The Revelation, continued
The Lion until the Baby Owl
Leah and Adah are sent to get water, and fast Leah leaves limping Adah far behind as they make the one and a half mile trek back home. Adah is followed by a lion, but manages to outwit it. When she returns home she slips unnoticed into the hammock. Almost immediately Tata Ndu appears, bearing bad news. One if his sons, he reports, saw the footprints of a lame girl overtaken by the footprints of a lion. Next to these he saw a trail of fresh blood. Tata Ndu is obviously happy with this turn of events, as he takes it as evidence that the gods of the village are displeased with the corruption that Reverend Price is causing. Then Adah stands up so that everyone can see that she is alive and well. Tata Ndu shrinks back with displeasure, unhappy to be wrong.
Anatole sends the Prices a young orphan boy named Nelson to help them out in the house in return for a place to sleep and a basket of eggs that he can sell to save up for a wife. Nelson is extremely smart, picking up English within a matter of weeks, and Leah thinks about the fact that his being gifted confers little advantage here. Congolese children, she has heard, are barred by the Belgians from continuing schooling past the age of twelve. She wonders how Anatole was allowed to become so educated, and fantasized about asking him this, as well as about other aspects of his biography.
The village is struck with a fatal digestive bug called kakaka and Orleanna, in her terror for her children's safety, institutes a new rule that requires her daughters to spend all afternoon in bed, away from their infectious neighbors. Leah comes down with a mild case of malaria, because they had been underestimating the dosage of the preventative medicine, quinine, she required. For Christmas the girls receive needlework materials from their parents, and Orleanna suggests that they use the newly enforced idle time to work on their hope chests, making items that would be useful to a married woman. Only Rachel takes the project seriously, since only she has any fondness for the idea of getting married one day. Leah and Adah take their needlework to the porch so they can at least watch what is going on outside their house. They keep their eye on Methuselah who has not yet gotten the hang of freedom, staying close to their house, and sleeping in their latrine at night.
Church attendance is up because the villagers believe that Jesus saved Adah from the lion, but Nelson explains that everyone is still watching closely to see whether anything bad will happen to the Prices.
Leah has been keeping a baby owl that she found as a pet, but Nelson and Pascal are horrified by its presence in the house. Anatole explains that the Congolese believe that owls eat dead souls. Orleanna tells Leah to bring it outside, but Nathan says that this is pure superstition and should not be indulged. Feeling vindicated, Leah parades victoriously around the house with the owl on her shoulder, and she is punished violently by her father for the sin of pride. She goes off into the jungle alone to let her baby owl free. She takes a long time coming back, and her mother and sisters are very worried, but Nathan angrily orders them to go to bed. They ignore him, and wait by the door for Leah. When she comes back they run out to greet her, but Nathan is leering at them menacingly from the doorway to his bedroom, and so they simply try to convey sympathy to her with their eyes.
Though The Poisonwood Bible traces the emotional development of all five Price women, Leah's maturation occupies a central place. Her trajectory is most interesting largely because it is spans the widest breadth. She is not only the woman who starts out most closely identifying with her father and his mission, she is also the one who ultimately comes to understand and embrace Africa most fully. In this section, we see her awakening to the allures of Africa, especially the allure of Anatole, even if she has not yet come to doubt her father and his faith.
Given that Leah is beginning to awaken to the culture around her, it is significant that her father punishes her for the sin of pride. Pride is closely tied to autonomy and freethinking, which is precisely what Leah is gravitating toward, and precisely what Nathan most wants to prevent in his family members. There is also another reason why Leah's punishment for the sin of pride is significant. Nathan himself is the one who exemplifies excessive pride, and his hubris is both the cause and the result of his inability to open himself up to and appreciate the culture around him. Leah, then, is moving away from pride, at least of her father's sort.
Leah's attitude toward the hope chest project is also significant, especially in contrast to Rachel's. While Rachel eagerly works away at her needlepoint, thinking merrily about being somebody's wife, Leah feels that there is little point in putting effort into her work since she does not want to get married. Yet it will be Leah who eventually finds part of her salvation through matrimonial love, while Rachel weds and leaves a series of men before deciding that she is better off on her own. While it might seem that their respective attitudes toward the hope chest indicate that their success and failure at love would be reversed, in some sense their attitudes point to precisely what does occurs. Rachel is captivated by the simple idea of being in love, an idea that seems to revolve mostly around the possibility of someone loving, or rather worshipping, her. Any actual relationship she enters, therefore, is likely doomed since real love cannot be one-sided. Leah, on the other hand, we have already seen is passionate and loyal, and while she speaks of not wanting a husband, she simultaneously dwells on the pleasures of having a family of her own. We can tell immediately that when she does fall in love, this love will be substantive and lasting. Her imagined conversations with Anatole give us some hint of where this love might soon be directed.
Nelson also serves as a nice contrast to Leah. Like Leah he is intelligent, active, and practical. Yet because he was born into such different circumstances, his possibilities in life are highly circumscribed. Though he excels at school, he is forced to quit at age twelve due to a Belgian law barring Congolese from pursuing education past that age. Instead of putting his mind to books, as he seems to want to, and because he is always asking for lessons from the Price girls in various subjects, he is forced to think primarily about his survival.
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