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File:Poisonwood.jpg

The Poisonwood Bible is a 1998 bestselling novel by Barbara Kingsolver, telling the story of the Price family. Mother Orleanna, oldest sister Rachel, the twins Adah (who is a cripple and who rejects normal society) and Leah (tomboy and relatively religious), and the youngest, Ruth May, are taken by the head of the family, Nathan Price, a fierce evangelical Baptist, to be missionaries in the (Belgian) Congo. The story begins in 1959, and covers The Sixties.

After settling in somewhat, they discover that their mission will be a lot harder than they expected, and that the items they smuggled to the Congo are the wrong ones. That is before the revolution starts. Nathan Price refuses to leave when the rest of the missionary organizations pull out, determined to spread the gospel. But even in the little isolated village they are in, which is relatively untouched by the revolution (or anything else), circumstances prove too difficult for the female Prices...


Tropes used in The Poisonwood Bible include:
  • Aesop Amnesia / Ignored Epiphany: Rachel, all the time.
  • Animal Assassin: Done twice using green mambas. Neither reaches their intended targets, but the second one kills Ruth May.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Every section, except the last one, is named after a book of the Bible (or Apocrypha) and opens with a relevant quote from that book.
  • Because You Can Cope: Subverted when Orleanna tells Adah that she didn't save her rather than her stronger and more loving daughter Leah because Leah could take care of herself but because after Ruth May died, Adah was the youngest, and so Orleanna needed her most.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Rudimentary knowledge of French can help fill in the gaps of some of the villager's speeches. And if you're lucky enough to know Lingala, that's even better.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Rachel.
  • Break the Cutie:
    • Orleanna's backstory. Of course, the events of the book break her even further.
    • Happens to all four Price girls at least once, even if Rachel Snaps Back.
  • Break the Haughty:
    • Nathan's backstory; he was the only member of his division to survive the Bataan Death March, and it was the reason he was so steadfastly committed to spreading the gospel, even as the events of the book broke him further.
    • Rachel, too, though like her father the second time, she didn't learn anything from it.
  • Death by Irony: Nathan
  • Different As Night and Day: Leah and Adah as kids. Not so much as adults. This is even lampshaded by Rachel who calls the three of them night, day, and the Fourth of July.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?
  • Doorstopper: This book is nearly as big as the New Testament.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: At times.
  • Finagle's Law
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The end of Ruth May's last narration, where she says that if she were to die, she would want to turn into a green mamba, since then she wouldn't have to be worried about being bitten by one, and watch everybody from the trees. Later, Ruth May is killed by a green mamba, and the final chapter of the book, titled "The Eyes in the Trees," is narrated by Ruth May posthumously, and presumably reincarnated as a green mamba.
    • As pointed out by Leah later in the book, the Price daughters' hope chests foreshadow their eventual marital statuses. Rachel cranks out numerous smaller projects. This symbolizes her multiple failed marriages. Leah works steadily on one big project, which symbolizes her steady commitment to Anatole in the face of numerous troubles. Adah disdains and makes fun of the whole thing, symbolizing her cynical view of marriage and decision to never marry. Ruth May is considered too young and exempt, just as she would be exempt from marriage because of her early death.
    • Also, during Orleanna's very first narration (which takes place in the future) she mentions being the mother of children living and dead. You don't think much of it until Ruth May dies.
  • Fish Out of Water: The premise of the story.
  • Four-Girl Ensemble: Rachel, the pretty Rich Bitch; Leah, the wise, intelligent, strong-willed one; Adah, the brainy, cynical Deadpan Snarker; and Ruth May, the sweet, naive baby of the family.
  • Four Is Death: Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May are the four Price sisters. Guess who dies?
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: The Price women minus Ruth May - Rachel is sanguine, Leah is choleric, Adah is melancholic and Orleanna is phlegmatic. Ruth May herself starts out sanguine but turns phlegmatic after her illness, which pushes Orleanna closer to supine.
  • The Fundamentalist: Nathan Price. Also, Tata Kuvudundu.
  • Genki Girl: Ruth May has shades of this, at least at first.
  • Going Native: Subverted with Nathan. Averted with Rachel. Alternately played straight and deconstructed with Leah.
  • The Hecate Sisters: The three older and surviving Price sisters - Rachel is the maiden, Leah is the mother and Adah is the crone.
  • Hope Spot
  • It Got Worse
  • Jerkass: Nathan. Eeben Axelroot.
