The renowned Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Adichie is the author of the widely critically acclaimed and praised novel, Purple Hibiscus. According to an interview conducted by CNN, she is said to be “bold, fearless and completely unapologetic” which is evidently reflected in her writing. The Enugu born author, grew up the fifth of six children in an Igbo family in the university town of Nsukka, with her family’s ancestral village being in Abba, Anambra.
Adichie’s upbringing and lifestyle in terms of geographical location has a great influence in her writings as these three places; Abba, Nsukka and Enugu are all depicted n the novel Purple Hibiscus. Her Nigerian heritage and culture are extremely influential to her works as she once admitted in an interview with the BBC, that she loves Nigeria very deeply but is deeply disappointed and desperately wants to change it.
She is also greatly influenced by the late Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe that captures the heart and soul of Africa and crafts it into a heart- grabbing novel. Being brought up in the university town of Nsukka, her writings approached race, gender and identity with a distinctly perceptive style. Her works are deeply connected to Nigeria, articulating different experiences nd producing a complex impression of history, culture and violence. At the age of nineteen she moved to the United States for college.
This transition and cultural shock impacted her writings as well. Her first book published in 2003, Purple Hibiscus, received worldwide critical acclaim and honor. Purple Hibiscus has won several awards like the Commonwealth Prize 2005: Best First Book (African and overall) and the Hurston- Wright Legacy Award 2004 (best debut fiction category) is among the many awards and nominations she received for Purple Hibiscus and her other works. Purple Hibiscus is a breathtaking, eartbreaking and captivating story.
This story conveys the struggle and fight for freedom, courage and independence in a voiceless household and society which is being seen through the perspective of Kambili, fifteen year old teenage girl as she struggles to find herself and independence, along with her brother, Jaja and thier mother, Mama in an imprisoning environment. The storys structure goes ‘hand-in-hand’ with its complex and disturbing plot. The novel is divided into four parts; ‘Breaking Gods- Palm Sunday’, ‘Speaking with our spirits- Before Palm Sunday, ‘The Pieced of Gods- After Palm Sunday’ and ‘A different silence- the
Present’, each exploring different times within the characters’ life. Each part are all centered around the religious celebration of Easter, leading to the weekend of Jesus’ death and resurrection and the outcome of events after this biblical The first part of the novel, ‘Breaking Gods- Palm Sunday’, starts the occaslon. story in the present time. The novel immediately starts in the heat of excitement, action and wonder. This part is centered on the defiance of a son against his father as well as the liberation of a patriarcial society.
Religious fanaticism and a dysfunctional family are conveyed through the main characters Eugene, Kambili’s ather, as well as Jaja, as the former tells the latter “You cannot stop receiving the body of our Lord. It is death, you know that”. However Jaja responds to this ridiculous and absurd statement by ultimately accepting his death. In this part, the readers get a complex insight to the frustration and anger of this family, who seems to be suffocated by Eugene’s dominance, but also the retaliation and rebellious attitude of a changed son.
In the second part of the novel, ‘Speaking with our Spirits- Before Palm Sunday’, the story interestingly goes into flashback before palm Sunday to hopefully explain the reasons for the tate of events in the previous section which leaves the readers questioning the reason for the predicament the family is facing. Within this chapter, violence and abuse extensively take place. The orchestrator of these heinous crimes Uses a generous and ‘holy’ faqade to cover his violent, irrational and hot temper.
Besides a dysfunctional family being shown on one hand, on the other, a nation is shown under distress as governments frequently changes through ruthless coups and subsequent reins of tyrannical political leaders. Eugene is shown as the leader of a rebellion against these political leaders which unfortunately esults in the harm and eventual death of particular characters. Social unrest rages on in Nsukka as students go against lecturers and residents face the consequences of this political conflict by experiencing the challenges of poverty although they are well off.
However in the midst of the confusion, Kambili and Jaja receive a savior in the form of their aunt, Ifeoma, who offers them salvation by giving them insight into a better life when the stay with her in her hometown, Nsukka. Ifeoma’s character is the epitome of freedom. She is a bold, fearless, outspoken and strong-willed character which much reflects the uthor’s personality. Her independence and other qualities are reflected in her children, particularly, her daughter, Amaka.
Kambili and Jaja are completely, culturally shocked when they stay with her and are introduced to a foreign atmosphere of happiness, laughter and freedom of speech as quoted from the text “l noticed the ceiling first, how low it was. I felt I could reach out and touch it; it was so unlike home” and “laughter always ran out in Aunty Ifeoma’s house”. While in Nsukka, they unfortunately experience the death of a deeply loved family member which ignites the emancipation of Jaja’s rebellious and liberal attitude. Within this section, Kambili meets and allegedly ‘falls in love’ with Father Amadi, a local, young priest in Nsukka.
