This fictional novel addresses hypocrisy, charity, tradition, and violence. The characterization and structure of the book also stand out.
‘Spoiler-Free’ Purple Hibiscus Summary
Purple Hibiscus is a book that talks about a teenage girl and her wealthy, Catholic family. Kambili Achike is not only the central character of this book, she narrates the story from her perspective. Raised by a submissive mother, and authoritative father, Kambili becomes socially awkward and unreasonably quiet. Although she is exceedingly brilliant, she struggles with an inferiority complex. She is strongly influenced by her family values and beliefs. Her father who is a well-known philanthropist abused every member of his immediate family and they accept it in resignation.
When Kambili’s Aunty Ifeoma succeeds in convincing Eugene Achike to allow Kambili and Jaja to spend some time with her in Nsukka, the quiet teenagers experience a new environment that they eventually fall in love with. Unlike the Achike family, Aunty Ifeoma is liberal and encourages openness. She creates a very healthy atmosphere for the children under her care and treats them with respect. Kambili and Jaja are first surprised by the level of freedom their cousins possess, then they start to embrace it.
The visit comes to an end and they return home to their parents in Enugu. It is at this point they exhibit the first form of rebellion against their father. Their act of rebellion is met with more violence and they are quickly removed from the territory of the abuser. The second visit to Nsukka seals their complete mental and emotional emancipation. The novel reaches a climax when Beatrice Achike gradually poisons her husband and he dies. Jaja, however, takes the fall.
Purple Hibiscus Plot Summary
Spoiler alert: important details of the novel are revealed below
Purple Hibiscus begins with the commotion caused in the Achike family when Jaja misses communion. The extremely religious father is so angry that he flings his heavy missal across the room and breaks figurines. Kambili recalls when and where Jaja learned how to revolt. Eugene Achike (Papa) is a prosperous factory owner who is also a newspaper publisher. His editor, Ade Coker is an adept critic of the government, much to Papa’s pleasure. The Achike family attends St. Agnes Church where Papa is a famous humanitarian.
Contrary to the beliefs of the public, however, Papa is a tyrant in private. He is a self-righteous perfectionist who misuses his authority. He controls the lives of members of his family and when they derail from his plans, he abuses them. His wife (Mama) is resigned to fate and takes solace in her miniature figurines collection.
When Mama becomes pregnant after a series of miscarriages, Jaja informs Kambili that they will protect this sibling from the abuse that they have been subjected to. On a pentecostal Sunday, Mama asks to be excused from a social meeting and although she finally attends the meeting, she is beaten by Papa when they return home. Again, she loses her pregnancy. Upon Mama’s return from the hospital, life continues in the Achike family. Kambili is mightily affected by Mama’s miscarriage and is unable to concentrate on her studies. She eventually takes second place at the end of the term and is chastised by Papa.
During Christmas time, the Achike family return to their village in Abba. Papa is famous and receives a lot of visitors who he blesses with gifts. Mama on the other hand feeds the visitors. Papa who is a popular helper of the church discriminates against his father’s religion and does not visit or provide for him. His children are however permitted to visit Papa-Nnukwu for fifteen minutes. When they return from their grandfather’s house and the driver tells him that they overstayed, Papa is offended. Soon after this, Papa’s sister, Aunty Ifeoma arrives at Abba with her children. Aunty Ifeoma takes her children, Kambili, Jaja, and Papa-Nnukwu to a traditional festival. Later, under the guise of a Catholic pilgrimage, Aunty Ifeoma requests to have Jaja and Kambili come to visit her for a week. Reluctantly, Papa agrees.
Aunty Ifeoma lectures at the University of Nsukka and lives with her children in a smaller house than Kambili is used to. They do not have the basic amenities that the Achikes are fortunate to have, yet they are happy. Kambili is astounded at how cheerful Aunty Ifeoma’s family is. There is so much laughter and her children are free to express themselves. The children are allowed to watch television and listen to irreligious songs. They are also involved in domestic chores. The sharp contrast between this household and hers surprises Kambili, but Jaja immediately adjusts to it. He becomes attached to the rare purple hibiscus and other flowers in Aunty Ifeoma’s garden.
Kambili is constantly taunted by Amaka, a cousin who is her age mate and after Aunty Ifeoma’s chastisement, she begins to speak up for herself. Also, she meets Father Amadi who is young, kind, and jovial. He is interested in Kambili and she is drawn to his boyish charm. Papa’s editor, Ade Coker is arrested again and Papa extends Jaja and Kambili’s visit to keep them safe.
Papa-Nnukwu is reported ill and Aunty Ifeoma brings him from Abba to Nsukka. Kambili and Jaja hear stories as they get familiar with him. When news reaches Papa about Papa-Nnukwu’s presence in Aunty Ifeoma’s house, he calls to confirm, then promises to come to pick Jaja and Kambili up. Before his arrival, though, Papa-Nnukwu dies. Papa arrives and berates Aunty Ifeoma for not inviting a Catholic priest before or after Papa-Nnukwu demise. He takes Kambili and Jaja back home. After dinner that day, Papa punishes them for not informing him of their grandfather’s journey to his sister’s house. From Nsukka, Jaja brings strands of purple hibiscus to replant in their garden, while Kambili brings a painting of Papa-Nnukwu. The political situation in the country becomes worse, and Papa grows tenser. When Ade Coker is killed, Papa is shattered.
One day, Papa stumbles on the painting of Papa-Nnukwu and rips it to pieces. Kambili is so touched that she falls on the destroyed portrait and lays there. Papa kicks her until she slips into unconsciousness. When she comes to, she requests that Aunty Ifeoma be sent for. After recovering, she and Jaja are taken back to Aunty Ifeoma in Nsukka. The bond between Father Amadi and Kambili grows stronger. Soon, Mama comes to Nsukka to break the news of another miscarriage. When Aunty Ifeoma tries to advise her, she leaves with her kids.
It is the day after that Jaja refuses communion and Papa throws his missal. His refusal to take communion marks the beginning of rebellion as Jaja continues to defy Papa and take charge of his life. When Aunty Ifeoma loses her job at the University and prepares to travel abroad, Jaja confidently pronounces that he is leaving for Nsukka with Kambili. It is while they are at Nsukka that they hear of Papa’s death. They return home and Mama confesses to slowly feeding Papa with poison. When the police arrive, though, Jaja lies that he is the perpetrator of the crime and is arrested.
The later days have things changing rapidly. Mama becomes more withdrawn and distracted, while Kambili is more in control. A bribe is constantly given to lawyers and policemen to ease Jaja’s time in jail. The Head of State dies and the pro-democracy group Papa belonged to accuses the military of killing Papa. Mama and Kambili learn that Jaja would be released and they become hopeful.
What is the most important theme in Purple Hibiscus?
The most important theme of this novel is the search for freedom from oppression. Kambili and Jaja find a haven in Aunty Ifeoma’s house and hate to leave. Mama also poisons Papa to be free from his abuse.
How does the household that Kambili grew up affect her?
Kambili is an unusually quiet child who cannot express herself without stammering. She strives to please her father and holds her breath when she as much as sees someone challenge him. From the violence of her father and the subserviency of her mother, she comes to accept abuse as a form of love. She is often called a snob because she does not relate to other people. The fear of trusting or relating with others and displeasing her father stays with her until the later part of the novel.
Why is Purple Hibiscus so famous?
The novel is so famous because the author used the traumatized Kambili to tell a story of the oppression that Nigeria is exposed to under the leadership of the government.