AP * English Literature and Composition Prose Analysis Kingsolver s The Poisonwood Bible

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1 AP * English Literature and Composition Prose Analysis Kingsolver s The Poisonwood Bible Student Packet AP* is a trademark of the College Entrance Examination Board. The College Entrance Examination Board was not involved in the production of this material. Copyright 2009 Laying the Foundation, Inc., Dallas, TX. All rights reserved. Visit:

2 Prose Analysis Barbara Kingsolver s The Poisonwood Bible Student Activity Peeling Back the Layers The Passage from Chapter 1 of The Poisonwood Bible First, picture the forest. I want you to be its conscience, the eyes in the trees. The trees are columns of slick, brindled bark like muscular animals overgrown beyond all reason. Every space is filled with life: delicate, poisonous frogs war-painted like skeletons, clutched in copulation, secreting their precious eggs onto dripping leaves. Vines strangling their own kin in the everlasting wrestle for sunlight. The breathing of monkeys. A glide of snake belly on branch. A single-file army of ants biting a mammoth tree into uniform grains and hauling it down to the dark for their ravenous queen. And, in reply, a choir of seedlings arching their necks out of rotted tree stumps, sucking life out of death. This forest eats itself and lives forever. Away down below now, single file on the path, comes a woman with four girls in tow, all of them in shirtwaist dresses. Seen from above this way they are pale, doomed blossoms, bound to appeal to your sympathies. Be careful. Later on you ll have to decide what sympathy they deserve. The mother especially watch how she leads them on, pale-eyed, deliberate. Her dark hair is tied in a ragged lace handkerchief, and her curved jawbone is lit with large, falsepearl earrings, as if these headlamps from another world might show the way. The daughters march behind her, four girls compressed in bodies as tight as bowstrings, each one tensed to fire off a woman s heart on a different path to glory or damnation. Even now they resist affinity like cats in a bag: two blondes the one short and fierce, the other tall and imperious flanked by matched brunettes like bookends, the forward twin leading hungrily while the rear one sweeps the ground in a rhythmic limp. But gamely enough they climb together over logs of rank decay that have fallen across the path. The mother waves a graceful hand in front of her as she leads the way, parting curtain after curtain of spiders webs. She appears to be conducting a symphony. Behind them the curtain closes. The spiders return to their killing ways. Kingsolver, Barbara. The Poisonwood Bible. New York: Harper Perennial, 1998, pp. 5-6 AP* is a trademark of the College Entrance Examination Board. The College Entrance Examination Board was not involved in the production of this material. Copyright 2009 Laying the Foundation, Inc., Dallas, TX. All rights reserved. Visit: 1

3 Activity 1: Survey the Text In the first column, summarize the passage. In the second column, write questions about the passage that would help you to clarify its meaning. Summarize the Passage For example: In this passage, the author describes a forest where all of the living things are crowded together (continue) Who, What, Where, When, Which Questions For example: 1. Where are these people, anyway? 2. What is the narrator s point of view? Summarize the Style How Questions For example 1. How does the author use words to make the forest seem like a stage? Summarize the Passage Evaluation Question Which image is most striking? Why? Copyright 2009 Laying the Foundation, Inc., Dallas, TX. All rights reserved. Visit: 2

4 Do something with it: Use the questions generated from Activity 1 as the basis for a classroom discussion (whole-group or small-group with jigsaw component) Activity 2: Examine the Diction In the first column is a list words from the text that seem emotionally potent. In the second column, write commentary about some or all of the words you chose, analyzing their effect on a reader. Describe the feelings and associations that seem connected to the words. Notice the Diction 1) delicate (line 3) 2) poisonous (line 3) Write Commentary on the Diction For example: The author uses the two words 1) delicate and 2) poisonous to describe the same thing the frogs. This oxymoron could describe something that looks fragile and beautiful but is really dangerous and deadly underneath. 3) war-painted(line 3) 4) skeletons (line 3) 5) clutched (line 3) 6) precious (line 4) 7) strangling (line 4) 8) wrestle (line 5) 9) dark (line 7) 10) ravenous (line 7) 11) rotted (line 8) 12) sucking (line 8) Copyright 2009 Laying the Foundation, Inc., Dallas, TX. All rights reserved. Visit: 3

