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ABOUT THE BOOK PURPLE HIBISCUS
Purple Hibiscus is the first book of the Nigerian born writer, Chimamda Ngozi Adichie. It is a compelling coming of age story, narrated through the eyes of 15 year old Kambili who lives in Enugu, Nigeria with her father, Eugene, mother, Beatrice and older Brother, Jaja. In the novel, Adichie is vehemently against the pretense, religious hypocrisy, and fraudulent practices among the Christians and public servants in Nigerian Society. This is exemplified in the character Eugene Achike who is regarded as a faithful practicing Christian. He is seen as very holy. This is the reason why the parish priest of Saint Agnes Catholic Church, Reverend Father Benedict presents him to the congregation as a model to be emulated. Eugene donated generously to the church projects and gave alms to the poor.
However, Eugene neglects his own father papa Nnukwu. The old man lives in abject poverty and squalor. Eugene neglects his father because he refused to throw away his god and be converted to the Christian faith. He neither cared for him at his old age nor allowed him into his house.
Nonetheless, contrary to his Christian ethics, he always beats his wife and children. He subjects them to perpetual bondage and psychological agony. He is a bully, barbaric, Savage, and animalistic. He is a terror to members of his family. Melting out punishment and beating them over every little provocation.
Each family member has had their share of Eugene's wrath. He beats his daughter, Kambili to the extent that she becomes unconscious and she has to be hospitalized. On the day Kambili had her period, the family was supposed to be on a fast but mother, but her mother gives her a bowl of cornflakes so that could take medications to ease the cramps she felt but Eugene catches her and lashes out on the entire family, using a belt. He feels that there is no excuse not to observe the fast.
For Beatrice, the beatings she received led to two miscarriages and she had recounted three other miscarriages before she had Kambili which was a result of the beatings as well. On the first occasions as narrated in the novel, Eugene beat her and she miscarried because she was too ill to come down from the car to greet father Benedict. He asked Kambili and Jaja to offer prayers on their mother's behalf, asking the Lord to forgive her for her sins. The second time, while the children were away at Nsukka he broke a table on my stomach which led to the second miscarriage. Still, she doesn't question his authority and tries to please him in every way possible.
While Jaja and Kambili were in aunty Ifeoma's place at Nsukka, they experienced a life of freedom contrary to what they are being subjected to by their father.
"...it was what Aunty Ifeoma did to my cousins, I realized then, setting higher and higher jumps for them in the way she talked to them, in what she expected of them. She did it all the time believing they would scale the rod. And they did. It was different for Jaja and me. We did not scale the rod because we believed we could, we scaled it because we were terrified that we couldn’t…”
Papa Nnukwu had been brought to Nsukka because he was sick and needed medical care. But due to the strike of medical practitioners, he died, and when Eugene had gone to Nsukka to bring the children back and as they got home he burnt their legs with hot water from a mug saying they walked into sin by staying in the same house with Papa Nnukwu who he referred to as "heathen".
Jaja and Kambili had a painting of Papa Nnukwu which was given to Kambili by Amaka. They stare at the picture and when Eugene finds it, they both claim ownership of the painting, trying to save each other from their father's wrath. Eugene tears the painting in bits. Kambili tries to pick the pieces but Eugene kicks her continuously until she passes out. She wakes up in the hospital with tears, pains, and broken ribs. Despite all these, Kambili doesn't think she is being abused by her father, she loves, respects and is proud of all his good deeds. She always works hard to be in his good books.
“But I knew Papa would not be proud. He had often told Jaja and me that he did not spend so much money on Daughters of the Immaculate Heart and St. Nicholas to have us let other children come first. Nobody had spent money on his schooling, especially not his Godless father, our Papa-Nnukwu, yet he had always come first. I wanted to make Papa proud, to do as well as he had done. I needed him to touch the back of my neck and tell me that I was fulfilling God’s purpose. I needed him to hug me close and say that to whom much is given, much is expected. I needed him to smile at me, in that way that lit up his face, that warmed something inside me.
But I had come second.
I was stained by failure.”
Adichie also condemns the indiscriminate manner in which the church leaders force their members to contribute and make pledges in their attempt to raise money for church projects. In most cases, members become fed up with the regular demands that they begin to grumble.
Adichie also mirrors the ills in the social-political terrain, criticizes the politicians and the soldiers. She exposes the evil that is meted out to Nigerians since Independence in 1960 to date. She condemns the soldiers who capitalize on every opportunity to overthrow the government in power. The most sorrowful of all is that these soldiers who carry out the Coup are not better than the corrupt politicians. They only succeed in plunging the country into more economic and political mystery. Nigerians at the Hem of affairs are not left out. She asserts that they are all corrupt, they embezzle public funds meant for paying workers salaries and national development. They send money to foreign banks and think less of how to alleviate the life of the suffering masses.
