- But my father needs permission only from the Saviour, who obviously is all in favor of subduing the untamed wilderness for a garden.—Leah, p. 36>Leah’s words summarize both her father’s attitude toward Africa—that it is a wilderness of sin and darkness that must be subdued by Western “civilization,” symbolized by his demonstration garden—and also her initial respect for and desperate admiration for him, attitudes which shift over the course of the novel.—Leah, pp. 114-15>Leah begins to realize how privileged her life is compared to that of the Kilangans. The words develop the novel’s thematic interest in learning to see clearly.
- “That one, brother, he bite.”—Mama Tataba, referring the poisonwood tree, p. 39>The “bite” of the poisonwood tree gives the lie to all of Nathan Price’s false self-assurance and confidence. He does not, however, learn its lessons; instead, he stubbornly pursues his own program of “evangelism,” forcing Africa to conform to him in vain. “Poisonwood” also “bites” Nathan by subverting his message, for the African word for it is also the word Nathan uses for “exalted” Jesus, but mispronouncing it so that all the Africans can hear is about a dangerous Jesus. While my husband’s intentions crystallized as rock salt, and while I preoccupied myself with private survival, the Congo breathed behind the curtain of forest, preparing to roll over us like a river… I was blinded from the constant looking back: Lot’s wife. I only ever saw the gathering clouds.—Orleanna, p. 98>Orleanna’s realization, in hindsight, that she was not prepared for nor did she even see the troubles awaiting her family. Her attention was not in her present, as it should have been. Her words also speak to the powerful historical context that shapes the Prices’ experience of Africa.I could see that this whole idea and business of Childhood was nothing guaranteed. It seemed to me, in fact, like something more or less invented by white people and stuck onto the front end of grown-up life like a frill on a dress.
Around here the people seem content to settle for whatever scars life whangs them with as a decoration.—Rachel, p. 127>In her usual dismissive way, Rachel mockingly but, ironically, truly points out to the fact that the Kilangans are known by their scars. Their scars show their straightforward acceptance of the realities of life, in contrast with the Prices’ Western unwillingness to “settle,” whether it be Nathan unwilling to accommodate his ministry to African social mores or the family bringing Betty Crocker cake mixes with them.
“I’ve seen how you can’t learn anything when you’re trying to look like the smartest person in the room.”
Methuselah, like me, is a cripple: the Wreck of Wild Africa… He has no muscle tone in his wings. They are atrophied, probably beyond hope of recovery.—Adah, referring to the parrot Methuselah, p. 137>Adah recognizes that the long-imprisoned parrot Methuselah cannot immediately fly freely once released, just as the Congo will not be able to immediately flourish upon Belgium’s granting of independence to it. Indeed, the Congo will only be caged again by America’s machinations through the dictator Mobutu.
“Is that how a father rules?”—Orleanna, p. 166>Orleanna is speaking of the King of Belgium, in his neglect of the Congo prior to its independence. Throughout the novel, however, the question continues to bear thematic relevance as it can also apply to Nathan’s “ruling” of his own family and Nathan’s God’s inscrutable and unjust ways in the world.
Bongo Bango Bingo. This is the story of the Congo they are telling now in America: a tale of cannibals. I know about this kind of story…—Adah, p. 174>Western falsehoods about cannibalism allow the West to alleviate a guilty conscience regarding its secret deeds in the Congo.
He meant personally to save more souls than had perished on the road from Bataan, I think, and all other paths ever walked by the blight of mankind.—Orleanna, speaking of Nathan, p. 198>Orleanna’s words underscore the rigid and shallow nature of Nathan’s works-oriented theology, a belief, born of his survivor’s gult, that motivates him in all he does in the post-War years, especially in his preaching ministry.We are the balance of our damage and our transgressions… Believe this: the mistakes are part of the story. I am born of a man who believed he could tell nothing but the truth, while he set down for all time the Poisonwood Bible.—Adah, p. 533>Adah’s final words stress the importance of accepting all of history, good as well as bad, in coming to terms with life. Only in so doing can balance in nature and in our own natures be accomplished.
- “Listen. Slide the weight from your shoulders and move forward. You are afraid you might forget, but you never will. You will forgive and remember.”
- “Everything you're sure is right can be wrong in another place. ”
The Poisonwood Bible: Top Ten Quotes