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A Running List of PB Essay Questions (from various PB sources, websites, and listserve enthusiasts) 1.

Barbara Kingsolver in an interview sums up the theme of the novel in a question: "What have we done as a nation, as a culture, to Africa? There is a cultural arrogance, a spiritual, agricultural and political invasion. How do we make our peace with that?" She goes on to explain, "That's why there are five narrators. Each one represents a different approach." 2. What are the implications of the novel's title phrase, the poisonwood bible, particularly in connection with the main characters' lives and the novel's main themes? How important are the circumstances in which the phrase comes into being? 4. How does Kingsolver differentiate among the Price sisters, particularly in terms of their voices? What does each sister reveal about herself and the other three, their relationships, their mother and father, and their lives in Africa? What is the effect of our learning about events and people through the sisters' eyes? 5. What is the significance of the Kikongo word nommo and its attendant concepts of being and naming? Are there Christian parallels to the constellation of meanings and beliefs attached to nommo? How do the Price daughters' Christian names and their acquired Kikongo names reflect their personalities and behavior? 6. The sisters refer repeatedly to balance (and, by implication, imbalance). What kinds of balance--including historical, political, and social--emerge as important? Are individual characters associated with specific kinds of balance or imbalance? Do any of the sisters have a final say on the importance of balance? 7. What do we learn about cultural, social, religious, and other differences between Africa and America? To what degree do Orleanna and her daughters come to an understanding of those differences? Do you agree with what you take to be Kingsolver's message concerning such differences? 8. Why do you suppose that Reverend Nathan Price is not given a voice of his own? Do we learn from his wife and daughters enough information to formulate an adequate explanation for his beliefs and behavior? Does such an explanation matter? 9. How does Kingsolver present the double themes of captivity and freedom and of love and betrayal? What kinds of captivity and freedom does she explore? What kinds of love and betrayal? What are the causes and consequences of each kind of captivity, freedom, love, and betrayal?

10. At Bikoki Station, in 1965, Leah reflects, "I still know what justice is." Does she? What concept of justice does each member of the Price family and other characters (Anatole, for example) hold? Do you have a sense, by the novel's end, that any true justice has occurred? 11. In Book Six, Adah proclaims, "This is the story I believe in . . ." What is that story? Do Rachel and Leah also have stories in which they believe? How would you characterize the philosophies of life at which Adah, Leah, and Rachel arrive? What story do you believe in? 12. At the novel's end, the carved-animal woman in the African market is sure that "There has never been any village on the road past Bulungu," that "There is no such village" as Kilanga. What do you make of this? 13. Discuss the cultural and superstitious barriers that the Price family encountered as they tried to preach the gospel of Jesus to the Congonese? What, if anything, could they have done to be more prepared? How has preparation for the mission's field changed in recent decades? 14. The story is told from the perspective of the wife and four daughters, almost as if they were keeping private diaries. Which character did you most relate to, or whose story caused you to open up your heart the most? How do you think the story would have been different if the father would have been allowed a voice in the story? What might have been his side of things? Contrast the father (who was moved by guilt, not Christian love) in this story with the loving Jesus. 15. Discuss how the mother's version of the story was told as an extended apology and plea for understanding. Do you think that younger women might have a difficult time understanding why Orleanna went so passively along with her husband? 16. Do you think this novel placed in a realistic perspective what it would have been like to be a missionary family to a third world country in the late 1950's? What gives you this opinion? What effect did coming from a post-World War II era--a time of booming prosperity in the United States--have on this family? Might it in a way have sealed their doom? 17. There are a lot of references to things in this novel--to the things they carried, the things they left behind, the things they lose, and the things they bring back with them. And when they get there their stuff is useless--they think they have nothing. Meanwhile, their neighbors are looking at them as if they are the wealthiest people they have ever seen, and it is not until they lose Ruth May that they can finally make that connection. Discuss the way Americans might look at the Congonese as having

a great lack or absence of things, and how this attitude could be one of arrogance and blindness. 18. This book is about family and an entire nation, and finally it is a story of a mother who loses a child, but who gains a new perspective from her loss: "Once I'd moved our table outside with my baby laid out upon it, I could see no sense in anything but to bring out the rest...I needed truth and light, to remember my baby's laughter. This stuff cluttered my way..." As a mother, what did this most powerful scene say to you when you read it? And how did you view Orleanna in the end?