Beginning to 1968
Orleanna explains how after Ruth May died she felt the need to keep moving continually to keep the grief at bay. In her need to move she began to walk, and then just kept walking, with her girls following behind her.
As the Price women flee Kilanga in the torrential rain, Mama Mwanza's daughters come running after them with oranges and water. These are the only provisions they bring along on their journey to Leopoldville. On the road they meet up with a few of the women from Kilanga. These women are on their way to bring food to their husbands, who are currently attending a political meeting in Bulungu, and the Price women decide to travel with them. Before they can reach Bulungu Leah comes down with an overpowering fever and cannot go on. A few men who happen by them on the road are kind enough to carry the delirious Rachel the rest of the way to Bulungu. Leah spends weeks gripped with malaria, recovering in a hut that belongs to one of Anatole's former students. Anatole has also left Kilanga and is now organizing something political in all of the neighboring villages.
Rachel escapes the Congo on Axelroot's airplane, and Adah and Orleanna try to make their way to Leopoldville by way of ferry. Leah, however, is too weak and sick to be moved, and so she remains in Bulungu. Anatole cares for her and nurses her back to health, during which time Leah and Anatole take the final plunge into falling in love. When Leah is well enough to travel again, she no longer wants to leave the Congo. She decides to stay and become Anatole's wife.
Rachel and Axelroot fly to Johannesburg, South Africa where they enter into the white high society. For the sake of propriety, they pretend to be married and Rachel waits impatiently for Axelroot to make the game into a reality. Axelroot disappears frequently on business, and Rachel busies herself by trying to fit in with the upper crust.
Adah and Orleanna walk toward Leopoldville for two days. At night they hide themselves with leaves so that soldiers will not see them. Late on the second night they are sighted by an army truck and thrown inside. Though the soldiers are planning to do them harm, Orleanna's eyes frighten them and so instead the soldiers drive the women to Leopoldville and hand them over to the Belgian embassy. In Leopoldville they are treated in the hospital for the various diseases that are coursing through them, and then flown to Georgia on a hospital plane.
Back in Georgia, Adah and Orleanna move into a cabin on the outskirts of their old town. Orleanna throws herself into gardening, and turns out to have an immense talent for making plants flourish. She sells bouquets on the side of the road in order to support herself. Adah decides that it is time to speak, and enters Emory College in Atlanta where she finds a religion that she can truly believe in: science.
Bulungu is in severe danger from the unpredictable Mobutu regime because of Leah's presence as a white woman. With the help of friends from Kilanga, Anatole and Leah try to make their way to Stanleyville, where there is still much popular support for Lumumba. However, in Stanleyville Leah's white skin is the cause of rage and hatred since the people there blame Westerners for the death of their beloved leader. Anatole places Leah in a French mission deep in the jungle, while he remains in Stanleyville and attempts to work with fellow Lumumbists to revive their leader's plan for peace and prosperity. However, on his way back to Stanleyville, Anatole is picked up by military police and imprisoned for his pro-Lumumba work. Leah waits for him patiently in the mission, while she works in the infirmary.
Rachel is happy in Johannesburg with all aspects of her life except Eeben Axelroot, who still has not officially married her and runs off constantly on his shady business ventures. However, she is hatching a plan to snag a new husband, the current husband of her best friend. Daniel, her love interest, is the First Attache to the French Ambassador. He is about to be reassigned to Brazaville, a fact about which his wife is less than happy. Rachel is fairly convinced that she will be successful in her pursuit of Daniel since their affair has already begun, and seems to be going very well.
After three years Anatole is released from prison and marries Leah. The two of them move to his old hometown of Bikoki, where they find his mother's sister Elisabet. Anatole works as the headmaster for the regional high school and Leah volunteers at the clinic and teaches a nutrition class. Brother Fowles and his wife visit and tell them that Pascal was murdered by the army, and that Nathan continues to carry on with his futile work.
Adah is in medical school, and in the process of losing her limp due to the work of a neurologist friend who suggested, correctly, that her handicap is the result of habit and nothing more. Orleanna has moved to Atlanta to be near Adah, and spends her time working for civil rights. Leah is in Atlanta for a visit, along with Anatole and their son Pascal.
The Poisonwood Bible is a family saga and a political allegory. It is also, in a sense, a religious allegory, held together by an overarching theme of sin and redemption. All of the Prices are guilty of versions of the same sin at the beginning of the book. Their sin, in essence, is an unwillingness to deal with the realities of life. Their redemption, for those of them who are redeemed, is to overcome this unwillingness. In "Exodus" we see the remaining Price women struggling toward this goal.
