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Purple Hibiscus: Religious Attitudes

Religion is a very prominent theme in the “Purple Hibiscus”. The author, Adichie, uses a variety of characters to explore different ways of expressing one’s faith. She explores the ways in which three very different characters express their religion of the Catholic faith, as well as looking into the traditional Nigerian beliefs of Papa Nnukwu. By illustrating some very contrasting religious beliefs and methods of religious expression in her characters, she encourages readers to consider their own views on religion and helps them understand some valuable lessons on the subject.

Adichie uses Papa Nnukwu to teach readers hat different people find spiritual pleasure in different religions, and helps the reader understand that beliefs unfamiliar from your own are equally important. Papa Nnukwu is the only non-Catholic character that the reader becomes familiar with in the novel. He is a man rooted in the traditional Nigerian beliefs, and has continued to embrace the Nigerian culture despite so many in Nigeria, including his two children, who were starting to conform to the more Western, Catholic beliefs.

Papa Nnukwu offers a huge contrast to Papa Eugene, who is obsessed with having a European lifestyle, certain that it is far superior o Nigerian beliefs. It is likely that Papa Nnukwu’s character has been used by Adichie to show Kambili that “sometimes what was different was just as good as what was familiar” (p. 166). Kambili had been brought up hearing Papa Eugene call his father a “heathen” and calling his traditional rituals/ceremonies “devilish folklore”. In one scene, Kambili watches Papa Nnukwu perform his morning prayers, and she is surprised to realise that his prayers are very similar to hers (p. 67). This scene is vital in helping the reader question whether it is right to deem certain religions as right or wrong, and assists them in realising that ertain spiritual beliefs do not have more value than others. Kambili is amazed at how Papa Nnukwu’s prayers for Papa Eugene are so much more loving than Eugene’s prayers are for him. This makes it clear that Papa Nnukwu’s expresses his beliefs in a way that brings him kindness, love, compassion and patience – unlike Papa Eugene.

This contrast is instrumental in teaching Kambili that Papa’s way is not the only way, and thus the reader learns that there is not only one correct religion. Kambili also mentions that Papa Nnukwu finished his prayers smiling and with an expression of deep serenity on his face. Adichie could ossibly be using this to indicate to the reader that different people find peace and happiness in different spiritual beliefs, and it is this joy that is important, not whether the belief is “right” or ‘Wrong”.

Through Father Amadi the reader is introduced to a compassionate, concerned and selfless side of expressing one’s faith. Father Amadi is a new generation Catholic priest: He is young, modern, unconventional and proudly Nigerian. We are first introduced to Father Amadi when he is a visiting priest at Kambili’s church. She describes his priestly garments as unconventional and mentions that he sings Igbo songs during the ervice. He also “kissed the bible slowly when he was done” (p. 28), revealing Father Amadi’s strong sense of enjoyment in his services.

His services are also described as far less rigid than those of Father Benedict, an indication that Father Amadi makes worship part of everyday life, rather than making it a stern ritual, which is a far more modern take on the religion than Father Benedict and Papa Eugene. Moreover, Kambili notices that Father Amadi had not mentioned how beautiful the church was, or praised Papa Eugene like all the other visiting priests had. This verifies how Father Amadi’s view of religion is unembellished and onest – he is only concerned about the worshipping of the Lord, rather than the materialistic side of religion.

Father Amadi is very easy to relate to and has intimate relationships with his congregation, which is evident when Aunt Ifeoma mentions, “He’s new at our chaplaincy, but he is so popular with everybody on campus already. He has invitations to eat in everybody’s houses” (p. 134). Unlike Father Benedict, Father Amadi is not a colonial product. He has the ability to combine the Western traditions of the church with Igbo praise songs, much to the distaste of Papa Eugene.

He has managed to create a healthy balance etween accepting his Nigerian culture while following a European religion – a very contemporary expression of his faith. Father Amadi becomes socially and spiritually attached to others, such as the young boys he plays football with. He tells Kambili, “l see Christ in their faces, in the boys faces” (p. 178). Kambili struggles to imagine a Godly figure in the faces of ordinary people – this just shows how Father Amadi chooses to see the good of God in others, and wants to use his religion to help others in need.

It is clear in the novel that Father Amadi follows God’s word through love, compassion and care for others. His devotion to elping the troubled Kambili acts as an example of his caring nature. He speaks of an all-accepting and forgiving God, offering a huge contrast to Papa Eugene’s constant talk of a revengeful, punishing God, and he echoes the love of God in his everyday life. Adichie uses Father Amadi to show the reader a different kind of priest from the common stereotype; a kind of priest contrasting hugely to the very distant and formal Father Benedict.

This could be a great eye-opener for many readers who may realise they themselves had had stereotypes of a “typical” priest in their minds. Moreover, Father Amadi assists the reader in nderstanding that Holy figures do not necessarily have to be distant, superior and powerful, but can also be very human and intimate. Adichie introduces the readers to an inspiring person who has devoted his life to God, helping us realise that faith can be expressed in a way that brings great joy to one’s own life as well as others.

