Study Guide

The Poisonwood Bible What's Up With the Ending?

By Barbara Kingsolver

What's Up With the Ending?

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.

Whoa.

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" (4.9.2).

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.