A Subaltern Perspectives in The Novel Of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The Purple Hibiscus

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

This paper introduces power relations in Purple Hibiscus to investigate how female characters’ fight with their subjugation and the oppression growing from patriarchy. The images of women and their position in the universe of the novel and the oppressive gender structures which push women to the margins as well as how women came back to the center is examined. Eve Ensler states that:

Women are excluded from certain crucial economic and political activities and their roles as wives and mothers are associated with fewer powers and prerogatives than male roles. African women operate within the paradigm of dominated-periphery defined groups and so they are actively engaged in production of oppositional ideologies to counter the overriding patriarchal principles.

In the Purple Hibiscus Eugene fits the descriptions of a Gothic patriarch and Beatrice, Kambili and Jaja the suffering subjects of his authority. These victims of paternal patriarchal authority do everything possible to claim their free space in the oppressive circumstances occasioned by Eugene. No wonder male religious leaders so often say that humans were born in sin because we were born to female creatures. Only by obeying the rules of the patriarchy can we be reborn through men. No wonder priests and ministers in skirts sprinkle imitation birth fluid over our heads, give us new names, and promise rebirth into everlasting life.

The character of Beatrice and Ifeoma in Purple Hibiscus is a case of women asserting their positions in their societies and challenging patriarchy with its several manifestations. The system of oppression draws much of its strength from the accepting of its victims, their image and get paralyzed by a sense of helplessness. Adichie’s story explores numerous societal structures through which women are oppressed. She identifies domestic violence, religion, traditions, family life, civil unrest, extended families, polygamy, desire for sons, racism, colonialism and neocolonialism as being responsible for unequal gender relations forming the basis of exploitation of women and domestic violence that characterize Eugene’s household in Purple Hibiscus.

Through the character of Beatrice this novel explores how wives are subjugated by their husbands. Beatrice’s world is totally controlled by her husband. She is not allowed to take any choice and express feelings of her own. In one situation that confirms that when the family visits Father Benedict after a Sunday service. Papa’s word is final and he disregards the wife’s feelings and thus Beatrice hangs at the limits of Papa’s world. Being sick she is compelled to go to the priest’s house. At home, she has no choice over what colour of curtains to hang on the windows of the house. The indecision depicted here confirms the marginal position Beatrice occupies in relation to her husband. Beatrice struggles from the boundary and rises as the pro-active character and who pulls down patriarchy by poisoning the husband. This way moves to the center where she is allowed to make her own choices. The suffering that Beatrice goes through can only be free by removing Eugene out of her space and so the writer’s act is the final act of dragging down patriarchy and its violence. It does not mean destroying men since Beatrice desires to have a loving man in her life. Eugene often fought with his wife and Kambili is always upset when her parents fight over everything.

Eugene’s attack of his pregnant wife shows the brutal behavior of the evil face of patriarchy but also the insensitivity of such practice to basic principles of humanity. Mama’s act of raising her hands while being flogged together with her children symbolizes surrender and helplessness that made women once exposed to male violence. The author condemns Mama’s failure to speak about her situation since the silence regained by Eugene results to several misfortunes that would have been averted. Although Mama is abused and unloved by her cruel husband, she is subservient to her husband as expected in her marriage.

The opening lines of Purple Hibiscus signal a threat to continued co-existence of the family members because of lack of free space. The home is in turmoil and things are about to fall apart. It means the center symbolized by the male domination cannot hold anymore and further suggests that several centers of authority are necessary. It is in the other centres where the characters living in Eugene’s family enjoy their own freedom. Kambili is concerned about every member of the family but does not speak her mind because of lack of freedom. Mama informs the daughter that she will not replace the figurines and Kambili realizes that, “when Papa threw the missal at Jaja it was not just the figurines that came tumbling down, it was everything” (15). The word “Everything” implies even the authority that Papa has taken over his family. Mama’s refusal to replace the figurines suggests a need to live without the usual patriarchal control occasioned by Eugene. Eugene’s family is housed in a closed compound where dealing with the outside world is completely avoided. There are high walls with electric wires so that nothing enters inside the compound or to go outside of it. This ensures that the violence that the family suffers is not known to the outside world. It also prevents new and laboratory ideas from filtering in. They are very much held in a controlled domestic space that they depend on Papa’s knowledge and ideas over everything. It can be expressed that patriarchy has always tried to control the domestic space and women cannot enter into the chance of entering into the public sphere symbolized by the Eugene’s family compound. Mama, a symbol of oppressed African women, suffers such suppression and oppression. She has no voice and does not talk to Papa. She is a dehumanized wife and suffers in solitary.

A considerable change in thinking and looking at the world has taken place because of the visit to Nsukka’s. Kambili is able to identify the high goals Papa sets for them contrary to Nsukka where Ifeoma allows the cousins to explore and scale their heights. Through the travelling motif Kambili discovers her true self and her desire for freedom is highlighted. Her cousins have a voice to speak their joys, aspirations, sorrows and to explain their world, which are the things Jaja and Kambili miss at Enugu. Silence in Eugene’s house is perverse but there is a lot of talk, laughter, singing and exchange at Aunty Ifeoma’s house. In super imposing the two environments Adichie advocates for upbringing like that of Ifeoma where girls are not discriminated from boys and domestic chores are shared equally regardless of gender. The home.

