Just like the first book in the Bible, the first book of The Poisonwood Bible is named Genesis. As well as the beginning, Genesis can also mean rebirth. When characters arrive in the Congo they realize the things they brought with them are changed by Africa and can no longer be as they once were. In this way, Genesis symbolizes the process of becoming their new selves. For instance, the first chapter in The Poisonwood Bible, narrated by Orleanna, strongly shows the guilt that the Congo had left her to live with after the death of Ruth May. Likewise, Eve, the first woman in Genesis, forced all of mankind to shoulder the guilt of eating the forbidden fruit. “I trod on Africa without a thought, straight from our family’s divinely inspired beginning to our terrible end,” (9). “There’s only one question worth asking now: How do we aim to live with it?” (9).
Revelation in The Poisonwood Bible is shortly followed by another title labeled “the things we learned.” Thus, Revelation signifies a sense of understanding. The Price girls begin by learning things about the Congo’s plants, animals, and language. In addition, the Prices learn a lot about themselves in relation to the Congolese. An example is when Leah befriends a Congolese boy named Pascal. The more she plays with him and learns about the people of Kilanga, the more she realizes she can never fully assimilate into that culture because of her whiteness. Another definition for Revelation is the apocalypse. In the biblical sense, the apocalypse brings chaos and death before the world can become a better place. In The Poisonwood Bible, Patrice Lumumba just became prime minister, initiating the Congo’s independence from Belgium. Likewise the bird Methuselah dies after he is finally freed, foreshadowing the fate of the Congo and its fragile Independence. Just like in the biblical revelation, there will be death and violence before those who are good will gain freedom. “The children would scream and bolt in terror when we came out, as if we were poisonous,” (104). “At last it is Independence Day, for Methuselah and the Congo” (185).
The Book of Judges is the hardest title to analyze as far as relation to the text goes. However the quote from the Bible at the beginning of this book in The Poisonwood Bible gives a hint as to why Kingsolver might have chosen this name. It says, “And ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars…” (187). This quote, in the biblical sense, shows that God does not want the Israelites to associate themselves with the Canaanites or practice their beliefs, the main theme of the Book of Judges. However, the Israelites continue to practice pagan beliefs and intermarry with the people of Canaan while the Judges come back time and time again to save them. This situation is akin to Nathan’s relationship with the Price woman, especially Leah who stops believing in Nathan and God and builds her new religion from Anatole. This period in the book is when the girls no longer believe in Nathan, and therefore God, just like the Israelites after they conquered Canaan. “There’s a great holy war going on in my father’s mind, in which we’re meant to duck and run and obey orders and fight for all the right things, but I can’t always make out the orders or even tell which side I’m on exactly” (244). “I felt the breath of God grow cold on my skin” (310).
Bel and the Serpent
Barbra Kingsolver made a few obvious connections to Bel and the Serpent in her book. The most clear reference is when Ruth May was killed by snake bite, illustrating a clear connection to the serpent. However, earlier on in the fourth book, Nathan tells the story of the Babylonians and how they worshiped the false idol Bel, believing him to be alive because he ate all the food they offered. Daniel foils this idea by sprinkling ashes on the floor to prove to the king that the priests were eating the offerings, not the statue of Bel. Inspired by this story, the Price girls sprinkle ashes on the floor of the chicken coop and catch Tata Kuvudundu’s footprints and proves he was the one who put the snake there, thus causing Ruth May’s death. “What we decided to do was to set a trap, like Daniel in the temple,” (359). “I could only stare at Ruth May’s bare left shoulder, where two red puncture wounds stood out like red beads on her flesh” (364).
The reason why Kingsolver chose to name this portion of the book Exodus is clear. It has a direct connection to the biblical book of the same name where Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, away from where they were enslaved and into the Promised Land. Orleanna can be compared to Moses is this case, as she is the one to led her daughters away from Nathan who enslaved them to his deranged beliefs. Except for Ruth May, the girls managed to escape and build their own lives away from Kilanga and Nathan. In the End, even Nathan Price achieved his own exodus through death. “I have only the haziest recollection of waving at my mother and sister in a rising cloud of diesel exhaust and mosquitoes as they began their slow, permanent exodus from the Congo” (399). “Carry us, marry us, ferry us, bury us: those are our four ways to exodus, for now” (414).
The Song of Three Children
The biblical Song of Three Children involves three young youths trapped in a fiery furnace where they sing a hymn of praise for God. In The Poisonwood Bible’s sixth book named The Song of Three Children, the three remaining Price girls give their last narration before the book ends. Each Price girl talks about their lives and reflects a bit on their experiences in the Congo. The girls have found their own ways to cope with the Congo and what happened to them. Rachel finds a new religion through herself and chooses to ignore problems around her. Adah’s song is in science, and Leah’s is her obsession with justice. Kingsolver probably gave this book this title to highlight each girl and their final thoughts on their experiences in the Congo. “If there’s ugly things going on out there, well, you put a good stout lock on your door and check it twice before you go to sleep” (516). “Believing fundamentally in the right of a plant or a virus to rule the earth” (531).
The Eyes in the Trees
When Ruth May became sick Nelson gave her a small box to hold her spirit in and told her to think of a safe place every day so her spirit will know where to go if she’s ever in danger. Ruth May takes this seriously and decides that her safe place will be in a tree where the dangerous mamba snakes live. She figures its safe because no one can ever find the snake if it’s there. The Eyes in the Trees is the last book of The Poisonwood Bible and is narrated by Ruth May. Even though she is dead, it’s assumed her spirit is the one talking from her safe place in the trees where she forgives Orleanna and tells her to move on. “That’s just exactly what I want to go and be, when I have to disappear. Your eyes will be little and round but you are so far up there you can look down and see the whole world, Mama and everybody” (304). “Mother, you can still hold on but forgive, forgive and give for as long as we both shall live I forgive you, Mother” (543).