The author whose imagination was first sparked by homesickness creates a beautiful story on liberation, family life, and the Igbo culture.
Purple Hibiscus Themes
Religion is a central theme in this novel. The settings include religious rallies, festivals, and Churches. The author denotes Christianity religion as an oppressive factor that was introduced by colonialists. Although Papa and Aunty Ifeoma are Catholics, Papa is more rigid and unyielding in his beliefs. His father, Papa-Nnukwu is prevented from visiting him because he is a traditional worshipper. Papa is so devout to his beliefs that he forbids Igbo songs from being sung in Church and at home. His strict doctrines are imposed on his family and they are punished when they falter. Even though Papa promises to improve the standard of living of Papa-Nnukwu if he converts to Christianity, the old man refuses.
Contrastingly, Aunty Ifeoma is a more liberal Catholic. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie portrays Aunty Ifeoma’s doctrines to be more accommodating and compassionate than Papa’s. Where Papa is extremely abusive, Aunty Ifeoma is kind. She prays with her family and sings Christian songs that have been translated into Igbo. She takes her children to traditional festivals.
Father Benedict and Father Amadi are also practicing Catholics with different methods of practicing. Father Benedict is a perfectionist who shares equal beliefs with Papa. With the character of Father Amadi, however, Adichie portrays the need for a balance in Christianity.
Another important theme in this book is family life. It is at the familial level that true behavior of Papa is exposed. To the public, he is a godly patron but privately, he is a violent dictator.
The structure of the Achike family is one built on fear and authoritarianism. The strict rules of Papa are followed to perfection and anything short of that leads to punishment. The family is also a very quiet one. Although the children are brilliant and talented, they have poor social skills and avoid interaction with others including their relatives.
On the other hand, Aunty Ifeoma’s family encourages conversations, arguments, and laughter. She creates a wholesome environment where the children are free to relate with their grandfather. Kambili and Jaja find freedom at Aunty Ifeoma’s house and they gladly welcome it. With this theme, Adichie aims to depict a flourishing family as one where every member is respected and comfortable.
Colonialism and Nigerian Politics
In this book, Adichie shows the different ways that Africans received colonialism. To Papa-Nnukwu, colonialism and its components had horrible impacts on Igbo society. He believes that Papa disregards him because Christianity preaches that the father and son are equal. Even when promised better life by Papa, he refuses to accept the religion.
In contrast, Papa is called a ‘colonial product’. He accepts the superiority of the Europeans and imitates them. He is grateful for colonialism because his education was sponsored by the missionaries. He abandons the traditions of his homeland and chooses to speak British English in public.
Father Amadi accepts that colonialism is the reason for his faith. He however believes that the new and old ways can co-occur. He advises Amaka to take an English name for confirmation because that’s how things are done in the Church, but he doesn’t insist that she uses it against her will. Aunty Ifeoma refuses the superiority of the Europeans and treats everyone equally.
In the book, a coup happens that leads to the beginning of military rule in Nigeria. Papa and Ade Coker use the Standard newspaper to criticize the corruption of the Head of state who is not democratically elected. The irony here is that while Papa criticizes the government’s dictatorial leadership, he is a dictator in his own home.
The novel takes place during a tumultuous period for the Nigerian government. The book depicts the effects of politics on the lives of citizens. Bribes are collected by police officers, workers’ strike, and students riot. Ade Coker is a character based on the real-life journalist Dele Giwa and is assassinated with a letter bomb. The author shows the horrible effects of corruption, colonialism, and oppression.
Kambili is the greatest victim of this theme. Even when she speaks, she says things that are expected of her, not what she wants to say. Her silence is a result of the abuse she endures at home. When talking becomes necessary, she stutters and whispers. Even Mama cannot freely talk in her home.
Jaja learns to use silence as a punishment. When Papa dies, the silence that envelopes the Achikes is different because it is not imposed by fear.
Silence is also depicted in the state of the country. People who are bold enough to criticize the government are arrested or killed. Aunty Ifeoma, Ade Coker, and Papa are victims of this.
Analysis of Key Moments in Purple Hibiscus
- Mama announces that she is pregnant and she is pleased because she has had a few miscarriages after the birth of Kambili.
