Poisonwood Bible

Barbara Kingsolver
Summary

Book Two: The Revelation

Summary Book Two: The Revelation

The doctor is surprised to hear about the fighting forces Ruth May has seen. He and Reverend Price get into a heated argument, concerning the propriety of Western interference in the Congo. Nathan maintains that the West is bringing much-needed civilization into Africa, while the doctor counters that the West is doing nothing but taking unfair advantage. The doctor mentions that he is frightened by the rising support for Patrice Lumumba, a charismatic Congolese who is preaching a "nonviolent road to independence" from Belgium. The doctor informs Nathan that at Lumumba's last rally, the crowd became so excited by this idea of nonviolence that they ended up rioting and killing twelve people. There are rumors that the independence-fighters have plans to kill every white person in the Congo. Nathan pooh-poohs the threat of violence toward whites, claiming that God will protect them.

The young man who welcomed the Prices at their arrival feast and has been translating the Reverend's sermons for the villagers ever since, comes over for dinner. He is the local schoolteacher, Anatole. Anatole, we learn, is an orphan who was sent at a young age to work on the Belgian rubber plantations, and then in the diamond mines. The Underdowns saved him from his fate as a slave laborer, taking him in and schooling him, and then installing him as the local schoolteacher.

Over dinner, Anatole lets Reverend Price know that Chief Ndu is worried that the introduction of Christianity might cause a moral decline in the village. Ndu is concerned that his people not neglect their traditional gods and rituals, and fears that disaster will result if they are corrupted by newfangled ideas. Anatole points out to the Prices that there is already a religious leader in their midst, Tata Kuvundu, the much-revered keeper of the old customs. Reverend Price is incapable of conceiving of how a move toward Jesus could be considered moral decline, and he becomes enraged at Anatole for trying to explain this concept to him. He throws Anatole out of the house when Anatole tells him that the villagers are carefully watching them to see whether the Price's god, Jesus, is capable of bringing better luck than the local gods. Once Anatole is gone, Nathan strikes out in anger at his wife, grabbing her violently. He then breaks the one item she had become attached to in Kilanga, a beautiful serving platter left by Brother Fowles.

Analysis

Nathan's attitude toward his family mirrors both his, and general Western, attitudes toward Africa. We see him here, especially in the last scene, as violent and tyrannical. He exploits his family, and rules within an atmosphere of repression in which no one is permitted to speak their mind except for Nathan himself. In these ways, the governance of his family is much like the Belgian governance of the Congo, and, later, like Joseph Mobutu's CIA-backed dictatorial control of the country.

The atmosphere of dictatorship that prevails in the Price household stems largely from Nathan's sense of superiority over his family members, a sense of superiority that borders on contempt. Nathan is a sexist and a misogynist, rolling his eyes and sighing toward heaven over his daughters' "bovine stupidity," and ridiculing the idea of sending females to college. He is blind to the fact that two of his daughters are more intelligent than he—and one of them id decidedly brilliant. To draw the parallel to the case of African oppression, the sexism need only be replaced with racism. Just as Nathan is unable to view the women in his life as full human beings with their own concerns, desires, needs, and opinions, the ruling Western powers were incapable of doing the same in the case of Africans.

Nathan, understandably, is the axis on which the family turns, but each daughter has a very different attitude toward his dictatorial rule. This attitude tends to determine their attitude toward religion and other forms of authority as well, and thus poises them for the particular crisis of faith that each will eventually undergo.