- Alternate Aesop Interpretation: The Book's intended message is a criticism of colonialism, but since it spends a lot more time talking about missionary work and the clashing of three different cultures (that of the Congoese, that of 50's America, and that of the Bible's various Authors), it can be taken to be more anti-religious fundamentalism than anti-colonialism. Nathan never once stops to think about how maybe he should tailor his message differently to better suit a different audience. He also subscribes to a literal translation of the Bible and his unyielding devotion to it is what ultimately wrecks his life, not colonialism in and of itself.
- Alternative Character Interpretation:
- Rachel has much in common with Scarlett O'Hara (multiple husbands, enjoys the finer things in life, selfish) and yet while Scarlett is framed as a hero who shows the power of the human spirit, the other characters (especially Leah) mostly see Rachel as a whiny, bigoted Rich Bitch. Then again, it could be that Rachel is an Alternate Character Interpretation of the Scarlett character or the "Sassy Southern Belle" archetype she spawned in an anti-racist, post-colonial context (as opposed to how Gone with the Wind glorifies the slaveholding South).
- Leah is sometimes criticized for her Incorruptible Pure Pureness or for being too pedantic — particularly as a mouthpiece for the author's views on colonialism. There's certainly a good character analysis to be had about how genuine she was to her beliefs of the day. In the beginning, she was passionate about her fathers cause but as an adult, it was Anatoles. Is she a strong female character who walks her own path or is she just a subservient Manchild who has raging unresolved Daddy Issues?
- Anvilicious: Yes colonialism was terrible but the message is delivered about as subtly as hammer hitting a nail in this book.
- Base-Breaking Character: Leah. While she's one of the more popular characters, some don't like her for the reasons described in Alternative Character Interpretation above.
- Ending Fatigue: The epilogue is actually a sizeable portion of the book. It details the lives of all of the main characters over the next thirty years. The book really ends almost 37 years later with Mobutu's death. A common criticism is that the book all in all is about 150-200 pages too long.
- Narm: Many of Leah's later entries are ripe with this; she's so wangsty about being white that she states she doesn't want anything white in the house, including potato starch and soap.
- Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: While the book is decried as anvilicious it's entire point is that colonialism in Africa is harmful. The book also has many sympathetic white characters, so it could be seen as a criticism of the system and not the people who benefit from it.
- Tear Jerker: The death of Ruth May, viewed fourfold in the eyes of her sisters and mother.
- What an Idiot!: Much of Nathan's behavior. Justified, as he's The Fundamentalist and refuses to learn anything about the people he's trying to educate.
- What Do You Mean, It's Not Symbolic?: Nathan's American 'Garden of Eden' which doesn't bear fruit, his death on a burning colonial tower, et cetera.
- The Woobie: EVERYONE. Particularly Orleanna.
- Jerkass Woobie:
- Nathan. Yes, he's a complete asshole with few redeeming moments, but this is due to PTSD having turned him into The Fundamentalist, and he eventually loses everything and ends up as a crazy hobo.
- Rachel. She's a Rich Bitch with few morals, but she was also left deeply disturbed by what happened in the jungle. She never adapted as well as Leah, never had the help that Adah and Ruth May did, and was mocked and belittled whenever she did try to change herself. She almost had to get married to the head of the village, her little sister dies, and she has to charm a much older man in order to get to safety; her family don't even seem to care what happens to her. It's also later revealed that she was left infertile by said older man.
- Jerkass Woobie:
YMMV / The Poisonwood Bible