What is the meaning of the book The Poisonwood Bible?

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bmadnick eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It's impossible to give the full meaning of this great book in this small space, so please go to the link below and get the full details. This novel is the story of the Price family and the time they spent in the Congo as missionaries. One theme of the book is about exercising one's free will. Nathan Price, the husband and father, looks down on the Africans and rules his own family with an iron fist. His wife, Orleanna, tells the story except for two chapters. It also tells the story through the Price family of the attitudes of the American government toward the newly-independent Congo and how the U.S. used the Africans for the benefit of the United States. Therefore, white supremacy is also a theme. We are introduced to the daughters of the Price family, and their attitudes toward the Africans reflect the different attitudes of the world toward Africa and Africans. The experiences of the Price family shape their lives, and Orleanna finally gets the courage to leave her husband in the Congo and go back to the U.S. She loses her youngest daughter while living in Africa. Overall, this novel shows the impact foreign countries have over colonial territories.

robyn-bird96 | Student

Personally, what I took from the novel is that the white man is not entitled to everything, that maybe the only thing that the West brings will not result in progress, but destruction of itself.  The Prices came into Africa with their American ways, believing that they can pick up their lives in the States and drop it in the middle of the Congo, expecting the people to agree fully with everything they say.  They went in not understanding that a vibrant community with its own culture was prospering.  They almost had to die to get back out. The Congo was bloody as the white man exploited the black man to get rich.  Yet what we don't realize is that the forest is living.

What's interesting is that in Western literature and Western culture, we expect everything to be linear.  That through cause and effect, there is a beginning and an end. In African literature and culture, everything is cyclic; there is no beginning or an end.  The forest that they entered will continue to eat itself to grow.  

Ruth May said, "If I die I will disappear and I know where I'll come back.  I'll be right up there in the tree, same color, same everything.  I will look down on you.  But you won't see me" (173).   

Read the study guide:
The Poisonwood Bible

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