READING AND TEXTUAL ANALYSIS OF AFRICAN PROSE- PURPLE HIBISCUS by Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie.
TERM: 2ND TERM
TOPIC: READING AND TEXTUAL ANALYSIS OF AFRICAN PROSE- PURPLE HIBISCUS by Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie.
THE AUTHOR’S BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria in 1977 to the family of Professor James Nwoye
Adichie and (Mrs.) Grace Ifeoma Adichie. Her short fiction has been published in literary
magazines in Nigeria, the U. K. and the U. S. Purple Hibiscus is her first novel published in 2006.
THE BACKGROUND TO THE TEXT.
The background of the book is all about the period when the military were in charge of Nigeria. It
is a time that the civil rights of the people and the constitution are suspended for the decrees of
the military. And under this dispensation, it was a taboo for civilians, in whatever form, say, the
press, newspapers, political parties, pressure group etc., to confront the government. This was the
period in which the characters, particularly Papa (Uncle Eugene), the father of Jaja and Kambili
The story begins in the home of Eugene (Papa as fondly called by his children), who on realizing
that his son, Jaja broke God’s Palm Sunday by not attending Mass for the day, got ablaze with
anger over his son. This anger nursed and nurtured right from the church becomes fully expressed
as “Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the étagère” (p. 11).
This is when “Things started to fall apart at home…” as Jaja stands to reply his father to his face.
The continued effrontery from Jaja to Papa, even at the dinner table, makes Kambili sickly as “My
body shook from the coughing” (p. 22), and she’s forced to stay “… in bed and did not have
dinner with the family”. In her bed, she thought to know what possessed Jaja, and so “… let my
mind rake through the past, through the years when Jaja and Mama and I spoke more with our
spirits than with our lips. Until Nsukka, Nsukka started it all; Aunty Ifeoma’s little garden…”
(pp. 23-24), and we are lunched into the history for Jaja’s revolt to his father’s standards on
God’s palm Sunday. After Kambili’s effort to intimate us with all the past, we are linked to the
corollary of breaking God’s palm Sunday.
The plot account of the book depicts the experiences of a Christian family of four who lived in Enugu under a military regime. Papa who is the head of the family, a devout catholic, saw it a
misnomer to disobey any doctrine of the Roman Catholic. He is a man of great personality, who
owns several factories and a newspaper house called ‘Standard’. He is a great pillar for many to stand, such as: Saint Agnes Cathedral, Destitute and his village community. He stands against every form of corruption through the effort of his paper and his editor, Ade Coker and is well cherished and respected by the people of Saint Agnes church, his workers and the people of his community; that was why he got the chieftaincy title ‘Omelora’ (one who does for all). He is an extremist, who believes in impeccability, as he deals decisively with those he tags ‘heathen’.
The story continues that the nature of Papa in upholding “righteous living” drove Ade coker
to his death. And his nature also makes Amaka to consider Jaja and Kambili, abnormal. This
(Papa nature) also forces Kambili and Jaja to request for and want more of the visits to Nsukka. It
follows that after the death of Ade Coker and Papa Nnukwu, and while Kambili and Jaja were
away from home, Papa displayed one of his traits as a “christian” by hitting his wife, Beatrice, who
was pregnant unknown to him, with one of the centre tables in their house. Mama, Beatrice, has
no other choice but to poison Papa’s tea. And Jaja who is in the nature of protecting his mother
and sister, decides to give himself up in place of his mother to be responsible for his father’s death
after it was discovered by the autopsy that Papa died of poison.
Jaja is reprimanded in the prison for close to three years before chances of freedom became known to the surviving family.
The contextual setting noted in the book, Purple Hibiscus, is Nigeria. But the textual or immediate
settings in the story are Papa’s house in Enugu, Saint Agnes Church and Father Benedict’s house
in Enugu, Kambili’s School, Papa’s house at Abba, Catholic Church at Abba, Papa Nnukwu’s
house, Aunty Ifeoma’s house at Nsukka, the market places both at Nsukka and in Enugu, and the
The above settings mentioned served as a stage for the actions or events captured in the book, and they further help to give the text the local identity it possesses.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, as a writer, sorts to enlighten her readers with some vital lessons
through her novel on how to manage one’s faith and relationship in the family. These lessons
Theme of Modesty and Perfection
This is seen between the relations of the family of Uncle Eugene and the outside world. It
happened that Papa (Uncle Eugene) who is a wealthy man having several factories and a
newspaper house, and living in an edifice, opted for a standard that is in no wise less to perfection.
