Maybe I'll even confess the truth, that I rode in with the horsemen and beheld the apocolypse, but still I'll insist I was only a captive witness. What is the conqueror's wife if not a conquest herself?
This quote appears in Orleanna's opening narrative, and immediately introduces us to the dominant theme in The Poisonwood Bible: the attempt to grapple with guilt. Orleanna's guilt is twofold. There is the paralyzing guilt she feels over her complicity in the death of her youngest daughter, and also the scarcely less overwhelming guilt she suffers because of the crimes perpetrated by the United States against the natives of Congo. This passage is meant to call our attention to both of these guilty burdens. By calling herself the "conqueror's wife," Orleanna places herself in a particular position with respect to the guilt she is feeling. She is not the primary perpetrator of the act, but she is closely connected to that perpetrator and perhaps even benefited from his crimes. The true perpetrator of the first crime is her husband, Nathan, whose crazed zealotry placed the entire family in mortal danger. In this case, the relationship of wife is not even metaphorical. The perpetrator of the second crime is the United States, and here the relationship of wife is metaphorical, invoking the dependency, responsibility, and even loyalty that a citizen bears to his or her nation. Orleanna is not alone in her role as the United States' wife as she is alone in her other wifely role. Kingsolver intends for all of us to consider ourselves as this particular conqueror's wife, bearing the guilt and responsibility for the crimes our nation committed in the Congo. As Orleanna and her daughters work through their own guilt, we are also supposed to be thinking of ways to deal with our own.