The Poisonwood Bible Questions and Answers
by Barbara Kingsolver

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Why is Nathan not given a voice in the book "The Poisonwood Bible'?

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amy-lepore eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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It is not Nathan's story.  He is overconfident, pushy, and self-absorbed.  He expects to be listened to, but rarely speaks WITH anyone...only AT them.  The story, therefore, is told from the points of view of those who are most effected by his decisions.  His wife and his four, vastly different and interesting, daughters. They are, in essence, prisoners of the household as they are held captive by his attitudes and decisions.  He is very chauvenistic evne to the point of misogyny.  He is quoted by one of the daughters as saying sending daughters to college was like pouring water in a good pair of shoes--you either watch the water pour out of the shoes, or you are amazed the shoe held the water but suffer from water damage.  He is a coarse and hateful man, and therefore does not have a voice in the story.  His voice has caused enough damage.

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bmadnick eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I'd like to add another insight for why Nathan isn't given a voice. The narrator(s)the author chooses to tell the story...

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Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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aprilpatricia83 | Student

Nathan's lack of a narrative voice in "The Poisonwood Bible" I suspect speaks to the one of the greater themes of the novel - the role of colonialism. The setting of the novel comes at the very twilight of colonialism in Africa, and speaks fiercely of the power struggles of the fledgling nation of Congo trying to find its footing in the world. This attunes perfectly with the burgeoning independence of the Price women towards Nathan.

As neither Revered Price nor the nation of Belgium are able to speak for themselves in the novel, we see them only through the perceptions of others. Although in their own opinions their charges would not be able to survive without their strong hand on the tiller, both are so blinded by their own sense of superiority they can not see the harm they are inflicting on their charges. Both would view themselves as benevolent dictators, but because we see them only through the eyes and whispers of the characters we are reminded that a benevolent dictator is a dictator still.

As the novel progresses both Reverend Price and Belgium feel their grip on their charges to be slipping. Nathan's increasingly hostile behavior coincides with the horrific tales of Congolese workers in Belgian diamond mines having their hands cut off if they did not work fast enough. Orleanna Price becomes much more vocal in protecting her daughters from her husbands increasingly abusive outbursts while at the same time Communist-inspired Simbas begin drilled and patrolling in the area of the Kilanga village. The extra judicial killings and a coup d'etat that follows corresponds with Reverend Price butting heads with the village chief. It is no coincidence that Ruth May's deliberately orchestrated death occurs on the same day as the murder of Patrice Lumumba, the first president of independent Congo.

Through all this trauma and heartbreak we hear nary a word directly from the mouths of Reverend Price nor from the country of Belgium. Even the passage Leah recounts of attending the Independence Day celebrations in Leopoldville are sparse - Patrice Lumumba's speech is quoted while King Badouin is reduced to a man sweating through his royal regalia under the scorching African sun. They are shown only through their egotism and their ruthless actions. We as readers are not allowed to develop emotional connections towards the two, we can only see them judged by those around them, such as when Orleanna judges them with her own fire and brimstone sermon:

“But his kind will always lose in the end. I know this, and now I know why. Whether it's wife or nation they occupy, their mistake is the same: they stand still, and their stake moves underneath them.... Chains rattle, rivers roll, animals startle and bolt, forests inspire and expand, babies stretch open-mouthed from the womb, new seedlings arch their necks and creep forward into the light. Even a language won't stand still. A territory is only possessed for a moment in time. They stake everything on that moment, posing for photographs while planting the flag, casting themselves in bronze.... Even before the flagpole begins to peel and splinter, the ground underneath arches and slides forward into its own new destiny. It may bear the marks of boots on its back, but those marks become the possessions of the land.”

In the beginning of the novel both Nathan Price and the nation of Belgium view themselves as infallible. Between the two they have dominion over every character in the novel, and both view this as more of a burden than a privilege. It is only after both are found to be unequipped to rule in the chaotic, beautiful, wild Congo that the characters of the Congo and of the Price women are allowed to walk away and to evolve into independent beings putting one foot in front of the other and tread the road of their own destinies.

robyn-bird96 | Student

Bängala is poisonwood.   Bangala is God.  Nathan would shout, "Tata Jesus is Bängala" (533). The Poisonwood Bible, came from a man "who believed that he could tell nothing but the truth" (533).  You can't go into another culture and expect them to bend to your beliefs because you believe you are superior, because you are more advanced.  You go into a different culture and mold yourself to what has worked for them for hundreds, even thousands, of years, and you listen.

Kingsolver is absolutely brilliant.  The book is titled The Poisonwood Bible, and it consists of different books named from the actual Bible.  The Bible records the strife of man and his relationship to God, and the Prices have survived the jungle with and without God.  This is the Poisonwood Bible that Nathan rewrote.

Whenever there is a mistake in the Bible, they title that Bible by its mistake. Nathan made the mistake of being stubborn and arrogant towards a culture that he did not understand.  The women are like the prophets, and Nathan was their god.  In the actual Bible, God does not write it himself, so in the metaphor, Nathan likewise has no voice.