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Poisonwood Bible: The Things We Carried November 4, 2006

Posted by bairdnicole in Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.

How does Kingsolver differentiate among the Price sisters, particularly in terms of their voices? What does each sister reveal about herself and the other three, their relationships, their mother and father, and their lives in Africa? What is the effect of our learning about events and people through the sisters’ eyes?


1. Bethany - November 8, 2006

I am so behind on this book…I plan on catching up on my upcoming plane travels. But I am enjoying the sisters different personalities. It is fun to read their different perspectives and voices and their view on similar experiences. There are endearing characteristics in each of them and things that make me fall on my butt laughing. So far it seems like they hardly speak of their mom and seems like their dad is somewhat of an arogant doof. I mean I know Leah seems to admire him but things he does makes me cringe. Sorry I am answering lightly, I need to go find my notes.

2. heather - November 12, 2006

I have picked up this book every night for the past 2 weeks and attempted to read it, only to find myself falling asleep! NOT because I don’t like the book! Just because I’m so darned tired! But today it was cold and rainy all day — the perfect weather for curling up with a book. So that’s exactly what I did, once I got the kids distracted with a computer game and my husband watching football!

At first I wondered if I’d be irritated by the constant switch in narrators, but I found that wasn’t true as I got further into this first section. Hearing about the various family members not only through the eyes of others, but also through their own thoughts and actions, really gives you a better, truer sense of who they are. It’s one thing for a narrator to tell you someone is vain, but you get a much better picture when that vain person, in her own words, talks about everyone staring at her because “I am the most extreme blonde imaginable. I have sapphire-blue eyes, white eyelashes, and platinum blonde hair that falls to my waist. It is so fine I have to use Breck Special Formulated…” p. 47 (Side note: after reading all her — what would you call them? Typos? Incorrect word usage? — I started picturing her as the “Cher” character on “Clueless.” Some of her mis-uses of words and phrases are really funny! My favorites: the “sloop of despond”, “took for granite”, “give up the goat”, “Mount Syanide”, and “the heathen pandemony.”) As for what the family members are like, I guess I’ll start with my impressions of Leah.

LEAH: We see Leah as the one who idealizes her father and who wants, more than anything, to earn his approval. When Leah admits she doesn’t know why the Lord gave us seeds to grow, her father responds “Because, Leah, the Lord helps those that help themselves.” ” ‘Oh!’ I cried, my heart rushing to my throat, for of course I had known that. If only I could ever bring forth all that I knew quickly enough to suit Father.” p. 37. Nathan Price definitely has “works” mentality, and Leah has adopted it as well. In reference to her Father’s demonstration garden she said “The grace of our good intentions made me feel wise, blessed, and safe from snakes.” p. 36. And on the next page, following her Father’s lesson on the “big balanced scale” of work and rewards: ” ‘Great sacrifice, great rewards!’ he said then, letting both hands fall heavily from the shoulders, and with all my soul I coveted the delicious weight of goodness her cradled in those palms.” p. 37

After the Methuselah cursing, Leah says “I myself would not curse, in or out of Methuselah’s hearing or even in my dreams, because I crave heaven and to be my father’s favorite.” I found that statement so sad — she is always toiling to be “good enough.” Adah snidely pokes fun at Leah’s ‘goody-two-shoes’ attitude when she asks her which book of the Bible the “Dr. Jekyll” quote is from. Though she lets Leah believe she’s guessed correctly — “The book of Luke. I’m not sure which verse.” — she’s really laughing at her: “Hah! I can laugh very hard without even smiling on the outside.” p. 55. From Adah’s perspective, Leah is like an eel: “For my twin sister’s name I prefer the spelling Lee, as that makes her — from the back-court position from which I generally watch her — the slippery length of muscle that she is.” p. 58 Yikes! Adah does NOT paint a pretty picture of her sister! Her resentment of her sister’s supposed “perfection” goes all the way back to the womb: “Leah and Adah began our life as images mirror perfect. We have the same eyes dark and chestnut hair. But I am a lame gallimaufry and she remains perfect. Oh, I can easily imagine the fetal mishap: we were inside the womb together dum-de-dum when Leah suddenly turned and declared, Adah, you are just too slow. I am taking all the nourishment here and going on ahead. She grew strong as I grew weak. (Yes! Jesus loves me!) And so it came to pass, in the Eden of our mother’s womb, I was cannibalized by my sister.” p. 34.

When the garden won’t produce fruit, Leah wonders what has happened to God’s balancing scales of justice. “This was a sure sign to God of his humility and servitude, and it was only fair to expect our reward. So what was this business of being delivered through hardships?” p. 78. Again, for Leah, good works and actions are supposed to lead to both earthly and eternal rewards. Since we’ve already seen allusions to more hardships to come, it will be interesting to see what this does to Leah. In fact, in the last part of “book one” Leah alludes to this: “We had worked so hard, and for what? I felt confusion and dread. I sensed that the sun was going down on many things I believed in.” p. 80

3. anneswanson3 - November 14, 2006

Heather, great summary about Leah!
I guess maybe I will continue on with Ruth May.
Just a young girl, I think I read she was just five years old. Her short section is; as expected from a girl as young as she, pretty random. Throughts all over the place. But she does know that this is not going to be anything like life back home.
Being the year is 1959 her impression of black people is that they are slaves, not the same as whites, and she tells the story of Ham. At the same time though she does compare Ham to herself, perhaps showing her little bit of understanding that they are just as human as she is? Not any less of a person than her just because of their color. But she does make sure to mention what white people are around. She is only five after all.
I have to think she is scared, but of course she would not reveal that because she seems to want to appear much older than she is.
Her innocence will continue to show but she is a very obsevant little girl which makes her part of the story all the more interesting from her perspective!
She sure was excited about those comic books!