Nathan's version of the sin is most blatant and easiest to understand. He hides behind a simplistic and self-serving worldview, and refuses to believe in the messiness and injustices of reality. He refuses to see or understand anything that counters his unwavering beliefs, and this includes the human beings with whom he shares a household. Nathan is beyond redemption. His blindness is so complete that he is incapable of ever recognizing his mistake.
Rachel also fails to be redeemed, and for a similar reason. She is so blinded by herself and her own needs and desires that she is incapable of seeing past these. Like Nathan her way of keeping the world at a distance is to refuse to see it. Even as she matures, she continues to be a moral infant, betraying friends and using men to her advantage.
Adah's separation from the world was the most dramatic, and so her redemption is most traumatic. She separated from the world by convincing herself that she did not care about it, dragging herself "imperiously through a world that owed [her] unpayable debts" (Exodus, Adah, Emory University, 1962). She took a wry and cynical stance toward her own life, and toward everything else she observed. It is while she is fleeing the driver ants that she realizes that her attitude is a pose, and that she values her own life. From there she begins to enter into life as a participant, fighting her way into college and then medical school, and taking on the heretofore inconceivable responsibility of caring for her mother. Always astute, Adah is not completely happy with redemption, though, recognizing the pleasant advantages of the sin she left behind. For the first time, she explains, she feels afraid, because she has begun to "love the world a little and may lose it" (Exodus: Adah Price, Emory Hospital, Atlanta Christmas, 1968). By allowing herself to care, she has opened herself up to risk.
Leah's redemption also involves a terrible risk, but it is different from Adah's. Leah has always cared deeply about the world, but as a child she had clung happily to the belief in divine and absolute justice. As she puts it, "I grew up with my teeth clamped on a faith in the big white man in power—God, the President, I don't care who he is, he'd serve justice! (Exodus: Leah) Without this assurance she opens her compassionate self up to the pain of acknowledging the perpetual and unavoidable presence of injustice in the world. Her true accomplishment is that after losing her faith in divine justice she responds by devoting her life to trying to bring justice into her chosen corner of the world.
Leah claims that Orleanna alone understood redemption, and that the rest of them had to grow into it. It seems true at least that Orleanna's redemption is the only one that is nearly instantaneous, occurring in the moments after Ruth May's death. Until then, her way to avoid the messiness and complication of life was to focus narrowly on obeying her husband and doing whatever small things she could to keep her family going. She refused to reflect too much on how she could act to make things better or even on what was wrong. She asks at the beginning of "Exodus" whether her sin was one of complicity, loyalty, or stupefaction, but it seems instead that these all were only aspects of her larger sin, which was to retreat from personal responsibility. Loyalty and stupefaction were the excuses that she hid behind, and complicity was the result. Her redemption comes through her largest act, which is to lead her daughter's away from their father and toward their own redemption. Like Leah, she too tries to work for justice in her small corner of the world, marching for civil rights and collecting money to help Leah's efforts. Though the desire for justice is an important aspect of these efforts, as far as Orleanna's redemption is concerned it is their mere activeness that is significant. She is taking steps of her own in the world, trying to change things rather than standing passively by. Orleanna's other major activity, her gardening, seems to be not so much a part of her redemption as part of her psychological healing process. Earlier in the book, she refers to her daughters as plants, growing toward Nathan's light (The Judges: Orleanna Price). The plants that she now nurtures so successfully are clearly stand-ins for the children whose nurturing she failed to carry through successfully, because of her failure to stand up to Nathan. Her return to a love for nature is also a return to her earlier self, the self who was not yet cowed, brutalized, and made passive by Nathan.
Corrections: There are several mistakes in this article, from plot-related to grammatical. The ones I can think of off the top of my head are: a) Adah's right side, not her left, is crippled, b) the author used "effect" as a verb, and c) it's wringing, not ringing, near the end. Someone should probably look over this sometime. Also, the article presents Nathan Price as a completely flat character; however, he has his moments of uncertainty (for example, when he reshapes his garden into mounds, or when he reacts to the news of the little girl... Read more→
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I feel that Nathan is not shown as a real protagonist. He isn't even a main character, as the book isn't about his actions, but how the females in his family respond to his actions. He would be more considered an antagonist, if he were more central.