This is evident in his relationship with his children when they are at the dinning table. It begins
that there is a systematic but stereotyped method with which the family have their meal.
It is also seen at the moment Father Benedict was raining praises on Eugene in the church that
Kambili decided on putting on a straight face not to betray the advice or instruction given by her
father that one does not respond to praises in public by chuckling or smiling in order to be modest.
The display of continuous confession even at meal time and the concomitant punishments on his
children any time he considers them to have sinned, is a trace to and trait of perfection and
modesty according to Eugene.
Theme of Love and Hatred
In the book, there are a countless displays of love across the characters. First, the love displayed
by Kambili to her father, especially the moments she takes a love sip from Papa’s tea. Love as
idealized by Kambili is well captured and expressed in her believing that her father was right when
he pours hot water from a kettle on their legs, and hits their mother with a table in the sitting room,
which all stand as correction based on love. On the other hand, Kambili’s cousins displayed their
unquenchable love towards their grandfather, irrespective of being a ‘heathen’ against the beliefs
of Eugene. Love also is seen in the sudden but gradual acquaintance made between Kambili and
Father Amadi, that at the end of their last meeting, she confessed to him her love.
Love as a theme in the novel is also intercepted and interjected by hatred at different phases which made Jaja to give himself up as the murderer of his father, in place of his mother (the real
murderer). Hatred also in the book, though clumsily based on religious grounds, made Uncle
Eugene to refuse his father entrance into his compound in the village. It is further displayed in his
‘decisive treatment’ of his children when they spent 25mins instead of 15mins at Papa Nnukwu’s
house, and when Jaja and Kambili hid Papa Nnukwu’s visit to Nsukka from him, even when it was
Christmas and a holiday respectively.
Theme of Religious Supremacy
This is a theme that is of greater preeminence. It is the coy that holds the different parts of the book
together. In the book, Papa (Eugene) in an effort to assert the supremacy of his religion over Papa
Nnukwu’s, decided to neglect his responsibilities of providing the up-keep of Papa Nnukwu and
asking him not to come to his house. This is further displayed in his refusal to assist Aunty Ifeoma
when she was bankrupt, because of her interference with Papa Nnukwu. The scene surrounding the
chieftaincy title he got is not to be relegated. Papa had to seek Father Benedict’s consent on
whether he should accept a title as pressed by the people of his community, on the grounds that it
is normally attached with things of a lesser god from a lesser religion. The opening of the book
where Papa threw the Missal at Jaja for refusing to attend Mass on a Palm Sunday, is also a strong
point for this theme.
Theme of Maltreatment and Threat
Threat in the book is seen to come from the military government to ‘truth-Sayers’. This threat is
given to stop the activities of Ade Coker as the editor of the Standard newspapers and it was
actually carried out. Threat and Maltreatment does not just stop there, it is also displayed in Aunty
Ifeoma’s house in relation to her job as a lecturer in the University of Nsukka at Nsukka. It is also
identified in the manner in which Uncle Eugene corrects his children and attends to his wife.
THE CHARACTER AND CHARACTERIZATION
He is the husband of Mama (Beatrice) and the father of Jaja and Kambili. He is a wealthy Nigerian
that owns several factories and a newspaper house; a devout Catholic who uncontrollably became a
fanatic from a brand of Catholicism which objects to every form of acts that he considers
‘heathen’. He is under the spell of the western culture, style of worship, and behavioural pattern.
He is constantly attacked by inferiority complex as he consciously and unconsciously detach
himself from his cultural and traditional existence in his actions and inactions on the bases of being
an ardent catholic. He is a philanthropist to the church, his workers, beggars and his community,
but a saddist to his father and all who he considers heathen or who toe the heathen line. He is not a
modest man, as he claims, at home. He flogs and beats the wife even at pregnancy which is
against the culture of the western world he imitates. He remains a flat character throughout the
text, and this provoked his death by his wife. There was no genuine father-children love in their
home. He is an idealist.