    • Though it makes sense in Nathan's case why he is only revealed as a Jerkass in Africa. In Georgia, they never would have been in the extreme circumstances that would have revealed Nathan's behavior as particularly unreasonable. Before, his dedication to spreading the gospel would have meant just holding a lot of potlucks and revival meetings. It's different when that same dedication means putting his wife and children - who didn't have a choice in the matter - in danger, by staying in the Congo after it has become unsafe.
  • Know Your Vines: An American missionary in Congo ends up with tree sap on his arm and forehead, but pays it no heed. A local tells him "That tree, it bites", a warning he can't make sense of. The next day, he wakes up with a severe skin irritation where the sap was.
  • La Résistance: Anatole becomes a member of the resistance against Mobutu's rule. This being Africa, the trope get played with: Leah notes how the same attitudes often cause her, as a White person, to be assumed to be colonialist, despite the fact that she is married to Anatole and has mostly Gone Native. There are also mentions of how the more violent wing of La Résistance sometimes kills people who don't deserve to be killed, such as Pascal.
  • Little Miss Snarker: Adah.
  • Malaproper: Rachel.
  • Mighty Whitey: What Nathan imagines himself to be, though he is actually a subversion; he really fails at the African way of life, and never quite gets his message across to the people of Kilanga.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: The constant deaths of village children to disease is only ever mentioned in passing. The death of Ruth May is a major turning point in the book. When the Prices suddenly see the villagers' routine death rituals applied to one of their own, it hits them that they've been surrounded by tragedy the whole time and just haven't seen it because it wasn't happening to them. Barbara Kingsolver has stated in interviews that she intended this realization to be a lesson to her readers about this trope as well as Missing White Woman Syndrome.
  • The Missionary: Nathan Price.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Nathan, after Ruth May dies unbaptized due to his desire for a dramatic conversion of the village.
  • My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels:
    • The local language Lingala, is tonal and has multiple meanings for most words. While the girls quickly catch on, Nathan is too arrogant to realize his ignorance and spends week after week proudly declaring that Jesus is a poisonwood tree.
    • Similarly, Nathan's continued botching of the language makes it ambiguous whether they pray to God, "the most loving Father", the "Father of Fishbait" or "Father of small potatoes". He also manages to make the Christian Communion sound like drinking actual blood and eating actual flesh - an understandable mistake, but also an ironic twist on the cannibal stereotype.
  • Our Nudity Is Different: Played for Deliberate Values Dissonance. Kilanga women hide their legs under long skirts and think nothing of going topless. Nathan is shocked by their indecency; the Kilanga are similarly shocked by Mrs. Price wearing pants.
  • Precision F-Strike
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: With the exception of Anatole.
  • Rich Bitch: Rachel, who in comparison to the more humble lifestyles of their neighbors, starts out as this in the village, and becomes one again after leaving the Congo.
  • Rule of Symbolism
  • Rummage Sale Reject: The villagers, in the eyes of the Price children. At first, that is.
  • Shown Their Work: Barbara Kingsolver revealed in an interview that she sat for hours watching a green mamba in the reptile house of the Cincinnati Zoo just to see what color its mouth was.
  • Survivor Guilt:
    • Nathan's Freudian Excuse.
    • Leah has a lot of this. She has a variation of it toward Adah, worried that some action of hers in the womb caused Adah's disability. She later has it toward Ruth May, after she dies as part of Leah's scheme to catch the witch doctor.
    • It pretty much defines Orleanna's life after Ruth May dies.
  • Throwing Off the Disability: Adah, when she finds out that she was misdiagnosed and doesn't have hemiplegia after all; her "slant" and difficulty talking were habits learned in childhood rather than results of a medical condition. Played with, though, since it still doesn't happen easily or flippantly. Also played with in that Adah ends up preferring how she was with the disability.
  • Title Drop: At the end of Adah's final narration.
  • The Voiceless: Adah prefers to write notes rather than speak.
  • What Do You Mean Its Not Symbolic: Nathan's American 'Garden Of Eden' which doesn't bear fruit, his death on a burning colonial tower, etc.
  • White-Haired Pretty Girl: Rachel, though personality-wise she tends to be closer to the trope's Spear Counterpart.
  • World War II: Nathan lived through one of the more horrifying chapters of the Pacific theater, the Bataan Death March. It ends up as his Freudian Excuse throughout the novel.
  • Write What You Know: Kingsolver lived in the Congo as a child. However, in the foreword she makes it very clear that her family was nothing like the Prices.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: A lot of the tension between Rachel and Leah later in the book.
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