The Real Papa: Analyzing Purple Hibiscus
“Uncle Eugene is not a bad man, really. . . . People have problems, people make mistakes” (251). These words are spoken by Kambili, who is trying to explain that the violent Papa is not a “bad man,” but instead a person who has good qualities as well as a lot of flaws. Papa’s troubled past plays a role in why he acts the way that he does, yet does not justify his actions. In the novel Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Papa (Eugene) is perceived to be like a saint in the community, but in reality, to his family, he is abusive and cruel. This irony, as well as Papa’s abuse, characterizes him as the antagonist of the novel.
In public, Eugene is perceived to be a man of great faith and generosity. He is kind to the community and very generous. As a well-off businessman, Papa is able to donate a lot of money and resources, such as food and guidance, to the community. With all of the money Papa has donated, he has never bragged about his contributions because he believes that it would be wrong in the eyes of the lord for him to do so. On page 90, Eugene donates enough money to the church to remodel the entire building. After giving the donation he very humbly left: “‘Let’s go,’ Papa said, when the M.C. finally moved on to announce a new donation. He led the way out of the hall, smiling and waving at the many hands that reached out to grasp his white tunic as if touching him would heal them of an illness,” (90-91). Papa donates all of this money and wants little to no acknowledgment for the contribution; this excerpt shows through the use of a metaphor that Papa does have some good qualities, such as his generosity and humility as a Catholic. This example also illustrates how he cares for the community to the point that they worship him and how he does not abuse that power. Indeed, the people look up to Eugene; they consider him to be their savior during the harsh times that face Nigeria, and he does not let them down. This quote shows Eugene’s good qualities as a public figure and man of god, but even though he displays the traits of a good Catholic, Eugene is no saint.
Although Eugene appears to be a great man in public, in his private life he consistently destroys his family. Papa’s private life with his family presents a sharp contrast to how he acts in his community. In fact, his kindness and generosity do not extend to his loved ones, and instead he is violent and abusive. In a flashback of Kambili’s, she describes a time when Papa hit her for being a few minutes late after school: ‘Papa slapped my left and right cheeks at the same time, so his huge palms left parallel marks on my face and ringing in my ears for days’ (51). This behavior is ironic compared to the activity of the generous man that presents himself in public. The Papa that the community knows would never hurt his children. Outside his private life, he is referred to as the Omelora or The One Who Does for the Community because of his kindness towards everyone in the town and his willingness to help the families in times of hardship. However, to his own family he is the cause of all of their pain and suffering. Twice and in the book, on pages 33 and 248, Papa beats his wife so badly that she miscarries their baby. These examples of his abuse prove that Papa has a considerable number of flaws. His acts of generosity do not negate his appalling behavior towards his family, nor should they. His behavior is unacceptable, and it is outrageous that he treats strangers better that the people he loves. It is for this reason that Papa cannot be considered a good man, just as much as because of the service he gives to the community, he cannot be considered a bad one.
Papa’s upbringing is responsible, in part, for the way that he acts towards his family. When Papa was a child he was taken in by the Catholic Church and conditioned by a Priest to become the way he is as an adult. When he was younger, Papa sinned and was punished by the priest: ‘He asked me to boil water for tea. He poured the water in a bowl and soaked my hands in it’ (196). This flashback spoken by Papa provides an understanding for why he has grown to become the abusive man that he is. What the Priest did to Papa as a child is an example of operant conditioning, or teaching a person to avoid a behavior by using either positive or negative reinforcement. In this case the negative reinforcement, which would be Papa’s hands being dipped in the boiling water, was in the short term very effective in preventing Papa form wanting to sin but ultimately proved to have very serious and damaging long-term effects. His upbringing of punishment for every sin committed, in part, led him to grow up to punish others for all of the sins they commit. Examples of this pattern would be Papa whipping the family members when they helped Kambili eat before mass (101-102), Kambili being beaten by Papa for sneaking the painting of Papa-Nnukwu into the house (210-211), and Jaja’s incident of Papa’s breaking his finger (145). All of these incidents can be traced back to Papa’s past, and although this history explains why Papa abuses his family it does not excuse his behavior. His actions are his own; he deserves the repercussions of those actions.
Even though his past can be considered a contributing factor, Papa is still in control of his actions and has bought and paid for all of the trouble he has caused. Papa is not a bad man. He is, instead, a person who has good qualities, as well as major flaws. His history with the church set the groundwork for his issues to emerge but, regardless, his actions are his responsibility. Papa’s ironic divide between his public acts of generosity and humility and his actions as a terror to his family is significant because these traits make him the antagonist in Purple Hibiscus. Papa causes a lot of good as well as a lot of hurt in the novel, but ultimately he cannot be considered a bad man. Even though he is abusive and there is no excuse for such abuse, the good qualities that he possesses are his saving grace in the world.
