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In Leopoldville, Leah is horrified by the disparity of wealth she sees. All of the whites, including the Underdowns, live in elegant splendor, while the blacks live in absolute squalor. While watching the ceremony in which governing power is transferred from the Belgians to the new Republic of Congo, Leah is captivated by Patrice Lamumba's charisma.

On the day that independence is granted to the Congo, Adah finds Methuselah's feathers scattered around the yard, and realizes that he has been eaten by a predator.


It is not until Nathan forcibly prevents his wife and daughters from fleeing for their lives that he finally emerges as a sort of moral monster, rather than a more garden variety sort of creep. He seems to be a very particular sort of moral monster, in fact—the perfect example of the sort of man whom Martin Buber dubs the "theomaniac" in his work I and Thou. The theomaniac, according to Buber, is much like the egomaniac, and in fact, these two manias are often found in the same person, but his obsession focuses on his personal relationship to God. The theomaniac cares for nothing but this relationship; his deep religiosity has only a single goal as its aim, his own salvation. He cares nothing for other souls, or the moral state of the world. Nathan, for all his sermonizing, seems to fit this description alarmingly well. It is clear that he cares nothing about the souls he is out to save. He has nothing but contempt for the Congolese. In addition, as is evidenced by his willingness to subject his family to mortal danger, he cares just as little for his own family. Nathan is unmoved by his wife's pleas, by his daughters' terror. He is a man who is unable to empathize, is unable to be motivated by other people's needs or desires. He is a man who is capable, really, of only one motivating force and that motivating force is his notion of God's desire.

The irony is that on almost any religious understanding, God's desires would run counter to Nathan's interpretation. The Christian conception of God in particular, paints God as a God of compassion. Yet Nathan's actions are completely devoid of compassion. He views his stand as one of bravery, yet it is bravery without a purpose. His presence does nothing to ease the woes of the natives, and it places his family in significant peril. The only person who could possibly benefit from the stand is Nathan.

As a theomaniac, Nathan plays off nicely against Rachel who is the more common egomaniac. Like Nathan she is incapable of being motivated by any needs or desires that do not directly relate to her own well-being. In Rachel's case, however, it is not the state of her soul that concerns her, but the state of her body—her physical appearance and her physical comfort.

In the ending words of his speech on the day of Independence, Patrice Lumumba echoes an important motif in The Poisonwood Bible, the motif of darkness and light. Patrice Lumumba ends his triumphant address with the statement, "We are going to make the Congo, for all of Africa, the heart of light." The phrase "the heart of light" immediately conjures up that other novel of African colonialism, Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness. For Conrad, the darkness is located in Africa itself, and also in the heart of those who are forced to acclimate to its primeval and brutal environment. Throughout The Poisonwood Bible Kingsolver challenges this notion, playing with the themes of darkness and light to get us to reconsider where these really reside. Tellingly, the one time that the phrase "heart of darkness" is used is in describing Nathan (The Revelation: Orleanna). Darkness is seen as emanating not from Africa, but from the Western oppression of the Africans, which, as we have seen, Nathan represents. Africa, in fact, is portrayed as anything but primeval and brutal. The people of Kilanga are every bit as civilized as the Prices, and, if anything, far less brutal. If Africa is associated with darkness, it is only because it brings out the darkness of greed and hubris in the hearts of men like Nathan and Eeben Axelroot. Africa itself, rid of brutal Western interference, can become, in Lumumba's words "the heart of light."