This also ignites a longing and aspiration for a better way of life within her. It is in this part of the novel that the effects of abuse are full blown as Mama and Kambili once again fall victims to this ruthless In this penultimate section of the fiction, ‘the Pieces of Gods- after tyranny. Palm Sunday’, the story returns to the present where Jaja retaliates against his father. Within this chapter Jaja is completely and fully defiant and out-rightly bold with his independence and reluctance to follow the rules.
In the final section of the novel,’A different silence- the Present’, Adichie crafts this part of the novel to showcase the anticipated yet absolutely astonishing death of one of the novel’s main characters, leaving the reader shocked yet at the same time understanding why it was done. However we see a young man’s struggle to protect his family as a result of this death, no matter the consequences. Towards the end of the novel, we see how this series of events has finally impacted the family and how they attempt to fix this unwanted, tragic and horrific current predicament and future.
Adiche cleverly combines this interesting structure with its Nigerian setting and uses it to show how each setting impacts, influences and changes the characters in the story. In the book’s first setting of Enugu, Kambili is shown to be timid, voiceless and very quiet. Likewise, Jaja and the nation is also voiceless against its leaders who are obviously abusing their power. Enugu represents within itself imprisonment and oppression. When the family goes to Abba, Kambili and Jaja begin to see laughter and freedom of speech in its simplest form through Ifeoma who visits with her three children.
For instance, as Amaka gives her opinion on one of Eugene’s products from his factory. As the setting changes to Nsukka, where Kambili and Jaja visit their aunt and cousins, their personalities change. This is first seen with Jaja who is now exposed to a freer life and is captivated by the uniqueness and freedom of the purple hibiscuses. Eventually a spark of confidence and basically the ability to stand up for one’s self is liberates Kambili. Each setting plays an important role in emancipating the novels’ main characters and shows their journey towards finding their voices.
They are ntrinsic to understanding the meaning of the text as it creates a backdrop for this novel. Also it helps to create a mood for the reader as they understand the atmosphere and environment the characters are living in, which in turn helps us to understand Kambili’s behavior. Adichie also gives an interesting and insightful description of Nigerian food which leaves the readers’ mouths watering as she describes the jollof rice, fufu, gari and many other delicious Nigerian delicacies. Her description of the food gives the readers a visual as to imagine the food and the conversations exchanged while eating.
The aspect of food within the novel also gives us an insight to the culture of Nigeria. The culture is also conveyed through the various tribes, such as the Hausa- Fulani, and other tribes and the tribal festivals celebrated in the novel. These cultural practices, which are considered both ‘old school’ and even ‘heathen’ according to Eugene, clash with the new ‘colonial Nigeria’ which practice Catholicism and other denominations of Christianity. This ‘clash of culture’ causes conflict, discrimination and hatred against the characters within the book which is conveyed within Eugene and his father, Papa Nnukwu.
Both characters are conveyed to be ‘enemies’ but this hatred seems to come from only one side whereas the other side hopes to regain the love of a lost son. Within the novel, mainly Eugene conveys the post-colonial historical context and how it impacted the generation at the time. Catholicism arose as a result of this colonial period which converted Eugene when he was a little boy. According to the text, a missionary that mentored Eugene once punished him for a sin against himself in possibly one of the most inhuman and cruel ways imaginable. Therefore it can be concluded that Eugene was a product of his era.
As a result of this colonialism, there was a cultural clash. Many characters within the novel, for instance Papa Nnukwu, who continue to fight and practice their ancestral, traditional religion. These practices are considered to be ‘heathen’, according to Eugene and others. This clash of culture causes division and hatred throughout the novel. Political and social unrest also arose as a result of this post colonial era. As government frequently changes in the novel, people’s lust for power continues to grow, resulting in numerous coups and changes in parliament. However as a result of these negative factors in this novel, arose freedom.
The political context is explored through Eugene’s quest for press freedom in an oppressed society. Through symbolism, Adicihe cleverly juxtaposes the freedom of Kambili and their family, on the other hand and the freedom of the people of Nigeria on the other. This freedom for Kambili and her family is triggered with the aid of Ifeoma and her purple hibiscuses. This journey and longing for freedom, is conveyed throughout the entire novel. In conclusion, this novel is horrific and tragic yet, captivating and remarkable. Adichie does a beautiful job at grabbing the hearts of the readers and keeping them.
This story shows the struggle and fight for freedom in a voiceless and scary environment and society. It showcases the trials and challenges faced by two individuals that could be related to readers experiencing similar events. She juxtapositions the characters to reveal the contrast and the results of the colonialism on the African continent and relates this to the change in setting as it relates to the flourish of each protagonist. This interesting and surprising series of events continues to startle and keep the reader glued to the novel as well as to the uniqueness, strength and liberation of the purple hibiscus. 1,919 words