How did the new world of the Congo affect each character in The Poisonwood Bible, and how did they react to it?      

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, the new world of the Congo deeply affects each character.

Orleanna Price—Orleanna is forced to move to the Congo by her husband, Nathan Price. As life progresses in the Congo, Orleanna slowly learns to make choices for herself. Unfortunately, the Congo took a lot from her, including the life of one of her daughters. Because of this, Orleanna is never able to forget the horrible memories of her time spent in Africa.

Nathan Price—Nathan is the sole reason his family moves to the Congo. His selfishness causes a lot of distress for his wife, daughters, and members of their community. Nathan believes in his own knowledge and abilities and is unwilling to accept help or advice from anyone else. In the end, Nathan suffers because he loses his family and home because of his awful choices.

Rachel Price—The oldest of Nathan and Orleanna Price's daughters is a fifteen-year-old girl when they arrive in the Congo. Rachel is concerned only with her looks and other materialistic things. Although Rachel wants to leave the Congo the most, she is the one who ends up staying in the Congo. She eventually marries a man from the Congo and spends her life owning a fancy hotel.

Leah Price—Leah is one of the Price's twin fourteen-year-old daughters. She grows up to follow in her older sister's footsteps and marries a man from the Congo. Rather than letting her father's beliefs infect her own mind, Leah renounces all religion. She begins a social justice program and devotes her life to helping those in the Congo who her father and other white men abused by taking over the country.

Adah Price—The other of the Price's twin fourteen-year-old daughters is unable to use the left side of her body. Adah has a near death experience in the Congo and realizes that she wants to use her handicap to help others. She eventually becomes a scientist who studies viruses. Her relationship with her siblings is affected negatively by their time in the Congo.

Ruth May Price—The youngest of the Price daughters is changed the most out of all of the members of the Price family. Ruth May is only five years old when her family moves to the Congo. Ruth May is able to make friends with the local members of the community. Unfortunately, Ruth May is killed by a snake and her life is lost to the Congo literally, whereas some of her family members lose their lives to the Congo in a figurative sense.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Nathan Price:  he goes to the Congo to convert the people there, and to bend everyone and everything to his viewpoint, to his world perspective.  It doesn't work.  Take for example his attempts to plant beans.  He plants them like he would back home, and ignores the advice given by the people there, to make mounds.  His beans fail because he refuses to change.  His refusal to change in the end undoes him, because Africa is a force that won't be changed.  The more he tries, the more he fails.  This eventually drives him mad; at the end, it is rumored that he was a wandering madman before dying.

Adah Price:  Africa gives her the strength that she needs to overcome her weakness.  In Africa, she is not deemed crippled; many of the children there are crippled.  She is the only one that makes it out of there with her mother, walking on her two feet.  Her symbolic healing occurs in Africa, with the literal healing later.  Africa gives her the strength to make herself "whole".

Leah Price:  She becomes completely a part of Africa's plight.  She connects with the people there, becomes a part of the struggle for everyday food, and fights the battles that the people there fight.  The Congo converts her to itself, keeping here there; it stays in her blood and wins her.  She puts down roots and family in Africa, and continues its story through her children.

Rachel Price:  She becomes symbolic of the white man that comes in and manipulates the circumstances of colonization for their own good.  In the end, she doesn't leave, but she takes over a hotel and gleans profit from the white men that come to visit and control the nation.  The Congo doesn't change her, it just gives her opportunities to fill a role that she is comfortable with.

Ruth Price:  She is symbolic of the sacrifices that the Congo requires of anyone coming there.  Her father comes to change the Congo, which is impossible; Ruth is the sacrifice of trying to do that.

Orleanna Price:  She is forever scarred by what Africa asked of her.  She went, she struggled, she was exhausted and drained, she tried to make the best of it.  She was an unwitting victim in her husband's quest, and it took her heart and soul when Ruth died.  She was never the same again; the Congo haunted her for the rest of her life.

Those are the differing impacts that the Congo had on the characters.  I hope those help, and good luck!

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial