The Poisonwood Bible

by Barbara Kingsolver

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In The Poisonwood Bible, what is the effect of our learning about events and people through the sisters' eyes?

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Any time you have a story from different points of view, it is in order for the reader to read all aspects and gleen the truth from the whole.  For instance, if twenty people see a car accident, none of those twenty will tell the story exactly alike, but the officer who interviews the witnesses will be able to take the elements that are the same or similar from every witness and safely determine, "This is the truth."

From the sisters' point of view, we need to consider who the sisters are:

Rachel: Self-centered, self-proclaimed "Queen".  Platinum blonde hair, selfish and unable or unwilling to recognize the depth of suffering which surrounds her.  She notices only her own problems.

Leah: Adah's twin.  She is not deformed and often leaves her sister behind.  She is a daddy's girl and basically worships his every word in the hope that he will recognize the effort.

Adah: Leah's twin, brilliant, but born with a physical deformity. Chooses not to talk out loud, but her brain is always working. She is observant, able to pick up languages very quickly, and writes backwards so her thoughts will remain private. She feels accepted in the Congo because everyone there has something wrong with him or her, and she is rarely stared at for her deformity...but because she is white.

Ruth May: The youngest. Stubborn, energetic, and always looking for a new adventure.  She is open-minded.

Reading an event from their views, one will see the truth!

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The effect of this multiple narrative technique is the reader gets different perspectives on the family experiences in the Congo. Each sister and the mother give their own observations of life in the Congo, what it is like for them, and how each is affected by what they see there. Each of the narrators also represent the different American attitudes toward the people living there. The effects of colonialism on Africa is heard through the voices of the daughters and the mother.

Orleanna's story is from a mother's point of view who is trying to keep her family safe and give them food and shelter. She isthe guilty consciousness of the Americanswho had a part in overthrowing Lumumba or helped to put Mobutu in office. Rachel, the American materialist.likes the comforts of home and is disgusted by the nakedness of the villagers, not trusting the meal they prepare for them. Leah, the American idealist, believes in what her father is doing at first. Then she changes and joins Anatole in his revolutionary fight. Ruth May is the innocence of youth making fast friends with the village children. Adah, the cynical observer, changes to sympathize with the people who are diseased.

The women of the novel are changed forever as a result of their experiences in Africa just as the people in Africa are changed forever as a result of American interference. By using more than one narrator, the reader gets to see both of these changes through the eyes of the mother and her daughters.

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