4. heather - November 14, 2006

She is very observant! I love her observations of Adah, and how her “social” standing has changed now that they’re in Africa. “Used to be, Adah was the only one of us in our family with something wrong with her. But here nobody stares at Adah except just a little because she’s white. Nobody cares that she’s bad on one whole side because they’ve all got their own handicap children or a mama with no feet, or their eye put out. When you take a look out the door, why, there goes somebody with something missing off of them and not even embarrassed of it. They’ll wave a stump at you if they’ve got one, in a friendly way.” p. 53 Ruth May recognizes that this different culture has shifted the roles of the members of her family. Now Adah is accepted with hardly a second glance, and Rachel is considered the ‘freak of nature.” This whole family is a microcosm of what happens when our Western Culture tries to merge with others. Even Ruth May, at her tender age, is very much aware of the differences.

5. Bethany - November 15, 2006

Heather you are so right about the family being a microcosm of what happens when our Western Culture tries to merge with others. What a great way to put it!!!

Anne I am loving Ruth May too. She is so cute. Since she is Seth’s age I can imagine a lot of what she is saying and thinking. I love how Kingsolver writes exactly like someone Ruth’s age would talk or think jumping from one thing to the next and going off on tangents. I think Ruth and Leah are my favorites so far. Rachel just makes me laugh and Adah is quite smart but also somewhat frightening.

6. bairdnicole - November 18, 2006

The characters certainly paint such an interesting picture, but this section is somewhat depressing. But as for my take on the sisters:

Rachel: I loved what you said Heather about the Clueless type of character. She seems to think nothing of causing extra work for her family or looking down her nose on others. She clearly sees herself as superior towards other, but at the same time I can see my thoughts in her as she reacts to the physical surroundings of her new home. I do find it interesting as myself being a firstborn how she doesn’t seem to have the people pleasing, I’m in charge characteristics. The stereo-typical and somewhat true first-born characteristics seem to fit Leah more so.

Leah: Here is a legalist in the makings! WOW! I love what’s been said about Leah and certanily agree. It’s really sad how much she looks toward her father for his affirmation and never really receives it. Arrgh!

Adah: Whenever she is the narrarator, I always find myself reading more slowly over her sentences because they are all so complex with palindromes and all. Wow! And weird! She is so cynical and cold towards others. There seem to be no “girlie” or emotion in her thoughts; her personality appears to be purely intellectual.

Ruth May: She is fun! I love her descriptions of thing and totally agree about how the author writes her narrative. She give us a window into their surroundings. She makes their new home sound intriguing not miserable.

So what do we see about the story through their eyes?
Rachel: the hardships physically
Leah: the effect their Father’s beliefs have on the family
Adah: ??? I don’t know…
Ruth May: the possibility of wonder, optimism.

7. heather - November 19, 2006

Bethany, Adah is a bit frightening! Like Nicole said, I too find myself reading her sections more slowly than the rest (I think half the time I’m checking for palindromes!) I thought it apropos that she mentions having a “strong sympanthy for Dr. Jekyll’s dark desires and for Mr. Hyde’s crooked body.” p. 55. She’s obviously much more intelligent than she lets on to the outside world, but in a “mad scientist” sort of way. I think that’s what makes her frightening. She’s gifted with a brilliant mind, but seems very unstable — like Dr. Jekyll!

I forgot I’d wanted to mention that whole exchange between Nathan and Orleanna on pages 53 and 54. Nathan seems so insensitive to the hard life of the Congonese when he assumes their bodies are broken because they are living in darkness. He’s just so clueless to their culture. She, on the other hand, really seems to “get it.” I love what she says about them in response to his statement that the body is a temple: “Well, here in Africa that temple has to do a hateful lot of work in a day. Why, Nathan, here they have to use their bodies like we use things at home — like your clothess or your garden tools or something. Where you’d be wearing out the knees of your trousers, sir, they just have to go ahead and wear out their knees! … It appears to me their bodies just get worn out, about the same way as our worldly goods do.” He responds “Orleanna, the human body is a sight more precious than a pair of khaki trousers from Sears and Roebuck. I’d expect you to comprehend the difference…You of all people.” [side note: I just want to slap him!] “She turned red and breathed out like she does. She said, ‘Even something precious can get shabby in the course of things. Considering what they’re up against here, that might not be such a bad attitude for them to take.”

I don’t know exactly why this exchange stood out to me so much. I think I just loved that Orleanna was finally speaking her mind about something. Nathan is so myopic (everything is about saving lost souls and getting them baptized) that he just bulldozes over everything and everyone in his path, with no concern for understanding anything. I loved seeing that Orleanna was sympathetic to the native people, and at least trying to understand them and their ways better.

8. heather - November 19, 2006

All right, ladies, I knew there was a word for what Rachel does:

Function: noun
Etymology: Mrs. Malaprop, character noted for her misuse of words in R. B. Sheridan’s comedy The Rivals (1775)
1 : the usually unintentionally humorous misuse or distortion of a word or phrase; especially : the use of a word sounding somewhat like the one intended but ludicrously wrong in the context

9. Nicole - November 20, 2006

Thanks Heather, that was certainly true! It is funny and now that you mentioned it I notice it even more. 🙂 It makes me laugh, and I also have a sister (thankfully who isn’t anything like Rachel) who does the same thing with words and puns. She is always cracking us up with her phrases and word she makes up. :=)

10. Bethany - November 20, 2006

You are funny Heather.

Nicole great summary of characters.

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