Fathers and Sons in Purple Hibiscus and Things Fall Apart
Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart both emphasize the complexities of father-son relationships. The major theme of parental conflict is developed throughout the course of both texts and serves to illustrate the impact of Western imperialism on Igbo culture. While Adichie openly acknowledges that she was inspired by Achebe, a closer look at the nuanced differences between the two novels illuminates Adichie’s own voice. Okonkwo, the misogynistic character with a masculinity complex, is a man still scarred by his father’s pathetic reputation in Things Fall Apart. His father’s ill repute and lack of titles spur Okonkwo to pursue a better life in an attempt to dissociate himself from his father. On the other hand, Eugene, the antagonist and father figure in Purple Hibiscus, ostracizes his father on the basis of religious disagreement. Adichie uses the differences between Eugene’s and Okonkwo’s paternal conflicts to comment on the changes that Western colonialism has brought about in Nigeria.
Even though Achebe’s and Adichie’s works of realistic fiction share many similarities, the reasons for and methods by which Eugene and Okonkwo respond to paternal conflict differ, thus allowing Adichie to portray the transition from Igbo to European-influenced Nigerian culture.The enmity between Okonkwo and his father, Unoka, is founded on the unadulterated standards of Igbo culture. More specifically, the instability is the result of Unoka’s lack of determination and wealth : “When Unoka died he had taken no title at all and he was heavily in debt. Any wonder then that his son Okonkwo was ashamed of him?” (pg.8). Unoka’s failure in becoming a notable member within Umuofia is what gives Okonkwo the drive to strive for greatness. The standards present in Umuofia have not yet been impacted by European colonialism, and, as such, give insight to the “original” values of Igbo tradition. As a result, Adichie is able to use these standards as a foundation to create her own father-son dynamic by representing the relationship between Eugene and Papa Nnukwu through a different lens.While Okonkwo’s society in Umuofia underscores the importance of titles and status, Eugene’s more contemporary society in Enugu prioritizes Catholic principles, those which were derived from colonialism. The discord between Eugene and Papa Nnukwu is due to a fundamental difference in religious ideology. Eugene, who is Catholic, instills in his children the notion that taking part in or even observing any Igbo tradition is a sin. This belief makes a stable relationship with his father impossible, and leads to the estrangement of Papa Nnukwu in Eugene’s life. Eugene credits his prosperous life not to the guidance of his father but to the missionary school he attended as a child: “I didn’t have a father who sent me to the best schools. My father spent his time worshipping gods of wood and stone. I would be nothing today but for the priests and sisters at the mission” (p. 47). He believes that Papa Nnukwu, who practices Igbo traditions, is a heathen and goes as far as to severely limit Jaja’s and Kambili’s interactions with him. Papa Nnukwu never wronged Eugene; in fact, it was Papa Nnukwu’s decision to send Eugene to the missionary school. However, after being indoctrinated into a set of stringent beliefs prohibiting him from coming in contact with a non-believer, Eugene distances himself and his family from his father. Papa Nnukwu falls short of Eugene’s standards and is consequently shunned. The transition of Nigerian society is evident not only in Eugene’s preference for the white pastor, Father Benedict, over the Nigerian pastor, Father Amadi, but also in Eugene’s fabricated British accent when speaking to Father Benedict.
The ways in which each character responds to parental conflict are also dissimilar. Okonkwo espouses a set of ideals that are entirely opposite to those of Unoka in an attempt to differentiate himself from his father’s undesirable legacy. Umuofia does not judge an individual on his or her ancestors; rather, judgment is predicated on the actions of the individual. Umuofia’s leniency allows Okonkwo to pursue a better life, and he ultimately accomplishes his goal: “Although Okonkwo was still young, he was already one of the greatest men of his time. Age was respected among his people, but achievement was revered. As the elders said, if a child washed his hands he could eat with kings. Okonkwo had clearly washed his hands so he ate with kings and elders” (pg.8). Through perseverance and determination, Okonkwo is able to establish himself as one of the “greatest men of his time.” His character differs completely from that of Unoka; Unoka was cowardly, lazy and of slight build. In contrast, Okonkwo was the greatest wrestler in all nine villages, steadfast in his work ethic, and respected throughout the community. Okonkwo is said to have “washed his hands” suggestive of the fact that he has dissociated himself from the bad name of his father and has become a revered member of Umuofia. The struggle that Okonkwo faces can be categorized as an external one, in that it is largely societal pressure which motivates Okonkwo.
