Poisonwood Bible

by: Barbara Kingsolver

The Judges

Summary The Judges

Ruth May and her mother continue to lie in bed day after day.

Nathan is unconcerned about his wife and daughter's illness, and in fact repeatedly reprimands Orleanna for not heeding God's call and getting up out of bed. At night the girls often overhear their mother tearfully pleading with him to let her take her children home, but he angrily counters that God works in mysterious ways. The three older girls are now totally responsible for feeding and caring for the family.

Leah makes Ruth May get out of bed and tries to interest her in playing. While she pushes Ruth May on the swing, Anatole comes by with a dead rabbit for the family to eat. He tells Leah that the chief of Southern Congo, the part of the country with all the precious natural resources, is declaring independence from the rest of the country, so that they can cut their own deals with the West. The two of them talk about politics, justice, and race.

As Ruth May lies sick in bed she sometimes overhears her mother pleading desperately with her father. Her mother talks about awful things happening in Stanleyville, massacres of white people, plundering of their homes. One night Nelson sneaks in and hands Ruth May a gift. His gift is a little amulet called a nkisi. He tells her to blow into it, so that her spirit will be contained inside. If she is ever about to die, he tells her, she must hold onto this amulet tightly, and she will disappear and then reappear in a safe place. He tells her to think every day about this safe place so that her spirit will know where to go when the time comes.

One day, as Leah and Rachel fight about Rachel's incompetent cooking, Orleanna appears in the kitchen hut, fully in control of herself once again. She resumes her role as caretaker, but is much changed by her month in bed. She now speaks her mind to Nathan, instead of cowering in his glare. In addition, she is determined to take her children's destinies into her own hands, and she begins attempts to find a way out of Congo. She tries to bribe Eeben Axelroot to fly them out, but he refuses to work without cash up front. Leah is shocked to see her mother tossing aside Nathan's authority, but feels similar stirrings in herself. For the first time, she begins to doubt her father's judgment in keeping his family in a situation that is clearly mortally dangerous.

Analysis

With Orleanna's revelation regarding Nathan's history, we see the private life of the Prices crossing once again with some of the great and brutal tragedies of the century. This time the tragedy in question, the Bataan Death March, is suffered by the United States rather than perpetrated by them. Ten hours after Pearl Harbor was bombed, Japanese bombers destroyed the U.S. fleet in Manila. General MacArthur, the U.S. Pacific commander, withdrew his troops from Luzon, where Nathan was injured, and into the mountains of the Bataan peninsula. There the troops continued to retreat, pursued by Japanese naval and infantry forces. Though literally starving, the troops held out until April 3, 1942, when they were forced to surrender. The survivors, emaciated and half- crazed with exhaustion, were then driven sixty-five miles on foot for three days, with their final destination being a prison camp. This trip, from the Bataan peninsula to the prison camp, is known as the "Bataan Death March" because roughly 15,000 of the prisoners perished en route, unable to withstand the thirst, starvation, blinding heat, and the abuse of the Japanese soldiers who whipped, beat, and shot at anyone who stumbled.