Study Guide

The Poisonwood Bible Politics

By Barbara Kingsolver


We all know that it's important to vote. (Yeah, we rock the vote. It goes great with our cognac boots and skinny jeans.) But you've got to know what you're voting for, and that's a challenge to the people of the Congo in The Poisonwood Bible. With so many tribes not having written languages, how do you get the word out? They come up with a clever symbol system for the votes, but still, this being democracy, about half the people are unsatisfied with the result. And if you've ever complained about an American politician stealing an election, at least they're doing it within their own country. In the Congo, Eisenhower used his influence to replace the Congolese leader with someone the States could control. Now that's dirty politics.

Questions About Politics

  1. How do U.S. politics surrounding the Congo and Nathan's method of preaching compare to one another?
  2. How would the history of the Congo had been different if the United States hadn't intervened?
  3. With so many different languages in the Congo, how did Patrice Lumumba not only get his message out, but convince people to vote for him?

Chew on This

The people voted for Patrice Lumumba because he was for the people. This was threatening to the United States and Belgium who wanted to use the Congolese as cheap labor, not treat them like human beings.

Both Nathan and Lumumba have similar speaking styles. The difference is that Lumumba understands the people, while Nathan only tries (and fails) to get people to understand him—without making any effort to understand their culture.