5 Do something with it: Use the selected words from the passage to write a description of something that is NOT a forest. In your paragraph, create a tone similar to the one in the passage from The Poisonwood Bible. Copyright 2009 Laying the Foundation, Inc., Dallas, TX. All rights reserved. Visit: 4

6 Activity 3: Analyze the Images In the first column, study the list of imagery with descriptions of sight, sound, taste, touch, or smell. In the second column, write commentary about some or all of the images you chose, analyzing their effect on the reader. Describe the feelings and associations that seem connected to the words. List of Images 1. a woman with four girls in tow, all of them in shirtwaist dresses (10-11) 2. Her dark hair is tied in a ragged lace handkerchief, and her curved jawbone is lit with large, false-pearl earrings, as if these headlamps from another world might show the way (13-15) Write commentary about the images 1. For example: sight image describes a mother and 4 children walking dutifully behind her in prim dresses, totally out of place in the dangerous forest. The reader knows the dander and fears for them The daughters march behind her, four girls compressed in bodies as tight as bowstrings (15-16) they resist affinity like cats in a bag: two blondes the one short and fierce, the other tall and imperious flanked by matched brunettes like bookends, the forward twin leading hungrily while the rear one sweeps the ground in a rhythmic limp. (17-20) The mother waves a graceful hand in front of her as she leads the way, parting curtain after curtain of spiders webs. She appears to be conducting a symphony. (21-23) Behind them the curtain closes. The spiders return to their killing ways. (23) 6. Copyright 2009 Laying the Foundation, Inc., Dallas, TX. All rights reserved. Visit: 5

7 Do something with it: Write a paragraph explaining how the author creates a feeling of danger through the images she uses to describe the girls, their mother, and their entrance into the jungle. Activity 4: Explore Point of View Read the two quotations below. Then discuss the questions that follow with your classmates. First, picture the forest. I want you to be its conscience, the eyes in the trees. (line 1) Away down below now, single file on the path, comes a woman with four girls in tow, all of them in shirtwaist dresses. Seen from above this way they are pale, doomed blossoms, bound to appeal to your sympathies. Be careful. Later on you ll have to decide what sympathy they deserve. (lines 10-13) 1. From what perspective does the author want you, the reader, to view this scene? 2. How would the scene look different if the observer were on the ground? Copyright 2009 Laying the Foundation, Inc., Dallas, TX. All rights reserved. Visit: 6

8 3. What does the narrator ask the reader to do? 4. What persona is the reader asked to assume? 5. What task will the reader be given later on in the book? 6. The narrator speaks directly to you, the reader. How do you picture this narrator? What is his or her perspective? 7. How would the passage be different if it were told from the point of view of one of the female characters who are marching into the forest? 8. What attitude does the narrator want the reader to take toward the girls and their mother? Does this attitude seem reasonable and appropriate to you? Copyright 2009 Laying the Foundation, Inc., Dallas, TX. All rights reserved. Visit: 7

9 Do something with it: Draw a picture of the scene as the passage asks you to view it. Copyright 2009 Laying the Foundation, Inc., Dallas, TX. All rights reserved. Visit: 8