She is the mother of Jaja and Kambili, and the wife of Papa (Eugene). She is a member of ‘Our
Lady of the Miraculous Medal prayer group’. She is humane and understanding. This is seen in
the manner she treats members of the ‘Umunna’ during Christmas, the way she pities Aunty Ifeoma
on her present state, and how she condones her husband and manages her home. She is a full time
house-wife who is not very educated like her husband. She had experienced several miscarriages
before the one she told Kambili of. She is manhandled by her so-called modest husband for every
little offence. She, until almost the end of the story, remained a flat character, but developed by
changing from a selfless and harmless house-wife into a secret murderer as a punitive measure for
the safety of her life and that of the children. She is innocent that she confessed the truth to her
children behind their father’s death.
He is the son of Papa and Mama, and a brother to Kabili. He is a brilliant boy and always loves to
protect Kambili and his mother. He is a round character as we saw him transform from a gentle
and fearful kid into a fearless and bold boy as he talks back at his father to his face. He expresses
great love for Kambili and Mama, but great hatred for Papa, which made him to give himself up as
the killer of Papa in place of his mother who actually poisoned Papa (her husband). He is a
shadow of his father, as he dislikes every tailored lifestyle proposed by his father on him even in
and out of the house. The story started with his breaking of God’s Palm Sunday which expedites
the tragedy in the family. He never fantasized any of his father’s treatment to be love as did by
Kambili in the text: he is realistic.
She is the daughter of Papa and Mama, and a sister to Jaja. Kambili always comes first in her
class, but on an occasion she came second due to the accident surrounding her mother’s pregnancy,
was not spared by her father who followed her to her class in school. She has a dual role or
personality in the book as she stands as the narrator and a character. Kambili is considered to be a
snob by Jideze and her classmates because of the discipline instill in her by her father. This further
made Amaka to consider her and Jaja as adnormal when they visited Nsukka. She fantasizes every
action of Papa to be love even at the expense of her happiness, and always seeks for love sip from
her father’s tea. She lived a tailored life as guided by the schedules made by her father. She seems
to be over-conscious of her actions, so that, she does not betray her anti-social behaviour before
others. Kambili is over-emotional which is identified in her confession to father Amadi. She
hated her mother for poisoning her father.
She is Eugene’s sister and Aunty to Jaja and Kambili. She is the mother of Amaka, Obiora and
Chima. She is the wife of Ifediora. She is a lecturer and lives at Nsukka with her children. At the
neglect of Eugene, she solely attended to Papa Nnukwu (their father) until his death. Unlike
Eugene and his family, Aunty Ifeoma troops in with her children to see part during Christmas. She
is a lively fellow who believes in freedom of association. She does not hate her father (Papa
Nnukwu), because of his faith or belief. She is seen to be an activist and an agent of positive
change. She was intimidated and harassed by members of the school security on invalid grounds.
Her house becomes an orientation camp for both Jaja and Kambili in order to liberate them from
the impression instill in them by their father from out of a brand of extreme Catholicism. She
stands as a support to Beatrice anytime situations call for that. She is friendly, even to the young
priest, father Amadi. She becomes a widow in the story and went through hard times of providing
for her children and standing up to the insults from her in-laws’ ‘Umunna’. She, at the end,
secures a teaching appointment abroad, which rescued her from the embarrassment of the striking
situation of the school authority. She is a catholic, but not an extremist like Eugene. She is
contemporary in her dress code as she laces her lips and eye-brows with sharp paintings.
She is the daughter of Aunty Ifeoma, and sister to Obiora and Chima. Her father is late. She is a
cousin to Jaja and Kambili. She is seen to be precocious and exhibits a high sense of rationale
throughout the text. She is vocal and blunt that she can be mistaken for her mother (Aunty
Ifeoma). She looks like Aunty Ifeoma and shares same perception to fashion and mannerism. She
is well-bred to prepare all kinds of dishes, especially local ones. Amaka felt disappointed with the
attitude or quiet nature of her cousins that she considered them abnormal. She is a true Nigerian as
her love for everything home-made as seen in her choice of music is second to none. She is a very
talkative like her mother, as they both can not do without it. She possesses outstanding qualities
even as an artist. She expresses great love for Papa Nnukwu and goes ahead to draw him as one
of her art works. She constantly teases Father Amadi over her cousin, Kambili, and also, a tease to
Kambili and over situation that require her teasing.
He is a brother to Amaka and Chima, and a son to Aunty Ifeoma. He is also a cousin to Jaja and
Kambili. He is younger than Amaka. He uses a pair of glasses and acts like an intellectual even in
his arguments throughout the text. He is pragmatic as he saw no use for staying back in Nigeria
while America stood as an alternative. He is lively and enjoys the company of others (Jaja and
Father Amadi). He does almost all the masculine chores at home and takes over the position of his
late-father at home. He is objective and less of a tease compared to Amaka.
