The Poisonwood Bible

by Barbara Kingsolver

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In the first chapter of The Poisonwood Bible, what major themes used throughout the book are introduced?

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The Poisonwood Bible is Barbara Kingsolver's allegorical novel about a monomaniacal Baptist minister named Nathan Price who sweeps his wife (Orleanna) and their four daughters away from the Atlanta of 1959 on an enforced journey to a mission in the Belgian Congo. The themes of hubris, and of the sins of the father visited upon the children, arise in the book's first chapter.

Upon arrival in the village of Kilanga, Price, entreating the Lord to "make me a powerful instrument of Thy perfect will" delivers a fire-and-brimstone sermon. But the villagers, at first curious, are finally bewildered by these theatrics and ignore them. In another attempt to lead the Kilangans to his God, he organizes a traditional church supper as bait to lure them to the banks of the local river for a collective baptism, but the villagers sensibly eat the food while avoiding the river-dunking.

Price's wife and daughters, who are the novel's narrators, take a more clear-eyed view of their harsh circumstances, as they quickly grasp the blindness and rigidity that will come to reshape their lives. Rachel's simple longing for a sweet-sixteen party and a twin-set is typical of the sense of loss that all the female characters feel for beloved aspects of the world they've left.

As Orleanna says, in foreshadowing, "I was afflicted with Africa like a bout of a rare disease from which I have not managed a full recovery."

In these examples, the themes of hubris and of the sins of the father visited upon the children are introduced in the first chapter of The Poisonwood Bible.

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