The book is divided into four sections that tell the story of teenagers’ transition from dependent and gullible to independent and wise. The variation that exists in the book also allows the reader to compare characters using their reactions to experiences.
She is a fifteen-year-old girl who is shy and quiet. Asides from being the central character in ‘Purple Hibiscus‘, she narrates the story. Although very intelligent, she struggles with confidence. She is an observant, calm, and religious teenager. She is a people pleaser who struggles with expressing herself. Raised in an oppressive home, she is forced to believe that love is abusive.
When she goes to live with her aunty in Nsukka, however, she discovers her talent for running and her faith in Catholicism is strengthened. Living with Aunty Ifeoma makes her more courageous and open to people. She eventually falls in love with a young priest who lives in Nsukka. At the end of the novel, Kambili grows so much that she lives life on her terms. Unlike her brother, she hangs on to her Catholic faith. It is however more liberal than that of Papa.
Chukwuka Achike (Jaja)
He is Kambili’s elder brother and is seventeen years old. He is nicknamed “Jaja” by his family. He is also a quiet but excellent student. At the beginning of the novel, Jaja is a reserved and obedient adolescent. As the plot unfolds, however, he becomes a rebellious and confident child. He is unaware of the world around him until he lives with Aunty Ifeoma. He is amazed by Aunty Ifeoma’s free spirit. He discovers his passion for gardening in Nsukka and he is quick to feel more at home there. He learns that freedom should be earned at Aunty Ifeoma’s house.
Upon his return to Enugu, he challenges his father and abandons his Catholic faith. The connection he initially shares with Kambili is lost. He takes the blame for Mama’s crime and is imprisoned.
Eugene Achike (Papa)
He is Kambili and Jaja’s father. He is an extremely wealthy businessman and a devout Catholic. To outsiders, Papa is a philanthropist who financially supports strangers and friends. He is an important man in the Church and even in his village. He is also a publisher of the Standard newspaper where the corruption of the government is criticized.
In private, he is an abuser of his wife and children. He is an authoritarian who sets rigid rules for his immediate family and expects them to keep to those rules at all times. He subjects them to severe physical punishment when he feels they have sinned against God. He controls every aspect of the lives of his wife and children.
Papa cut ties with his father because he believes he is a pagan. He also believes in the supremacy of the European culture and denounces his African traditions. He is eventually poisoned by his wife.
Beatrice Achike (Mama)
She is Kambili and Jaja’s mother and Eugene’s wife. Unlike her husband, she is softer and more agreeable. She is also a victim of Papa’s abuse. She takes care of the home and never confronts Papa about his molestation. She covers it up and makes excuses for him.
In the book, she loses two pregnancies after Papa’s severe beatings. She is very passive and chooses to polish figurines as a coping mechanism when she has suffered a violent episode with Papa. She feels grateful that Papa has stayed married to her even when she couldn’t have more children. When Aunty Ifeoma advises her to save herself and her children from the situation at home, she dismisses it as “university talk” and returns to her husband. As Papa’s abuse worsens, she slowly poisons him. When he dies and Jaja is arrested, she sinks further into her shell and is constantly distracted.
She is Papa’s sister. She is a tall, outspoken and intelligent woman who is a lecturer at the Unversity of Nigeria. She is a widow who is free-spirited and is not afraid to criticize the government, the university, and her brother. She does not believe in the supremacy of the colonialists and treats everyone equally. Although she is also Catholic, she is more liberal-minded than her brother. She treats children with respect and encourages them to share their opinions on issues.
She is not as financially stable as Papa, yet she creates a healthy and happy atmosphere for her children. She also does not succumb to the demands Papa has made in other to assist her. She is liberal-minded and accepts Papa-Nnukwu’s traditional beliefs wholeheartedly. She is kind and advises Mama to leave Papa because of his ill-treatment. It is with Aunty Ifeoma that Kambili and Jaja find their voices. When she loses her job because she speaks against the ‘sole administrator’ of the university, she moves to America with her children.
She is Aunty Ifeoma’s first child. She is a fifteen-year-old artist. She is very outspoken about her beliefs in religion, art, and music. Initially, she dislikes Kambili and is envious of her. With time, however, they become close. She is affirmative and confidently refuses to take up a Biblical name.
He is Aunty Ifeoma’s second child. A fourteen-year-old who is mature beyond his years. He wears glasses and is excellent at mathematics. He is a deep thinker who will not hesitate to correct an opinion he thinks is wrong. He is also an inspiration to Jaja.
He is Papa and Aunty Ifeoma’s father. He lives in Abba and is a devout traditionalist. He is close to Aunty Ifeoma’s children and often tells them stories. Papa-Nnukwu thinks Christianity is the religion of lunatics because the worshippers believe the Son is equal to the Father. Papa-Nnukwu thinks Papa is disrespectful to him because of this fact. Kambili is at first scared to relate with him because he is a heathen. As time passes by later, Kambili starts to care for him. Papa-Nnukwu dies after a brief illness.
He is a young, handsome priest who is close to Aunty Ifeoma and her children. He is a Catholic who believes that African and European ways can be blended. He is youthful and well-versed in contemporary life. He plays football with local boys, jokes with Aunty Ifeoma’s children, and is very free with others. He falls in love with Kambili but cannot pursue his emotional interest because of his position in Church. He leaves to do missionary work in Germany but remains in touch with Kambili.
What type of character is Eugene Achike?
Eugene who is called Papa is presented as an autocratic despot who is also vulnerable. The most interesting part of this character is his polarity. To the public, he is a godly and kind man. At home, however, he is a strict disciplinarian who is oftentimes abusive.
How does Kambili view her father?
She is frightened of him. Her view of people and the world is based on his Catholic rules. She idolizes him too.
What is common between Kambili and Jaja?
They are quite close and communicate with their eyes. They are intelligent but extremely quiet. They have very little experience with Papa-Nnukwu, Aunty Ifeoma, and her children.