Adichie alters the underlying reasons for conflict seen in Things Fall Apart in her depiction of Eugene and Papa Nnukwu to demonstrate the loss of cultural identity as a result of imperialism. The dissension between Eugene and Papa Nnukwu is a paradigm for the cultural clash occurring on a larger scale within Nigeria. While Eugene practices Catholicism, a product of Christian expansionism in Africa, Papa Nnukwu practices the age-old Igbo tradition. Adichie contrasts Igbo tradition with European tradition throughout the text to symbolize the transformation of postcolonial Nigerian society. Eugene’s forthright disapproval of Igbo tradition is ubiquitous throughout the text, to the extent that he urges his family to refrain from speaking in Igbo: “He [Eugene] hardly spoke Igbo, and although Jaja and I spoke it with Mama at home, he did not like us to speak it in public. We had to sound civilized in public, he told us; we had to speak English” (pg. 16). Eugene’s attempt to inculcate in his children the notion that English is the “civilized” language is indicative of the deep-seated imperialist influence in Nigeria and the degree to which Eugene has internalized it. Adichie uses Eugene’s relationship with his father as a means to further develop the notion of an ideological conflict between generations as a result of colonialist influence.
The differences in Adichie’s and Achebe’s portrayals of father-son conflict exemplify Adichie’s own expression of the effects of European influence on Nigerian society. While both Eugene and Okonkwo have unstable bonds with their fathers, the core of each feud varies. While Okonkwo’s relationship is affected by the standards of untouched Igbo tradition, Eugene’s relationship with his father is affected by the standards of postcolonial Nigerian society. By shifting the context and nature of Eugene and Papa Nnukwu’s relationship, Adichie essentially resumes the novel where Achebe had stopped. Given that Purple Hibiscus takes place after Things Fall Apart, Adichie uses the time gap to convey the cultural change. The heightened importance of Catholicism that Adichie depicts symbolizes the impact of colonialism on Nigerian and furthermore Igbo culture, the contention between “white man’s” and “black man’s” ideology. On a larger scale, Adichie subtly illustrates the convergence of indigenous Nigerian culture and imperialistic European culture and shows the shift in religious ideology as a result, doing so through the microcosm of father-son relationships.
The Power of Setting in “Purple Hibiscus” by Chimamanda Adichie
The novel Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Adichie, set in post-colonial Nigeria during the Civil War in the late 1960s, is a bildungsroman that focuses greatly on family relationships as well as religious and cultural ideals. The passage describing Kambili and Jaja’s first meal at their Aunt’s house in Nsukka provides a stark contrast to the oppressive atmosphere in Enugu as a result of her father’s abusive nature. The freedom and vibrancy of Aunty Ifeoma’s household despite their financial limitations bewilders Kambili, while lifting the restrictions on her life and exposing her to radically diverse values and beliefs. Adichie foreshadows the development of Kambili’s character through the immense contrast between her own home and the Nsukka household’s open and loving environment.
Adichie emphasizes the symbolic setting in this passage to powerfully convey the disparity in attitudes of Kambili’s and Aunty Ifeoma’s families. The gap in wealth is dealt with frequently, highlighting that greater material satisfaction is not as beneficial as the spiritually nurturing environment of Nsukka. Adichie uses natural imagery while describing the dining table in the second paragraph of the extract, mentioning the “wood that cracked in dry weather” and the simile of “the outermost layer was shedding, like a molting cricket, brown slices curling up from the surface.” The reference to natural cycles indicates that Aunty Ifeoma’s progressive attitudes; her encouragement of natural expansion of outlook and social skills. This is in direct contrast with the naïve voice of Kambili, which is evident in the parallel syntax featured through most of her narrative. However, the image of the “molting cricket” suggests that in this setting, Kambili will undergo significant change, maturing and perhaps acquiring a different outlook on her family relations and Christian zeal. This notion is reinforced by the image of “brown slices curling up” which implies nourishment and has somewhat of an aesthetic quality.