From a young age Mama Beatrice was exposed to a stern Catholic upbringing, and continued these rigid Catholic traditions into her married life with Papa Eugene. However, she still managed to find small ways in which she could express her faith independently – teaching readers an important lesson bout finding individuality in one’s faith. Mama Beatrice’s father was very high up in the Catholic Church in Nigeria. It is mentioned in the novel that her father was very set in his Western ways and had always insisted that the family spoke English and lived the European lifestyle.

Furthermore, when she married Papa he had great control over how she followed the Christian faith. Thus, in the novel, one is seldom exposed to Mama Beatrice’s personal thoughts and views on her religion because she has always been influenced by others’ pugnacious religious opinions. It is likely that she struggles to find her individuality in her faith and robably does not express her faith in the manner that she would if she was not married to Papa or had a different upbringing.

Nevertheless, a certain scene in the novel seems to reveal some small details about Mama’s own ideas of God. In Chapter 3, Kambili says that Mama always “wore the same t-shirt with GOD IS LOVE written on the front” (p. 7) along with a loosely-knotted green wrapper. This simple description could demonstrate how Mama has a slightly different view of God to Papa Eugene. By wearing this “GOD IS LOVE” t-shirt, she could possibly be finding reassurance in her belief that God is a loving and forgiving God, not he harsh God Papa believes in.

The fact that the Achike family is so wealthy, yet Mama Beatrice always wears this same, simple outfit, also shows how she is unmaterialistic, and the words printed on her t-shirt could indicate that her chief focus is on loving her God, not the earthly distractions. One also finds out in the novel that Mama holds prayer meetings with a small group of women living in Enugu, and they worship God through singing Igbo worship songs. Kambili mentions that “their Igbo songs, accompanied by robust hand clapping, echoed upstairs” (p 21).

Mama Beatrice evidently has a greater ability than Papa Eugene o merge her religion with some of her Nigerian traditions, and is able to find enjoyment in her praising of God through singing. Adichie uses this information to illustrate to the readers how Mama Beatrice, although very reticently, manages to express her faith in a way that she can find comfort, despite being influenced into certain stern traditions her whole life and having many limits placed on the way in which she can express her faith. Adichie helps the reader understand that finding one’s own individual way to express one’s faith is imperative.

Aunt Ifeoma exhibits to Kambili and the readers the importance of being accepting f all faiths, no matter how different they are from your own. When looking at Aunt Ifeoma’s attitude towards faith, one is stunned that Aunt Ifeoma and Papa Eugene have had the same upbringing, because she is so much more open- minded, tolerant and balanced than Papa in her views towards religion. Papa believes that being Catholic is “right” and any other religion is simply incorrect, whereas Aunt Ifeoma constantly tries to teach Kambili that other beliefs, such as Papa NnUkWU’s traditional Nigerian beliefs, are not wrong just because they are different.

This is proved when Kambili says of Papa Nnukwu, “How could Our Lady intercede on behalf of a heathen, Aunty? ‘ and Aunt Ifeoma helps her understand that Papa Nnukwu is “not a heathen but a traditionalist, that sometimes what was different was just as good as what was familiar, that when Papa Nnukwu did his itu-nzu, his declaration of innocence in the morning, it was the same as saying our rosary” (p. 166). Also, in contrast to Papa Eugene, Aunt Ifeoma is able to merge her Catholic faith with the Nigerian culture and is unashamed of it.

Despite being raised by Europeans in European-run schools, she has not rejected her culture or deemed it inferior like her brother has. This validates that Aunt Ifeoma finds it important that your religion should not change who you are, but still allow you to be satisfied with your individuality. Additionally, Kambili was shocked when Aunt Ifeoma “prayed that we might find peace and laughter” (p. 127), something that would never have been mentioned or heard in the Achike household.

Aunt Ifeoma also combined Western Catholic rituals, such as saying the rosary and the Hail Marys, with traditional Igbo songs of praise in their post-dinner religious rituals. This proves how Aunt Ifeoma expresses her faith using laughter, love and joy as well as in a way that is familiar o her, by worshipping in her native tongue. Consequently, it is clear that Aunt Ifeoma teaches the readers some vital lessons. You learn to be tolerant of other religions; no matter how unfamiliar they are, as there is not one “correct” belief.

Furthermore, Aunt Ifeoma demonstrates that you should not let your religion change you, but use it to embrace your individuality and your culture. Aunt Ifeoma is a prime example of how faith has the ability to bring delight to your life if expressed in a positive way. To sum up, Adichie has used these characters to delve deeper into the theme of religion. She displays to the readers that ne’s faith can be expressed in a variety of different ways, and it can have very contrasting impacts on people’s lives.

She uses these characters to help the reader understand valuable lessons about religion. Through these characters the readers can understand that that no spiritual belief is superior to another, and that it is imperative to be accepting of other religions. Adichie hints that it is the joy found in one’s religion that truly matters. One can learn that expressing one’s religion in a way that has a positive impact on others is key, as well as being able to merge one’s religion with one’s individuality.

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