Snakes and Ladders
The final section of The Poisonwood Bible, "Book
Seven: The Eyes in the Trees," is the only section without a header
telling us who is narrating it. But we're no dummies, and we figure out
pretty quickly that it can only be one person: Ruth May… who died back
in Book Four.
Here's what we're thinking: it all has to do with the Congolese beliefs of muntu and the nkisi given to Ruth May by Nelson. Quick recap on muntu if
you skipped the Symbols section: as Nelson tells the girls, "There is
no special difference between living people, dead people, children not
yet born, and gods—these are all muntu" (3.2.3). Just because
Ruth May is dead doesn't mean she can't still communicate with us in
some way or that she's ceased to exist.
But why is she up in a tree? When Nelson gives her the nkisi, he tells her to think of a safe place to disappear to. She decides to be a green mamba
in a tree, since then "You don't have to be afraid of them anymore
because you are one" (3.20.6). So, when the snake bites Ruth May, this
is exactly where she goes. And Leah sees it happen: "I can't say that
Ruth May was even there with us, in that instant. Just for the moment it
was as if she'd disappeared, and her voice was thrown into the trees"
From Ruth May's perspective, "you can look down and see
the whole world, Mama and everybody" (3.20.6). In other words, we've
finally got our omniscient narrator.
In the final sections of the book, Ruth May can see the whole world,
past, present, and future, and her family. She sees how their actions
have shaped the world, and how they're coping with it. Like all of us,
the Price family inherits the consequences of their parents'
decisions—and Ruth May urges them, and us, to "Move on. Walk forward
into the light" (7.1.29).
We just hope this light leads to a better world, and not a creepy scary one like in Poltergeist.