Adichie seems to suggest that negative patriarchy rears its ugly face in Africa in the modern era despite the progress made in different areas of human endeavor. It means that women can only be respected if they fulfill their biological duty of mothering. Mama fears Papa may marry other women who may give Papa more sons and displace her. For a woman to have security and a permanent position then she should have several children and more so boys. African women’s need to be disparaged or at least revised to give women a breathing space as hinted to by Adichie. Although Aunty Ifeoma is educated and enjoys more freedom than Beatrice, she is also held by her family such that she spends much of her time with the children: helping, correcting, punishing, encouraging and cooking. She is widowed and struggling as Papa-Nnukwu realizes “since the father of her children died, she has seen hard times” (65). Kambili notes that she behaves like a referee who has done a good job and admires to watch the players who in this case are her children: Amaka, Obiora and Chima. Adichie uses Ifeoma’s character to open women’s eyes to the realities of patriarchy and also to suggest alternative avenues to self-actualization. She stands against oppression when everyone else is silent. Through this character Adichie pronounces her convictions that the oppressed should constantly challenge their oppressor.

The identity of women is linked to their children and one realize that those women who are childless suffer the indignity of lacking mother-derived identity. The identity of mothers is crucial in getting business names. Such identification serves to marginalize those who are childless. Rarely have women been studied as daughters in literature since the identity of wives and mothers overshadow other identities. In Purple Hibiscus Ifeoma forms friendship with the sister-in-law Beatrice and attempts to pull her out of a violent marriage. Ifeoma is ready to take the children to Nsukka so that Beatrice can think independently and quit domestic abuse. It is on the same scale that women at the University of Nigeria-Nsukka are concerned about the management and the problems cause continual trouble to the institution and people like Phillipa make a choice out of the troubled waters. This movement out of Nsukka probably to America serves to expand the space for women to challenge domination. Ifeoma bonds well with those women she is working with and she is given information about the list of disloyal lecturers long before she is sacked. It is out of her closeness with the female students that they even announce to her their plan to marry. So she is strong on her achievement that shows her education power on her. Beatrice is close to Sisi and it is her who gets Mama the poison that kills Eugene. This is a case of a woman helping a colleague woman to surmount oppression. After Eugene’s death Sisi is married but spends a considerable amount of time instructing Okon the new family steward.

This serves to celebrate the freedom that mother and daughter enjoy after Papa’s death. The silence that grips this family can afford them some freedom that lets them breathe. Kambili supports the mother in her trying period of widowhood and can also be analyzed as a troupe of heralding female bonding. Kambili comes out as a character who exhibits strength before adversity and an inspiration for the much desired change. In Purple Hibiscus Aunty Ifeoma and Aunty Phillipa are educated and thus liberated. Ifeoma does not want to marry again after the death of her husband and when Papa Nnukwu informs her of his prayers for her to get a good man to marry her, Ifeoma disagrees because what she requires most is a promotion to a senior lecturer not and get married one more time to suffer. She is free from male influence and determined to enjoy her freedom. Ifeoma’s forthrightness and confident are as a result of the power of education. She is educated and aware when things are going wrong. Adichie uses her so that she can contrast her with the sister-in-law Beatrice who depends on her husband economically. Due to lack of proper education and a paying job, Beatrice suffers all the effects of patriarchal domination perpetuated by Eugene and the Igbo culture.

Ifeoma becomes strong with her education strength and she leads her life on her own without depending on others. She is liberated from the patriarchy and is able to give voices for the society, she is exiled but she does not stop her action. She continues to give voice for the voiceless and searches for a good paying job. She is strong and her achievement shows the power of education on her. Adichie portrays the miracle of education for women empowerment through projecting characters who are educated and others with less or no education so as to draw parallels and give some freedom to the educated ones. Educated women in the novel are able to escape male oppression unlike the uneducated ones. The educated women can voice against suppression, oppression and also towards male domination.

In this paper inequalities, restrictions, penalties and denials directed toward women in Adichie’s novels have been identified. It emerges that tradition, religion, marriage, motherhood and the desire for baby boys among other factors are to blame for the silencing of the African woman. Adichie strongly indicts those institutions and practices which perpetuate gender inequality and continue to marginalize women. The chapter also explores the different strategies Adichie adopts to accord women a voice in the face of the silencing structures. Women’s writing is taken and understood as a process of challenging the dominating powers and creating oppositional discourse so as to engender change. The way Adichie’s female characters struggle to end their oppression is an issue that has received special attention in this chapter. Speaking to traditions and cultures that are suppressive, strong female characters, education for women and female bonding are identified as the strategies that women and female writers utilize to fight oppression and exclusion. Although other African female writers explore the gender issues discussed in this chapter before, Adichie has unique voice in the sense that her works are cast in wider human oppression and not necessarily exploitation confined to sexuality and gender. Her approach to fighting oppression confirms that despite the struggles by women to assert themselves in a world dominated by men through the ways identified in this chapter the war against gender subordination in Africa is far from over.

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