Adichie, equally criticizes the government for inadequate fuel supply in the country, leading to scarcity and queue of vehicles at petrol stations everywhere in the country. University education is in poor condition, the lecture halls, offices, and staff quarters are in deplorable conditions. Adichie also satirizes the ill-treatment journalists are given in the country in the cause of performing their legitimate duty. In this novel, Ade Coker, the editor of the "Standard Newspaper" owned by Eugene, is arrested for publishing stories about the Head of State and his wife's involvement in drug peddling. The head of state sees it as libelous and a dent to his moral integrity and Ade Coker is killed by a letter bomb.
Themes of Purple Hibiscus
Respect for the gods
This is seen on the part of papa Nnukwu. He was always praying to the gifs in the African way and also asking the gifs to bless his children.
Jaja built the courage to talk back at his father and in the long run, he took responsibility for his father's desire, thereby, protecting his mother. Also, aunty Ifeoma dared to speak about the corruption in the University system which got her dismissed.
This is between Kambili and Father Amadi. Through father Amadi, she discovered her potential and she hoped he could leave the priesthood to be with her.
This is largely seen on the part of Eugene. He was brutal to his wife and children even though his religion forbids it. He neglects his father till death and spends so much money on his burial ceremony.
Students protest because of the lack of social amenities which led to the burning of the Vice Chancellor's quarters.
Traditional and Christian religion is discussed in the novel. Papa Nnukwu is a traditionalist and refuses to abandon the way of his ancestors for Christianity despite the hostile treatment meted out to him by his son. Papa Nnukwu was always praying to the gods in the African way asking them to bless his children.
Father Amadi and Father Benedicts practice the religion in different ways. Father Amadi imbibes Igbo teachings and songs in his sermon, Unlike Father Benedict who is from England and follows only the European ways. Eugene adheres to Father Benedict's teachings and forbids any form of Igbo tradition.
Jaja, Kambili, and Amaka question Christianity because of the way it is being portrayed by Eugene.
The issue of colonialism in Nigeria is explored in the novel. And to different characters in the novel, it means different things. Papa Nnukwu thinks It is responsible for the negative attitude towards the Igbo traditions. Eugene thinks it is responsible for his education and faith because he was taught by the missionaries. Father Amadi is grateful for his new faith but also believes that old traditions should not be thrown away. While Kambili and Jaja are caught in the middle.
After Nigeria had gained Independence in 1960, the military took over and due to corruption and dictatorship, there was protest and several executions of innocent civilians. There is a hike in food prices, scarcity of fuel, no power supply, embezzlement of funds meant for the University, and unpaid salaries of medical practitioners which led to a strike. This novel also shows unrest in the home of the Achike's due to Eugene's violence.
In the novel, several characters, especially Kambili are gripped with fear. She is scared of making a mistake and unleashing the wrath of her father. She does not socialize with her friends in school as a result of fear. She has been programmed by her father to follow a particular schedule. But all these changes when she visits aunty Ifeoma in Nsukka and she begins to find her voice and smile as she built an eekatiibsh with her cousin Amaka who influenced her. Her aunty also encourages her to speak up for herself when there's a need to.
This was portrayed by the soldiers in their killings of civilians and mounting roadblocks and on the several occasions that Eugene beats his wife and children to the extent of them being hospitalized Papa beats his wife and children. Beatrice, his wife had miscarried several pregnancies as a result of his beatings. He uses religion as an excuse to justify his actions and they are made to offer prayers, asking the Lord for forgiveness even though he is the one to blame.
I loved this book so much because I could relate to the characters. I was completely absorbed. The writing is simple and easy to get through.
Eugene is a complicated character that you hate for his religious fanaticism and strong hold over his family but he does extreme good to those who follow the Catholic religion, pays fees for school children and detests those he sees as heathens. Eugene believes that the way he treats his family is a corrective measure to make sure they do not deviate from the ways of the Lord.
"Everything I do for you, I do for your own good,” Papa said. “You know that?”
Eugene's brutality is a reflection of the political reality in Nigeria.
Adichie does a wonderful job of character ambiguity that are drawn from realism that makes it easy for the readers to connect with them.
The novel is written gently and the narrator, Kambili who is as fragile as the novel's title. It is an engaging piece from the very first page.
There is so much in the story to digest.