on. Walk forward into the light." (543)

When I had first read this last line, I was a little confused as to where it connected with the rest of the story. After all, the final line of the story has to be the umph, the big hang, as it is this part of the book that the reader often tends to remember the most, if nothing else. By randomly opening the book, I was able to easily understand just why Ruth May says this and it makes such perfect sense. This is the line that their father says when baptizing all of the little children who are mourning the body of Ruth May. He states, "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, I baptize you, my son. Walk forward into the light." (374)

The father's obsession with baptism and saving souls etc. is what led the Price family to Africa in the first place. This of course eventually led up to the death of Ruth May, and to the affected lives of the family thereafter. It all makes sense, and this ending now seems perfect to me.

After sorting through all kinds of little connections such as these, I came to rest upon an idea which I felt was the backbone of this entire story . . . and pretty much the backbone of any story. This idea is not unique to this story, it exists I'm sure, in all human lives. It is the concept concerning how our choices and ourselves in particular affect the world around us. We may think that we are only one, and make no huge impact on anything of importance in our surroundings; however, this is not true.

This concept is put into words in the 7th Book of The Poisonwood Bible. The narrator is Ruth May, and she is writing from a state of mind and presence that is unknown to us living beings. It is here in this last narration that she touches upon this idea which exists in all lives, which affects all lives, and which is affected by all lives.

At the river they eat their picnic lunch, they move downstream to shriek in the cool water. The noise they make frightens away a young okapi He had just lately begun to inhabit this territory on the edge of the village. If the children had not come today, the okapi would have chosen this as his place. He would have remained until the second month of the dry season, and then a hunter would have killed him. But instead he is startled today by the picnic, and his cautious instincts drive him deeper into the jungle, where he finds a mate and lives through the year. All because. If the mother and her children had not come down the path on this day, the spider would have lived. Every life is different because you passed this way and touched history. Even the child Ruth May touched history. Everyone is complicit. The okapi complied by living, and the spider by dying. It would have lived if it could. (538)

These simple words help to explain an idea that I often think about and I'm sure other people, young people in particular, think about as well. We young people are all leaving soon to go off to college, but which college? Which major will be chosen? How will my life turn out if I go to this school? Or to that school? It is difficult to put into words the immense possibilities that we all have in our lives at this point, right now in time.

Older people can relate to this idea, but in a different context. Actually, their reflections on this idea are probably quite similar to the reflections that Ruth May makes in this passage. Instead of seeing the possibilities of the future, they might instead see the possibilities of the choices that were made in the past. How things might have turned out differently . . . what they could've done different. These are the big consequences of our actions that we do take into consideration and think about. However, Ruth May in this passage discusses the small actions that we take part in everyday which also affects the lives around us.

This entire book is based upon a series of choices that were made and the consequences of those decisions which followed. How would the lives of those in Kilanga have changed had the Price family gone to a different village? Would Anatole have ever married Leah? Probably not. They probably wouldn't even have met! Would Adah have still ended up as the successful scientist and doctor? Mother the widow? Father left without a family? Would Ruth May have died at all?

These are questions that were all "answered" so to speak when the Price family decided to move to Kilanga. But of course, there existed every day choices which were made by the family which also greatly affected this outcome. Such as the decision as to whether or not to take quinine pills, to continue preaching against the wishes of the village chief, or to go outside and investigate who was putting the snakes into everyone's houses and belongings.

I think that this idea of how we so innocently change the lives of those around us without realization is an important idea for all people to recognize and understand. People all over the world would probably weigh their everyday decisions with much more consideration and thought. This would be a good thing, in my opinion, as I believe that it would lead to possible "better" choices instead of the rash ones that we all make every once in a while due to the lack of importance that we feel the decision deserves.

Sara M.

Something that I have found to be very thematic in The Poisonwood Bible is the issue of taking advantage of the innocent. It occurs many times in the book where people carry out seemingly good intentions, but actually end up doing more harm than good. The story is about greed and power, and the consequences of this selfishness.

In the beginning of the novel, Orleanna Price speaks about the tragedy of Africa. She feels that she didn't know any better, and insists that she "was only a captive witness." (9) Despite this, Orleanna must live with what she saw, and what she took part in. One instance is the Prices' mission to "save" the people of the Congo by bringing them Christianity. She recalls, many years later:

We aimed for no more than to have dominion over every creature that moved upon the earth. And so it came to pass that we stepped down there on a place we believed unformed, where only darkness moved on the face of the waters. Now you laugh, day and night, while you gnaw on my bones. But what else could we have thought? Only that it began and ended with us. (10)

Nathan Price used his selfish needs and closed-minded views to take advantage of both the people of Kilanga and his own family. He claimed to have come to Africa in the Lord's service, but he was actually using the Congolese to try to make up for the lives that we lost in the war he fought in. He probably was holding a great amount of guilt inside of him for having survived the war, and needed to do something to fulfill his emotional needs. He wasn't thinking about what was best for the people; he was only thinking of himself. All Nathan Price succeeded in doing was disrupting a village of peaceful and innocent people by forcing his beliefs onto them. His fixation to baptize the Congolese and his refusal to give up on this idea caused the people to revolt against him, and ultimately led to his death. What Nathan didn't take into mind was that every culture has its own values and beliefs, and you shouldn't try to change these. Nathan Price also forced his religious views onto his innocent daughters. Orleanna blamed herself for this, saying:

No wonder they hardly seemed to love me half the time - I couldn't step in front of
my husband to shelter them from his scorching light. They were expected to look
straight at him and go blind. (96)

After one too many times of receiving the infamous "Verse" from their father, the Price
sisters eventually came to turn against him, all at different times in their lives. Adah knew very early on not to trust or believe anything her father said, while it took Leah a much longer time to come to this realization. Barbara Kingsolver also brings to attention the terrible actions of the United States. Anatole explained the situation like this:

Like a princess in a story, Congo was born too right for her own good, and attracted attention far and wide from men who desire to rob her blind. The United States has now become the husband of Zaire's economy, and not a very nice one. Exploitive and condescending, in the name of steering her clear of the moral decline inevitable to her nature. (456) The U.S. knowingly took advantage of an innocent Africa, and those Americans who took part in this destruction now must live with their consciences for the rest of time. (456)

Leah nicely sums up what I feel is the most important issue brought up in the book:

There is not justice in this world. Father, forgive me wherever you are, but this
world has brought one vile abomination after another down on the heads of the
gentle, and I'll not live to see the meek inherit anything. What there is in this world,
I think, is a tendency for human errors to level themselves like water throughout their
sphere of influence. That's pretty much the whole of what I can say, looking back.
There's the possibility of balance. Unbearable burdens that the world somehow does bear with a certain grace. (522)

Leah is saying that the world is not fair, and never will be, but there is the hope that "balance" can be achieved. She has lived through tragic human errors, which were unbearably hard to deal with, but she has also seen how the world handled it "with a certain grace." Leah has faith that the world will survive any hardships it endures.