He is the last son of Aunty Ifeoma and the baby of the house. He is lively and enjoys every
spirited talks from his elderly siblings, and his mother. He loves sumptuous meals that come
with the visit of Jaja and Kambili, and also wished for more of their visit. He is also inquisitive
like his elderly ones. He is child-like but loving.
He is the father of Eugene and Aunty Ifeoma, the grand-father of Jaja, Kambili, Amaka, Obiora
and Chima. He lived in a mud house which is different from the big compound of his son in Abba.
He is loved by his daughter (Aunty Ifeoma) but despised by his son (Uncle Eugene) for being a
heathen. He is forbidden by his son (Eugene) to enter or visit his (Eugene) compound because of
his traditional belief. He is a critical analyst in the story even as he compares the similarities and
dissimilarities the traditional religion and the Christian religion possess. He is a jovial and loving
person to especially his grand-children. He is a victim of circumstances as he could not enjoy the
dividend of having a wealthy son, who has several factories and a newspaper. He lived a wretched
life but for Aunty Ifeoma who occasionally intervened. He later died at Nsukka in Aunty Ifeoma’s
He is Papa’s (Eugene) editor of Standard newspapers, and the husband of Yewande. He has two
children. He is a fearless man as he confronts and accosts the military government with his writing
and provokes tension for the military. He was arrested for a while and later released by the
military, but refuse to stop his line of criticism on the military, and was later killed by the military.
He is lively and funny. He is principled and abhors all forms of corruption even in the face of
death. He is reliable, positive and friendly.
He is the priest (reverend father) of St. Agnes Catholic Church who is still called ‘our new father’
because of his colour. He is a white (foreign) father who completely dislikes everything
(Nigerian) home-made or traditional for the benefit of his western culture and tradition. He
enforces the members of the cathedral to see the use of their mother tongue during worship or in
church to be archaic and sinful, but makes them to put up every western attribute in their style or
mode of worship to God. He loves praising Papa while in church for the contributions he made to
church and Papa’s effort to confront the military government.
He is a young priest who once visited St. Agnes Catholic Church and broke the sacred rules by using
his mother tongue while conducting a mass. By fate, Kambili and Jaja meet him in one of his
visits to Aunty Ifeoma’s house at Nsukka, and are told that Father Amadi is the new priest for the
campus. He is affable and good looking. He is a good friend of Aunty Ifeoma’s family and loves
sport. He is a direct opposite of Father Benedict in taste and in manner.
LANGUAGE AND STYLE
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s style is her manner of writing. That is all the ploys she exhausted in
her work. One outstanding feature in her book is that of participant/personalized narration. In this
kind of technique, the narrator of the story is also a character, and that is Kambili. Through
Kambili the story is told and the actions of other characters are revealed, yet she was a character in
the book who has a father that becomes a fanatic by a brand of Catholicism. She is a major
character, and also, the protagonist in the book as all actions seem to attack her feelings.
Also, as Adichie’s style is her use of code-mixing with words from her vernacular. This is
beautifully used by her in the text that most readers would confuse her for Achebe. In other words,
her style is Achebean.
The style employed by her in plot structure is also distinct by her use of flashback. In the book, Adichie uses this technique to arouse the interest of her readers to go through the text or story with her without wishing to stop until the story is complete.
In order to domesticate the story, besides using her vernacular, Adichie deems it feat to mention real societies in Nigeria. And they are: Enugu, Nsukka and Aba, in the Eastern part of Nigeria.
1 Discuss the role of Jaja in the book, Purple Hibiscus.
(a) antithesis (b) euphemism (c) metaphor (d) parody (e) personification
(a) comedy (b) octave (c) Quatrain (d) sonnet (e) sestet
(a) anti-climax (b) antithesis (c) climax (b) irony (e) sarcasm
(a) author’s freedom (b) author’s license (c) poetic freedom (d) poetic license
(e) writer’s license
(a) anecdote (b) metaphor (c) euphemism (d) onomatopoeia (e) paradox
1 Discuss the sociological import of the book, Purple Hibiscus, and its significance.
1 Exam Reflection Literature-in-English (Drama & Prose) by Sunday Olateju Faniyi, pgs 129-155.
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