The vivid description of setting also juxtaposes the disorder and in Aunty Ifeoma’s house with the tidiness of Kambili’s home in Enugu, reflecting the differing values emphasized in the two families. Adichie repeats the word “mismatched” twice while describing the furniture, reflecting the slightly more chaotic atmosphere in her home. The resulting liberty and lightheartedness is overwhelms Kambili to a certain extent, and Adichie also uses the adjective “mismatched” to imply that Kambili feels out of place and insecure with the concept of freedom from perfectionism and oppression. Adichie once again notes the lower income when she mentions “half a drumstick” on Kambili’s plate, and suggests that the enthusiastic appreciation of the family, conveyed through the constant dialogue and exclamation marks such as in “Chicken and soft drinks!”, compensates for their material limitations. Their apparent capacity to enjoy life in spite of its constant drawbacks and chaos is a major theme that spans the novel, and parallels the much more sinister duality of Kambili’s life, where she continues to strive to satisfy the expectations of her father despite submitting to the lasting psychological effects of his abusive nature.
Kambili’s emotional response to the startlingly different setting of Aunty Ifeoma’s home that is conveyed by Adichie gives us insight into the change that begins to stir in her during her visit to Nsukka. At first, she is shown to be quite passive, for example when Adichie writes she “followed Amaka back into the kitchen and watched her slice and fry…”, using active verbs only to describe Amaka. As the meal commences, Kambili feels more and more uncomfortable, mentioning she “tried to concentrate, tried to get the food down”, the anadiplosis implying her intense insecurity while faced with the free speech of her cousins. This tumult signals the inner conflict that Kambili will face as she is exposed to the lifestyle in her Aunt’s house, possibly resulting in a more independent and confident personality. Kambili is clearly astonished at the constant flow of conversation between her cousins and aunt; Adichie writes, “Laughter floated over my head”, using the verb to indicate the uninhibited enjoyment that Kambili is not a part of, but longs for. The metaphor also suggests that simply by breathing this laughter, by existing in this setting, Kambili is gradually being imbued with the happiness around her. The noise seems almost tangible to her, creating a striking contrast to the motif of silence seems to enshroud her beforehand.
Adichie reiterates the freedom and spontaneity in the household, continuing the paragraph with “Words spurted from everyone”, using the abrupt and unassuming connotations of the verb to underline once more the more disorderly yet more intimate surroundings in Aunty Ifeoma’s home. The use of parallel syntax in “often not seeking and not getting any response” captures the cousins’ contribution to the family dynamic through the simple act of sharing a stream of consciousness. They seem to maintain equilibrium, enhancing the family unity and intimacy. Kambili feels that the speech lacks purpose, as she mentions rather proudly, “we always spoke with a purpose back home”; this is very ironic, however, since we are familiar with the superficial compliments made to please Papa during mealtime. Her apprehension to this type of unrestrained dialogue exposes her severely limited social interaction, which is clearly likely to be improved during her stay amongst her talkative relatives. In a sense, Kambili’s inner conflict mirrors the beginning of the age of enlightenment, when the Western world emerged from a stagnant period in history due to the repression of Christianity. Adichie insinuates that with regards to Kambili and Jaja, the mere verbal engagement of the characters is an integral catalyst for Kambili’s independence and perhaps firmer stance in the family conflict.
The characterization of Aunty Ifeoma and her children is an important element that influences Kambili’s perceptions and aspirations. Aunty Ifeoma’s assertion that “Today we’ll treat Kambili and Jaja as guests, but from tomorrow they will be part of the family and join in the work…” incorporates a rapid change in time frame and reflects her straightforward, welcoming nature. Adichie suggests the possibility that due to the open and loving atmosphere at Nsukka, Kambili will experience more of a family spirit with her aunt than with her own family in Enugu. The sarcasm with which Aunty Ifeoma tells Kambili, “We do not say Mass in the name of grace like your father does” emphasizes her rejection of the rules Papa imposes on his family; Kambili is introduced for the first time to thoughts and values that distinctly oppose her father’s. Her pronounced silence accentuates the impact of the constant use of dialogue by Amaka, Obiora and Chima, much of which is punctuated with exclamation marks. For example, when Chima says, “ ‘Mommy! I want the chicken leg’ ”, Adichie demonstrates the ease with which even the youngest child can express himself. Kambili’s excruciating shyness and independence, illustrated by her lack of dialogue, is in stark relief, and the powerful presence of her cousins within the binary opposition seems to foreshadow Kambili’s gradually budding confidence. Amaka and Obiora’s speech is paired with actions, such as in “Obiora pushed at his glasses as he spoke”, emphasizing their comparative presence not only verbally but also through body language. Her discomfort and insecurity in this lively setting implies that she envies these qualities in her cousins, and her envious tone while stating, “but my cousins seemed to simply speak and speak and speak” shows her desire to be as courageous as her cousins. Adichie thus prepares Kambili for a process of self-realization and maturity. The lack of caesura in the last line of the extract implies that Kambili’s cousins’ speech is ongoing and fast paced, highlighting their continual energy and social competence. Kambili’s admiration of this capability serves as a hopeful indication of her development as a character.
