Brother Fowles's Visit until Murder Plot Revealed
Brother Fowles arrives in the village along with his Congolese wife and their children. The entire village is in an excited uproar over his visit, and the Price women are no exception. Brother Fowles clearly has a deep understanding of and appreciation for the native customs, and tries to explain to Orleanna that her neighbors are very religious people, with a keen sensitivity for the miracles of God's natural world. Orleanna, a former nature worshipper herself, is drawn to Brother Fowles and listens with an extremely sympathetic ear to his pantheistic interpretation of Christianity. Nathan then arrives at home, and the reception he gives Brother Fowles is cool at best. The situation degenerates when Brother Fowles's expresses feelings of fellowship for all the natives of Kilanga including Nathan's archenemy, Chief Ndu. The two men enter into a war of biblical translation, in which Brother Fowles calmly gets the better of Nathan. Nathan storms off, and the Price women trail longingly after the departing Fowles.
A drought in the region is leading to famine, and Ruth May's condition is steadily worsening. Tata Ndu begins to visit daily, bearing gifts, and Nelson must be the one to explain the purpose of his visits. He wants to make Rachel his newest wife.
To turn down Tata Ndu's marriage proposal would be hugely offensive, not only to him personally but to the entire village. In place of the majority rule of democracy, the Congolese believe that complete unanimity must be reached before a plan can move forward and so any official action Tata Ndu takes must have the viallge's unanimous backing. Rachel is beside herself with outrage and fear.
As Ruth May gets sicker, they decide to move her bed into the main room so that Orleanna can keep an eye on her during the day. When they move the bed away from the wall, they discover every single one of her quinine tablets pressed against the cement. They realize that Ruth May had never swallowed any of her tablets, and that she has malaria.
To avert any conflict with Tata Ndu the Prices decide to pretend that Rachel is already engaged to Eeben Axelroot. Rachel and Eeben have to sit out on the Price's porch to demonstrate their connection to the village, and the two of them begin to strike up a strained acquaintanceship. Eeben confides that he works for the CIA, but Rachel does not believe him. She begins to concoct a secret plan to win him over and convince him to fly her mother and sister home.
Ruth May believes that she became sick because of all the bad things she has done, like seeing Axelroot's diamonds. She thinks about the amulet that Nelson gave to her, and decides that when she reappears it will be as a mamba snake. It is clear that she chooses this "safe place" because mamba snakes are what frighten her most.
Rachel turns seventeen, and is outraged that no one makes a fuss over her birthday. Orleanna gives Rachel a pair of her own earrings but then must return to care for Ruth May whose fever has shot up to a hundred and five. In addition, Adah is stung by a scorpion and Rachel is convinced that her sisters are purposefully trying to steal the attention away from her.
Ruth May recovers, but remains listless and uninspired. Orleanna likes to avoid the house as much as possible and takes the girls on long nature walks every day, culminating in a picnic. Leah teaches arithmetic in Anatole's school in the mornings, and then learns French and Kikongo from him in the afternoons. She is also learning to use a bow and arrow from Nelson, and is showing a real talent for the sport. Nathan alone remains completely unchanged, obtusely ranting that "Tata Jesus is bangala," which, as Adah points out, can either mean "Jesus is precious" or, if you say it too quickly as Nathan does, "Jesus is a poisonwood tree."
As Leah spends the afternoons reading with Anatole she often interrupts him to pose various questions. They become involved in another long discussion about race, politics, and justice. Leah tries to explain to him what the United States is like—with its abundance and large cities—and Anatole does not quite believe her. She then asks why he translates her father's sermons if he does not believe that the Reverend's goals are good ones, and he explains that he wants the other villagers to have the chance to make their own decisions.
The day after her birthday Rachel and Axelroot go for a walk in the jungle. They kiss, and he then confides a secret in her: Patrice Lumumba is going to be killed. Again, she does not believe him, certain that he is just trying to impress her with his importance so that he can continue kissing her.
Adah continues to spy on Eeben Axelroot. She sees him speaking code into his radio, and one day a man called "W.I. Rogue" joins him in his cabin. They talk about Patrice Lumumba being "as good as dead," and link the assassination plot to President Eisenhower. Adah is distraught over this revelation, finding it hard to believe that the United States is orchestrating a coup that will overthrow the elected government and murder an innocent man.
Brother Fowles plays and important symbolic role the story, representing the positive side of Christianity in contrast to Reverend Price's negative. Through his compassion and humility, Brother Fowles is actually able to effect change in the village of Kilanga, for instance in preaching the important of kindness towards one's wife. It is particularly significant that Brother Fowles's great triumph in Kilanga is in championing the cause of women, and protecting them from the heretofore accepted abuse of their husbands. We are told that during Brother Fowles's tenure in Kilanaga, private shrines to Tata Jesus sprung up in all of the kitchens, domain of the woman. Brother Fowles's protectiveness towards women sets him up in direct contrast to Nathan, who is a misogynist and wife-abuser himself. The contrast between Brother Fowles and Nathan is further underscored by their widely differing attitudes toward the natural world. Nathan, a farmer by training, hacks at the land, trying to subdue it into submission. He views nature as something to be manipulated. Brother Fowles, on the other hand, borders on the pagan in his worship of untamed nature.
The worship of nature actually seems to occupy and important place in Kingsolver's notion of "good spirituality." Brother Fowles, as was just mentioned, is a nature worshipper. Orleanna worshipped nature as a girl, and, as we will see, later returns to this state of mind. Both Leah and Adah will express pantheistic sentiments later in the book as well, professing that God is all of nature. In many ways, pantheism is the perfect antidote to the "original sin" of greed and hubris evinced by Nathan, Belgian colonialists, and the United States government. To worship nature as divine it to admit that our role on earth is not to subdue what surrounds us, nor to ring from it all that we can, but to appreciate and understand it.
Brother Fowles's visit comes at a crucial time in the Price women's emotional life. They are losing faith in their old authority figures, in Nathan, God and even the President of the United States. It is Adah who utters the words, "The smiling bald man with the grandfather face has another face," when she discovers that Eisenhower is behind the plot to assassinate Lumumba, but it could just as easily have been Orleanna, or Leah, or even Ruth May who uttered this sentence, and it could just as easily have been Nathan or their traditional image of God whose surface face they suddenly saw as a sham. As their faith in these father figures is undermined, their faith in the principles espoused by these men is undermined as well. In Leah's case, it is the principles that are undermined first, and the men that fall as a result. Brother Fowles's visit provides them with an alternative vision to believe in, a truth of compassion and understanding. Ultimately, Adah, Orleanna, and Leah will all follow Brother Fowles's example, living their own versions of that sort of truth.
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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