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Poisonwood Bible

Barbara Kingsolver

Bel and the Serpent

Summary Bel and the Serpent

Leah artfully kills an antelope, but Tata Ndu's oldest son, Gbenye, claims that he was responsible for this particular kill. Nelson proves him wrong by showing that it was Leah's arrow that punctured the animal's neck. Gbenye is enraged and commands Leah to skin the animal, despite the fact that she was the one who killed it.

Rachel is overwhelmed by the hunting scene and escapes back home to take a bath. She vows to become a vegetarian.

Though they have killed enough food for everyone, once it is time to divvy up the spoils unfriendly bickering breaks out among the entire village population. Over the heated fights, Tata Kuvundu repeats his warning concerning the toppled natural order of the world.

Analysis

Orleanna's narrative brings to the fore a theme that has been playing around in the background until now: the intersection of the personal and the political. She reminds us in unambiguous terms that there are two dramas playing out here simultaneously, the one public and the other very private, but parallel in their tragedy. Her guilt attaches not only to the private tragedy but to the public as well; or rather, her guilt regarding the public tragedy is specifically that she was so unaware of it, wrapped up as she was in her private drama. The issue she raises here is an old and familiar one but no less pressing for that; it is the tug between global responsibility and local responsibility, between responsibility to world justice and world events and responsibility to oneself and one's family. It is about the strangeness of going about one's daily life as elsewhere horrific events are unfolding, and also about the need to do just that. This idea ties up intricately with the central theme of the book, the collective guilt we all share for the events in Congo. It adds to this question a further dimension: how are we supposed to alter our private lives in the face of public events? Are we merely supposed to keep on trying to survive? Do we have a responsibility to actively seek out all the information we can about what is going on around us? If we focus on our families and their well-being is this wrong? Would it be wrong to do otherwise? Orleanna does not really provide any definitive answers here, or elsewhere in the book, but she poses the questions provocatively.

Turning now to the private drama in Kilanga, there are several points to note. First, Tata Ndu's notion of a religious election is a brilliant strategy of turning the imported Western culture against itself. It succeeds in exposing the hypocrisy inherent in the Western attitudes toward Africa. The West touts the superiority of elections and the rule of the majority, but then tries to impose a way of life in Africa that the majority despises. It is not majority rule that the West really wants to instill, but minority rule with the semblance of democracy.

Second, as the Republic of Congo struggles to retain its freedom from the West, Leah mirrors this struggle in her relationship with her father. Her insistence that she participate in the fire hunt is a declaration of her right to be who she truly is, and not who her father dictates that she be. We see again here the parallels between womanhood and race. Leah's freedom is curtailed because she is a woman in a culture, or in two cultures really, since both the Congolese and her father agree on this matter, which severely limits the life possibilities of the female. Similarly, the freedom of the Republic is endangered because of the racist belief that African culture is inferior, and African life not worth as much as Western life.