Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus is a post-colonial coming-of-age book. Purple Hibiscus is Chimamanda’s first book for which she received the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book.
Chimamanda Adichie is a Nigerian Author and feminist whose work includes novels, short stories, and non-fiction. She has been awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant, has been a recipient of the PEN Pinter Price, and has been recognized as one of the BBC’s 100 Women of 2021. She has been shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing and her story “That Harmattan Morning” has been selected as a joint winner of the 2002 BBC World Service. She has also won the David T. Wong International Short Story Prize 2002/2003 (PEN Center Award).
Most of her books hint at colonialism and its effect, how it affected the average individual psychologically concerning their society. Her first book, Purple Hibiscus, was so intricately woven in a way that the readers saw post-colonial Nigeria through the eyes of a teenage girl. The major themes of her book, Purple Hibiscus were colonialism and Nigerian Politics, Religion and belief, family, freedom vs. tyranny, silence and speech, and violence.
Under colonialism and Nigerian politics, she described how it was in Nigeria during the post-colonial era, the fight between the military government and people in support of democracy. Eugene always stood up for the people, telling the truth about the government but they tried so hard to silence him, even going as far as destroying his publishing company and killing his editor. The destruction of his publishing company did not deter him at all, he kept speaking up for what he believed in. Eugene was also the pillar of the church and the community.
Using Eugene as a point of contact, the author described the identity struggle most Nigerians go through as a result of colonialism; the false reality that the Western world culture is superior to their own culture. Eugene made his children speak English at all times to sound “civilized”, his children were not allowed to praise God in their mother tongue and they were not allowed to have any kind of relationship with their grandfather because he was a traditionalist but a heathen in Eugene’s book. He allowed the priest to talk down on the Igbo culture by agreeing with him that the Western worldview was superior, he resorted to violence any time any of his family members did not align with the religion’s mapped-out ways, he made sure none of his immediate family paid attention to the culture of their land because he considered it paganism, and even went as far as seeking out the opinion of the priest when he was to be titled in his village. When a visiting priest who encouraged the community to praise God in the mother tongue came, it was extremely difficult for Eugene to reconcile what he knew to be true with what the visiting priest offered; Papa refused to sing in the Igbo tongue and also made sure his family didn’t.
It was quite Ironic that Eugene, who was pro-democracy, speaking up about the ills of the recent government did not condone freedom of speech in his house and ruled with tyranny. The people around him that saw him as the emblem of all that was good had no idea how he was towards his own family, it came as a shock to his editor when Papa’s children acted timid, he tried to deflect the whole situation with a joke which did not land with Eugene.
Eugene was a religious fanatic and this book described how religious fanaticism can ruin identities and relationships. He became erratic when what the religion described as good behavior was not followed to the T. This was seen when Kambili had to take breakfast before mass because she had cramps and had to take a pill to ease the pain, Eugene beat up Beatrice, Jaja, and Kambili, and they had to change their clothes before heading out for mass. He had twisted ideas about sin, violence, and punishment as his punishment grossly outweighs the crime.
Eugene still looked out for his family as best as he knew how he was generous to most of them, and whenever he went to the village from the city every Christmas, he made sure to feed all and sundry. As strict as Eugene was, his love for his family was prominent, he made sure they never lacked anything even though the measurement of his love was by how well they behaved. He also showed his love by giving Kambili and Jaja a love sip of his tea on Sundays. Kambili loved and obeyed her father despite his perceived wickedness toward them, she wanted to impress him by all means, and she made sure to obey him even in his absence. She idolized the father so much that she felt that she had to constantly earn his love; her belief in God was tied up to her belief in her father. Kambili and Jaja were so in tune that they could communicate merely by looking at each other, this was depicted in the Palm Sunday scene when Kambili tried to catch Jaja’s eyes to plead with him not to be rebellious and also depicted when Kambili went to Jaja’s school to walk with him and tell him about the baby their mom was carrying; they never outrightly spoke about their father’s abuse but they communicated about it. Beatrice despite the harsh treatment meted out to her stuck around and made sure her family was okay. She took her husband’s life to stop her children from suffering, She took whatever the husband gave her in silence and tried to not involve her children even when she had a miscarriage, She tried to shield her children as much as she could. Aunty Ifeoma despite being a struggling widow took care of her family as much as she could and also looked out for her niece and nephew while also taking care of her father whose health was deteriorating.
Another major theme of this book was freedom vs. tyranny. It felt like everyone in this book was imprisoned by something; religion, bad governance, strict husband, strict father, poverty, and sickness amongst others. The name, Purple Hibiscus is symbolic, it is a representation of individuality, rebellion, and freedom. The hibiscus flower is red but when Kambili and Jaja go to visit their Aunty Ifeoma, Jaja discovers a different kind of hibiscus. Aunty Ifeoma explained to him that the purple hibiscus is a hybrid flower and this fascinated Jaja enough to make him find out he had an interest in gardening. This interest made Jaja find out who he was outside the father’s already mapped-out plan for the family. It made him understand the need to seek freedom, to be his individual sans his father’s authority. Ironically, Jaja became his father, standing up for what he believed in, this time it was against his father. Chimamanda described when the fear left Jaja’s eyes and was now in Papa’s eyes.
The theme of silence and speech was portrayed in so many ways like the scene where Jaja spoke up about not liking the communion wafer, and where Chimamanda described Eugene as being unrelenting in his bid to speak the truth. After the coup, many newspaper companies were subdued but not Eugene, Even though he had to start publishing from underground, he had to still speak his truth. The truth cost him the life of this editor and fellow truth speaker, Ade Coker but the truth was said, regardless.
One other major theme was violence. Eugene was extremely violent towards his family whereas on the outside he was the epitome of an upstanding man. He beats them on occasions when they don’t follow his set rules like the time Kambili didn’t obey his one-hour fast on Sunday morning. He has also beaten his wife on several other occasions she even lost a pregnancy as a result of it. The story was also set in a period when there was a lot of violence in Nigeria as a result of colonialism. People were being killed and properties were being destroyed.
One beautiful thing about this book is the abundance of symbolism. Just like the breaking of the ceramic figurines on the étagère signified the beginning of the end. After each beatdown Beatrice endured from her husband, she went ahead to polish the ceramic figurines, to her it was a representation of the violence she has had to endure and the destruction thereof was the beginning of the end of the violence; she knew she had to start doing something about it. The purple hibiscus also held its symbol for Jaja which has been talked about earlier.
The most beautiful character development was Kambili’s, she grew from the timid, naive girl who idolized her father to thriving on her own, expressing her feelings and having a good relationship with her cousin Amaka.
Amaka in contrast with her uncle always thought that her mother’s language was just as good or even superior to the colonialist language. She displayed this when she was asked to pick an English name for her confirmation and she insisted on using an Igbo name.
This book also displayed how hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. When Beatrice decided that she had had enough, she slowly poisoned Eugene.
This beautifully woven work of art contains so many lessons. The author wove into perfect words the feelings of a teenager, feelings that are usually so hard to describe, she described it in ways one can remember feeling as a teenager. I envy those who haven’t read it because they get to read this interesting piece without previous knowledge of it.
Comment your favorite scene and your favorite lesson.