The Poisonwood Bible

Orleanna Price is the only character in the novel that had to carry the burden of guilt through her life. She was a caring and loving mother of 4 children. Her children had different personalities, but they were all loved the same. Ever since the beginning she knew something horrible was about to happen. “She [knew it was] coming. She could loose everything: herself, or worse, her children. Worst of all you, her only secret. Her favourite.” (6) She foreshadows that something horrible is forthcoming to her most loved child in Congo. Her only reason to go was not to disobey her husband’s decision. She cares so much about her family that she would give up her life for any of her child. Although she loves her children equally, there is the one “favourite” child that she would be devastated loosing. Ultimately we find out that Ruth May is her favourite child. She gets bitten by a green mamba and is killed instantly. This is the main guilt Orleanna has to live with throughout the novel.

Orleanna starts off as a mother who would listen to everything her husband says. Even if she knows he is not doing the best for their family, she still agrees with his decision. However, as danger starts to surround the Prices, she starts to take some manners into her consideration. She becomes more reluctant to what Nathan says. She “is not the first women on earth to see her daughters possessed. For time and eternity there have been fathers like [Nathan] who simply can see no way to have a daughter but to own them like plots of land. To work them, plow them under, rain down a dreadful poison upon them” (231). Orleanna starts to reveal her feelings as she starts to transform. She is furious with the way Nathan ignores her daughters and treats them as maids. He expects every command he orders to be done with no arguments. She feels like hitting him “but she can’t throw stones. A stone would fly straight through him and strike the child made in his image, clipping out an eye or a tongue or an out-stretched hand. It’s no use” (231) Nathan has become overly possessed with his ambition to succeed that nothing can stop him. The “stone” represents a weapon which can not impenetrate Nathan’s beliefs. “It’s no use.” (231) The only way for her to escape is fleeing the country. However, she was very close to get her family out of Congo when she loses one of her child.

Orleanna has to live with the burden of loosing a child. She is devastated and frustrated at herself for not trying enough.. Orleanna spends endless hours thinking of Ruth May and imagining what would have happened if they only left Congo sooner. This also affects the other children “She drag [the kids] out of Africa if it was her last act as a mother.” (492) Orleanna has given up. Her worries over her kids are decreasing and she is slowly separating away from them. She questions herself and God about Ruth May’s death and why it could have not been someone else. The struggles she has amongst her children and God causes dilemma amongst the Prices. The only way for her to earn forgiveness is if Ruth May grants it to her.

Since Orleanna plays a major role in Ruth May’s death, they only for her to be forgiven is through Ruth May. In Ruth May’s last segment of the novel, she tells Orleanna to “walk forward into the light” (649). This indicated that Ruth May understands Orleanna’s efforts to get them out of Congo before she died. Ruth May is telling Orleanna to walk away from the past. She tells her to forget her husband and their life in Congo. She still has three children to nourish and if she remains in the state of guilt, it would be difficult to raise the others. “Light” represents purity and freedom, and when Orleanna “walks into the light” it will purify her soul and remove any burden of guilt and concern left. She was one of few characters in the novel who is forgiven by the end, and others, such as Nathan Price, are not as fortunate.

Nathan Price is not as lucky as Orleanna Price. As a man who loves and worships God, he does not bring the same intensity of passion to Kilanga. In the novel, stubborn, aggressive and assertive Nathan Price decides to send his family of four children and a wife to Congo for missionary purposes. Nathan “of course, was bringing the Word of God-which fortunately weighs nothing at all.” (22) Nathan’s real intention of his visit to Congo was not to spread the word of God. Instead, he went there for his own selfish reasons to save his soul. After fleeing in WWII, Nathan has not overcome the fear of God trying to curse him because of his coward ness. Since his return from the war, he “seemed more devout, and it was hard to name the ruin in that. He felt the eye of God [was always] upon him.” (239). Nathan lived in constant fear. He thinks the only way he could earn forgiveness is if he became a messenger of God; spreading His words and leading them towards the right path. However, it leads him to greater separation with his family and eventually causes him to be a hermit. The way he decides to live with his guilt is going to affect him and his relationship with others, including his family.

The Prices are a passionate and caring family. However, when it comes to Nathan Price they all “Feared him, loved him, [and] served him” (232) as if he were some sort of leader. They loved him because of his courage, persistence, and decision making. At the same time, he was also served and hated for the same reasons. His obsession of obtaining forgiveness becomes his worst enemy, overpowering his judgment and eventually causes chaos amongst him and his family members. This leads him into a deeper state of guiltiness which he never recovers.

After all his inaccurate decisions amongst his family, Nathan was disgusted with himself. He was no longer the committed young man who was obsessed with his mission. Overly convinced that God is constantly watching him, studying him and judging him, Nathan relies entirely on what the bible says. His failure in World War II is what drives him in this state of guilt. He believes “God is everything … God is a virus, believe that when you get a cold. God is an ant. Believe that, too” (632). Knowing that “God is everywhere” Nathan becomes scared that he can not hide away from his sins and that he is a coward. The whole purpose of this mission to Congo was to dispose the cowardice in him and rebuild his soul. It was a way for him to earn forgiveness. His mission to Congo was a great failure mostly for him and it concluded by him taking his own life. The natives, in the end, could not tolerate his behavior and planned to kill him. They chased him to a near by watch tower where Nathan killed himself.

The characters in the novel present us with different situations. Orleanna has to overcome the guilt of loosing a child while Nathan has to overcome the guilt of fleeing from WWII. The way that they survive though the guild and how they interact with others around them is what differentiates them. Orleanna tries to earn forgiveness by controlling herself and time, while Nathan uses force to earn it. These two separate ways inflict upon one another and causes the family into chaos. It eventually leads to Ruth May’s death.

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