Ideas for Group Discussions
In The Poisonwood Bible Kingsolver focuses on a missionary family's experiences in the Belgian Congo (now known as Zaire), just as that nation was claiming its independence from colonial rule, and how those experiences shaped their lives.
1. Compare the character of Anatole Ngemba with Loyd Peregrina in Animal Dreams and Estevan in The Bean Trees. How does each man function in the narrative of the novel in which they appear? Is Anatole an idealized character? Why or why not?
2. What does Methuselah, the parrot, symbolize? What is the significance, if any, of his biblical name?
3. Compare the missionary styles of Nathan Price, the Underdowns, and Brother Fowles. What are their attitudes toward the Africans? How does this affect their success as missionaries?
4. Discuss the difficulties Nathan has in growing a garden in Kilanga. How does this parallel the Prices' experiences in Africa?
5. Explain the cultural significance of the hunt in the lives of the people of Kilanga. What factors cause the hunt to be a failure, and how is this related to the larger themes of the book?
6. Where did Rachel learn to "stick out [her] elbows and hold [her]self up?" How does she apply this philosophy in her own life, both literally and figuratively?
7. Compare and contrast Leah and Adah. How do their characters relate to Jacob and Esau in the Bible? They are both considered "gifted"—what "gifts" do they display throughout the novel? How do the Congolese view twins?
8. Why is Orleanna more closely attached to Ruth May than to her other daughters? Describe the evolution of the relationship between Orleanna and Adah.
9. Describe the reaction of Anatole and his sons to America. Compare this with the Price family's initial reactions to Africa.