Role Of Challenges And Experiences In The Poisonwood Bible

The assumption of growing your human capacity is along the lines that the life lessons that you learn and the challenges that you face will help you advance over time as an individual, but like many things with a large amount of stress and pressure we can crack under all of it. In Barbara Kingsolver’s book Poisonwood Bible these growing capacites are pushed beyond the limits of breaking when tragedy seems to have taken a liking to the Price family, Nathan Price, a religious zealot, who has decided to move his wife and four daughters to a small village in the Congo to bring the word of God to the people there, he is driven by what he believes that the word of God is not by what the church teaches. Nathan, his wife Orleanna and four daughters, Rachel, Ruth May, Leah and Adah, begin to face daily challenges that quickly lead to a string of tragedies that allow for stress and pressure to be put on the family.

The first challenge and eye opening experience the family begins to face is while Nathan’s garden is lush and flourishing he cannot get his plants to bear fruit no matter how hard he tries, he eventually learns that his North American plants cannot sprout in the conditions that are given to him in the congo. Kingsolver foreshadows an eventual rejection from the native people of his North American ways and religion by addressing how some things cannot grow in these climates no matter how hard you try or push, things may take root but will never become fully developed, the first of the people to reject Nathan, and his ideals is their helper from the village, Mama Tataba. He had been pushing for the people of Kilanga to be baptized in the river to begin their ascension into the arms of God, after one too many times of him bringing it up Mama Tataba has had enough, before she walks out she explains to him that a little girl had been eaten by a crocodile in that river and no one would ever step foot into it again. Nathan has taken Mama Tatabas rejection to heart as he has let many things in his life, including his guilt, drive him towards this situation him and his family are now in, he feels as if he does not deserve anything and neither do his wife or children as he keeps punishing himself and taking jobs with no pay to just try and get back in God’s grace. Nathan takes another large blow to his inflated ego when Anatole informs him that the leader of the tribe says he views the West Baptist ways as a mind numbing religion and poor choice for his community as a whole, which then sends Nathan into a raging fit directed towards Anatole, who is one of the only english speakers, besides the Price’s, in the village. Nathan’s hurt pride and eruption towards Anatole shows how little he cares about actually spreading the religion and how the main goal is to spread his interpreted version of religion, he becomes an angry and dangerous man which scares his family. “Our Father has a bone to pick with this world, and oh, he picks it like a sore.” Adah, although not saying much experiences almost everything around her in a very analytical sense and views everything from a very wry and cynical detachment, she has been mute since in sunday school she had been sent to the corner for an honest question, and it begins to slowly not matter to anyone around her that she does not speak. Adah is scared of her father at this point in this time, he is motivated by past guilt and she sees it as a steep cliff into madness for him. If Nathan had listened to Anatole more and gotten to understand the community he was living in, a proposition for the church could have been made and presented to the Chief. Nathan becomes the only one who ultimately does not undergo any major changes or growth to his human capacity as he stays stubborn and close minded, he essentially stays himself up until his death.

The avalanche of tragedies keep rolling for the Price’s when the Congo begins to undergo a reform and it is no longer safe for them to keep living there, it really never was to begin with, but Nathan insists that they stay and finish their initial goal of bringing the church to the Congo.

When Orleanna hears that they are not leaving during these hazardous times she becomes bedridden leaving her girls to fend for themselves giving up her sole position as mother. Orleanna has felt the pressure and the snap of her human capacity has eventually caused her to break until she can do nothing but lay down. When Orleanna composes herself, she feels empowered as her human capacity has grown enough to finally stand up to her husband and tell him that it is no longer safe for her or their children in the congo. Orleanna has always blamed herself in the past ever since she had married Nathan at seventeen, their marriage was the way it is because she was not a perfect or believing free will baptist like her husband and she assumes that Nathan will never forgive her for her disbelief, but at this time she no longer passively accepts or goes along with everything her husband tells her to do, she stands up for herself and the girls, they need to leave before things get worse. Orleanna, by not only being the innocent, but she unites the other four female narratives of this book as she provides the history of the tribe and establishes a type of the context that the girls could not communicate, as all of these attitudes cover a wide spectrum. Each daughter offered a different perspective or offered up something that the other had missed or left out. Before all of this they were unified by the sole shared faith that their culture was far superior and advanced than the village Kilang in the Congo and that they would all immediately be accepted and treated as true rulers of the land. No male voice and no african voices are narratives in the story as they become secondary characters in a women’s story about a family growing in the Congo.