10 Activity 5: Consider the Syntax Note carefully the structure of the sentences in the passage below. Write a description of each sentence structure and the effect on the lines below the sentences Begin your observations with one of the types of sentences or phrases listed below. simple compound complex rhetorical fragment noun clause cumulative dependent clause gerund phrase participial phrase prepositional phrase 1. Every space is filled with life: delicate, poisonous frogs war-painted like skeletons, clutched in copulation, secreting their precious eggs onto dripping leaves. (lines 2-4) 2. Vines strangling their own kin in the everlasting wrestle for sunlight. (lines 4-5) 3. The breathing of monkeys. (line 5) 4. A glide of snake belly on branch. (line 5-6) 5. A single-file army of ants biting a mammoth tree into uniform grains and hauling it down to the dark for their ravenous queen. (lines 6-7) 6. And, in reply, a choir of seedlings arching their necks out of rotted tree stumps, sucking life out of death. (line 7-8) Copyright 2009 Laying the Foundation, Inc., Dallas, TX. All rights reserved. Visit: 9

11 7. This forest eats itself and lives forever. (lines 8-9) Do something with it: Write a paragraph explaining how the author s syntactical choices make the effect of the passage more dramatic. Copyright 2009 Laying the Foundation, Inc., Dallas, TX. All rights reserved. Visit: 10

12 Activity 6: Evaluate the Figurative Language and Literary Devices Read the quotations below carefully. Match them with the literary devices and types of figurative language listed. Underneath the quotations explain the use of the device (but don t define it) and then write commentary showing how these devices deepen the reader s understanding. repetition analogy personification metaphor simile synecdoche antithesis assonance alliteration 1. The trees are columns of slick, brindled bark like muscular animals overgrown beyond all reason. (lines 1-2) For example: Devices: metaphor, simile, alliteration Commentary: The trees are compared metaphorically to columns, and the bark of the trees is compared in a simile to muscular animals. The columns suggest a majestic and enduring structure. This image implies that the forests are just as monumental as the works of humans. The simile comparing the trees to overgrown muscular animals gives a frightening sense of incipient movement and menace to the trees, thus intensifying the threatening aspect of the scene. The alliteration of the brindled, bark, and beyond give a harsh, almost bombastic sound to reinforce the idea of the bark s animal-like strength. 2. Vines strangling their own kin in the everlasting wrestle for sunlight. (lines 4-5) Device(s): Commentary: 3. a choir of seedlings arching their necks out of rotted tree stumps (lines 7-8) 4. they are pale, doomed blossoms, bound to appeal to your sympathies (lines 11-12) ` Copyright 2009 Laying the Foundation, Inc., Dallas, TX. All rights reserved. Visit: 11

13 5. each one tensed to fire off a woman s heart on a different path to glory or damnation. (lines 16-17) 6. while the rear one sweeps the ground in a rhythmic limp (line 19-20) 7. the one short and fierce, the other tall and imperious (line 18) 8. Her dark hair is tied in a ragged lace handkerchief, and her curved jawbone is lit with large, false-pearl earrings, as if these headlamps from another world might show the way. (lines 13-15) 9. parting curtain after curtain of spiders webs (line 22) Copyright 2009 Laying the Foundation, Inc., Dallas, TX. All rights reserved. Visit: 12

14 Do something with it: Choose one of the quotations and write a paragraph explaining how the author uses figurative language or a literary device to add to the reader s understanding of the scene. Copyright 2009 Laying the Foundation, Inc., Dallas, TX. All rights reserved. Visit: 13

15 Activity 7: Postulate a Theme Although you have only seen part of this novel, it may be possible for you to guess part of its theme. For each of the following word pairs, write a thematic statement that is implied by the passage. Add others if they occur to you. 1. nature and human beings 2. danger and ignorance 3. life and growth 4. observation and experience 5. women and their relationships 6. the part and the whole Copyright 2009 Laying the Foundation, Inc., Dallas, TX. All rights reserved. Visit: 14

16 Putting It All Together Lastly, consider the passage in light of the following prompt. Plan an introduction that you would use to write the essay that is assigned in the prompt. Read the following passage carefully. In a well-written essay, analyze how the author uses the resources of language to create a powerful impression in the mind of the reader. Do not merely summarize the passage. Copyright 2009 Laying the Foundation, Inc., Dallas, TX. All rights reserved. Visit: 15

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