- A coup is announced and a military leader comes into power.
- Papa beats Mama because of her hesitation to greet Father Benedict after church and this leads to the miscarriage of her pregnancy.
- Aunty Ifeoma takes Kambili, Jaja, Papa-Nnukwu, and her children to the traditional Aro festival.
- Kambili and Jaja’s visit to Aunty Ifeoma’s house in Nsukka. It is here they learn to be independent.
- Kambili’s meeting with Father Amadi. She is immediately taken by his melodious voice.
- Papa-Nnukwu’s arrival at Aunty Ifeoma’s house.
- The assassination of Ade Coker in his house. He receives a package from the Head of the state that turns out to be a letter bomb.
- Papa walks in on Kambili and Jaja looking at a painting of Papa Nnukwu. He tears up the painting and when Kambili falls on it, he beats her till she passes out.
- Mama’s visit to Aunty Ifeoma’s home after she has another miscarriage.
- Jaja’s refusal to take communion. Papa flings his heavy missal and breaks Mama’s figurines.
- The loss of Aunty Ifeoma’s job. She decides to apply for an American Visa. Father Amadi also decides to leave for missionary work in Germany.
- Kambili sees the Virgin Mary during the pilgrimage at Aokpe. This strengthens her faith in Catholicism.
- Papa’s death in his factory. The autopsy proves he was poisoned.
- Jaja surrenders to the police as Papa’s murderer.
- The news was that Jaja would be released after three years of imprisonment.
Style and Tone
The style of writing employed in ‘Purple Hibiscus‘ is the first-person narrative. The story is told through the lens of a fifteen-year-old who is raised in an abusive household.
The tone used in the book is subdued and resigned. The constant whispers of the main characters point to the restrictions that they face.
The language used is straightforward. Chimamanda Adichie uses the Igbo variety of the Nigerian English language. The book contains a choice of words and parables that point to this fact.
Analysis of Symbols
The purple hibiscus is a flower growing in Aunty Ifeoma’s garden. Jaja is drawn to the flower and in fact, takes some strands back to Enugu and asks the gardener to plant them there. The hibiscus is a symbol of courage and individuality. Jaja is so taken by the flowers that he tends to them in Aunty Ifeoma’s house. A chore he never had at Enugu. Jaja’s confidence and individuality grow as slowly and at the same pace as the purple hibiscus that he planted grows. The freedom that Jaja sought is represented by the purple hibiscus. When Aunty Ifeoma loses her job, Jaja does not ask for permission from Papa, he just informs him of his decision to go visit her.
The figurines of ballet dancers that Mama cleans after a domestic violence episode were a symbol of submissiveness, silence, and resignation. The cleaning of the figurines was Mama’s coping mechanism after violence. When Papa breaks the figurines on a Palm Sunday, Mama tells Kambili she would not need to replace them. Like Jaja, Mama is going to stop being a victim and fight back against violence. Her statement is better understood when she confesses to poisoning Papa. The presence of the figurines symbolized silence and subjugation. The breaking of the figurines signified freedom.
How did the political agitation and corruption in Nigeria affect the Achike family?
Kambili and Jaja may be protected children, still, the corruption ongoing in Nigeria affects them mostly negatively. They have a few experiences with bribery and murder. Ade Coker who is a friend to Papa and also a journalist that works for him is killed. His death affects Papa and makes him distraught. The political agitation however proves to also be useful when Papa dies and Jaja is imprisoned. Members of pro-democracy groups that Papa belonged to claim he was assassinated by the Head of state.
What is the core theme of Purple Hibiscus?
The core theme of this novel is freedom from oppression. Kambili, Jaja, and Mama endure toxicity, extremism, and violence until they experience a different and healthy environment. The children metamorphose into mature, capable teenagers. In the latter part of the novel, Kambili believes she does not need an explanation for the things she does. She just goes ahead to do them.
Why does Mama poison Papa?
Mama murders Papa to protect herself from violence. Also, she feels she is left with no other option. She tells Aunty Ifeoma that she cannot leave her marriage with Papa because she cannot care for two kids alone. After years of putting up with abuse and several miscarriages, she does not want to leave empty-handed, so she decides to poison him