Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible examines the culture and tragedies faced by the Congo in 1959. Narrated by the wife and 4 daughters of Baptist preacher Nathan Price, Kingsolver vividly displays how the family is impacted and change as a result of moving to the Congo. Growing up in Atlanta Georgia, living in Africa is a whole new experience completely different from home. Rachel, Adah, Leah and the Congolese all explore the importance and impact of faith, and a religion based on their own private beliefs. Rachel the oldest of the Price daughters is motivated only by comfort and how she looks.
Rachel is a 15 year old whiny girl who “cares for naught but appearances,” and only thinks about what she misses, such as “the five-day deodorant pads, flush toilets, and machine-washed clothes” (16). Rachel cares only about material things and focuses on the negatives of missing these items rather than looking to start a new life in Africa. As a result of her materialism she has no time to spend with God or reading the Bible. Concentrating solely on outward appearance Rachel sees no point in embracing African ways of life.
When discussing Africa Rachel says, “The way I see Africa, you don’t have to like it but you sure have to admit it’s out there. You have your way of thinking and it has its, and never the train ye shall meet! ” (78). Rachel will not even make an attempt to try and submerge herself in the culture and heritage Africa has to offer her. This quote applies to her religious view too. Her life and the Bible will never go hand in hand because Rachel believes it is not necessary for her and instead would spend time on improving her beauty.
Rachel is the oldest but certainly not the wisest in regards to religion and faith. Ruth May and Leah together in their different ways serve as examples of how personal views of adapt their personal faith. Ruth May sees the Africans as ” Ham’s (cursed) children to be slaves for ever and ever” (20). While it is good that Ruth May knows about the Bible, it quite clear that she does not have the correct interpretation of the holy text. She does not understand the conveyed messages, but she is innocent because she is young.
Ruth May finds Christianity to be significant and so she tries to let it lead her life. Leah was her father’s loyal religious subject, until she saw his “blue eyes with their left-sided squint, weakened by the war, had a vacant look. His large reddish ears repelled (her)” (315). Initially her father was her religious leader who taught her everything she knew and influenced the way she thought and acted on a daily basis. However, when she understands that he does not represent any of the good of Christianity, she stops following him.
She has to stabilize her faith, and after she leaves her father, she decides to follow her own practice of Christianity. Ruth May is the beautiful image of innocence and purity, while Leah loses faith after seeing her father’s way is wrong. Adah connects her religious views based on her experiences, while the Congolese embrace religion based on tradition. Adah refers to her horrible condition in the womb, where her sister took all the nutrients as Adah, “She grew strong as I grew weak. Yes! Jesus loves me! ” (76).
She provides a sarcastic tone to the love and salvation provided by Jesus. She cannot connect to Christianity because she does not see her life as valuable or worth anything. The Congolese focus on a lot of spirituality and “Everything they do is with one eye to the spirit [… ] they’re praying” (249). The Congolese know God but in the way that their ancestors knew him and taught them. It is absolutely absurd to Nathan that the Congolese are happy with their religion and he does not understand why they do not view Christianity in the same light as he does.
The Congolese have their own form of Christianity from their ancestors and by personal conflicts Adah cannot find comfort in her faith. Rachel is the least religious out of the sisters and this is evident from her day to day actions concerning nothing but herself and physical appearance. She has no deep connection to Christianity and as a result her relationship with God never develops. Rachel with no intention of religion provides a contrast to Ruth May who even as a child recognizes the necessity to live according to the Bible.
Ruth May has a clean slate, starting fresh with her ideas about faith and religion. She is influenced by what Nathan teaches her but she is not mature enough to contemplate what she learns. Ruth May takes the scripture word for word, but Adah looks deeply into it grasping the meaning behind the words. Based on Adah’s personality traits she requires a more factual look at religion and when her teachers at Church do not provide good enough answers she starts to stray from that form of strict Christianity.
Adah is able to find comfort when she combines science and her faith. Adah is confident in the new faith she has found, just as the Congolese are contempt with the religious customs they have been practicing their entire lives. The Congolese live a certain lifestyle that they learned as children and will continue to pass along to further generations. Their form of life has spiritual aspects that are similar to Christianity and are their own personal beliefs.