During the Price’s stay in the Congo there is an invasion of flesh eating ants that attacks the village and in the chaos of the family running away Adah trips and starts to get attacked by the ants. During this she cries out to her mother while she is right in front of her holding onto Ruth May, Orleanna now has to decide between which daughter to save. “I spoke out loud, the only time: help me”. This is the first time since she was a young girl that Adah has spoken to anyone at all, her voice quiet but the moment is powerful as she calls out to her mom to be saved in her small, raspy voice, Kingsolver includes this cry in her change of font leaving it small and unnoticeable. This is an important and sacred moment between the two because Orleanna is being spoken too by her mute daughter and she must make a choice between her daughters, Ruth May or Adah, on who to ultimately save. This haunts Orleanna forever as she had to make a choice that had no right outcome no matter what she did or said. Orleanna called to Adah to keep up and kept moving, as Adah tried to keep up and drag herself along she was being trampled by almost everyone in the village and it looked like the end for her, until Anatole grabs her and brings her to the safety of the boat. While on the boat Orleanna tries to reach out the her daughter but Adah turns away from her, physically showing her how much her choice had made her.

The most unfavorable tragedy hits when a friend from the village, Nelson, vouches for Leah to participate in the village hunt during the famine, although breaking previous tradition of men only she goes along. Over time in the Congo Leah had began to fall for Nelson and resent her father, with his old fashioned ways and racist and sexist sermons that he preached, at the beginning of their journey to the Congo Leah shared her father’s ardent religious faith and was enthusiastic about the move to spread the word of God. As time goes on Leah begins to rebel against her previous beliefs of the West Baptist Church, and her father, and begins to open her mind to the world around her, while doing this she begins to realize that there is more than the close mindedness of her father. Leah slowly starts to resent her father for everything he had done to her, her sisters and her mother, she was her own woman and this hunt would help her solidify her role in the village as more than the preachers daughter. Chief Ndu and the religious leader Tata Kuvundu of the village declare how this will ruin the natural order of the earth and nature will start to rebel if a woman goes on the hunt with men, but Leah goes anyway. During the next couple of nights after the hunt poisonous snakes are found in the morning outside of Nelson’s and Anatole’s tents, after a snake had been found by Nelson’s tent he begged the girls to let him stay there the night for his safety, after Nathan refuses his entry the girls go out to comfort him. When the daughters remember a reading from their fathers sermon they set up an ash ring to catch whoever is doing this when they wake up in the morning they discover that it was the towns religious leader, Tata Kuvundu, who had been placing these snakes around the tents as omens from nature, as he had left his six toed print in the ash along with a green mamba snake. While the daughters were outside Nelson had poked the green mamba with a stick to try and send it away, the snake then struck out to strike, it bite Ruth May and slithered away back into nature, then Ruth May died before all of their eyes. Ruth May had felt dead inside for sometime before she had actually passed, not only from the absolutely merciless move that her father had put them through, which she had previously been frightened but excited for, but because of her previous illness of malaria which had taken so much out of her she was never the same as before. “Now we have to go in and tell Mother. That Ruth May is, oh, sweet Jesus. Ruth May is gone. We had to tell our parents, and they were still in bed, asleep”. When Ruth dies everyone is changed by it, her death becomes necessary as Orleanna finally decides it is time to leave the congo with or without Nathan. Rachel is the most self aware after Ruth’s death and she recognizes what has happened and how she has changed from it and she knows that this moment is going to change her forever and she does not want that. Ruth’s death puts pressure on Rachel’s human capacity as she knows she is the one who will now have to go tell her parents, as the oldest it is her responsibility. This grows Rachel’s human capacity for struggle and endurance and she witnessed her own sister pass, and now having to relive the experience to her parents. Earlier in the book Rachel is a normal teenager in denial about being in the congo and resenting her separation from a regular teenage experience, except in this moment she grows and steps up to be the person she needs to be. Ruth May’s death also ultimately frees them from the Congo as it finally gives Orleanna that last push in order for her to leave behind Nathan and to escape with her beloved children.

As years passed the women have gone on to lead their own individual and chosen lives, they hear the news that their father has passed away. Nathan had tried to baptize a child in the river that was previously known as where a little girl had lost her life to a crocodile. When he went to baptize the child the same thing happened, the child was pulled under and eaten, this caused an uproar in the village and they burned down his tower with him in it. Although Nathan is Ruth May’s ultimate polar opposite and they both had to die to transform into something else. Nathan was the evil that needed to die in order for life to return to piece and Ruth May’s death was the death that saved them all by setting them free from Nathan, he was the evil and she was the good. Ruth May’s death gave the women the pressure and the stress that was needed to help them experience growth within their own human capacity.

16 August 2021
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