Adichie’s juxtaposition of the different lifestyles and outlooks of Papa and Aunty Ifeoma’s family in the bildungsroman Purple Hibiscus prepares for the gradual changes that take place in the main adolescent characters. The jarring difference in Aunty Ifeoma’s perspectives and Kambili’s own father’s contribute to the inception of a desire to find her own voice and question the his destructive dominance over the family. Adichie highlights the painfulness of this process for Kambili, and thus expresses her disdain for the highly oppressive environment the religious fanatic Papa creates for his children, severely damaging their social and inquisitive capacities in spite of the generous support he provides to the overall community. The families’ microcosms mirror the post-colonial situation of Nigeria, portraying the oppressive government and the spreading dissent of the population, leading to a critical conflict that may lead to significant change in the state of affairs.
The novel Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie describes the life of a teenage girl, Kambili, who is raised in Nigeria. In the novel, Adichie uses two main settings to effectively describe the themes of freedom, silence, and repression. The two settings that are used in the novel are Kambili’s hometown in Enugu and another small town, Nsukka, where Kambili’s aunt and cousins live. The contrasts between the settings are startling. In Enugu, Kambili, her brother, Jaja, and her mother all face oppression from Papa. Over there, the teenagers don’t know what freedom is, and everything they do is determined by Papa. However, in Nsukka, both Kambili and her brother finally find out what freedom truly is, and because of that, they find themselves. The city of Enugu is a large cosmopolitan city devoted to government affairs and commerce. Kambili’s father, Eugene, is an important figure in Nigeria and dominates his home using harsh punishments and rigid guidelines. The house is filled with an oppressive silence that symbolizes the inability of the family to communicate with one another or to express themselves. Even during dinner, the family sits down and they either eat in silence or speak briefly in intense short bursts. They worry constantly about their father’s reaction. Also, Kambili and Jaja are ruled by routines. Eugene has drawn them up schedules for every day and even dictates what their free time should be spent doing. He also schedules in study time. Jaja and Kambili are expected to come out on top in their classes every term, and often they do “because we were afraid of what would happen if we didn’t.” Kambili’s home in Enugu is a place of oppressive rules and fear, and Kambili has grown up without really speaking or thinking for herself. Even during school, Kambili is afraid to speak. She is afraid to speak to the girls and because of that, the girls think she is a snob. One girl said to her, “You know, she started calling you backyard snob because you don’t talk to anybody.”When Kambili’s aunt comes, she is able to talk Eugene into letting Kambili and Jaja come to her house. When they arrive, they are both a little timid and don’t know what to expect. Also, the “clammy coldness” of the Achike home in Enugu is strongly contrasted with the warm and lively atmosphere of Aunty Ifeoma’s flat in Nsukka. They tell their aunt that their father had given them schedules to follow during the day. Then Aunt Ifeoma told them, “I will keep them for you until you leave. If you do not tell Eugene, eh, then how will he know that you did not follow the schedule?” This is their first taste of freedom. Also during their visit, they are introduced to purple hibiscuses, which they had not seen before. This proves to be a huge symbol in the book. At home, they had only seen red hibiscuses, which would symbolize violence and anger. These purple hibiscuses would serve as a symbol of self-expression and a symbol of Kambili’s and Jaja’s growth and their journey to be free from their stifling lifestyle: “Jaja’s defiance seemed to me now like Aunty Ifeoma’s experimental purple hibiscuses: rare, fragrant with the undertones of freedom… A freedom to be, to do.” Their time in Nsukka gives them the ability to let them expand their characters and learn what freedom truly is. The atmosphere in Aunty Ifeoma’s house is very different to Enugu. In Nsukka, Ifeoma encourages her children to challenge each other and her. Everyone is free to have their own opinion. In contrast to Enugu, talking is relaxed and pleasurable, and something that Kambili’s cousins are much more comfortable doing than she is: “my cousins simply seemed to speak and speak and speak.” Kambili’s cousins are free to do what they like most of the time — the whole environment is much more relaxed than in Enugu. Kambili and Jaja find this new freedom difficult to adjust to, as seen in this passage: Aunty Ifeoma stood up… “Of course, you can stay up as long as you want afterward to watch TV or whatever else.” Jaja shifted on his chair before pulling his schedule out of his pocket.However, Kambili and Jaja slowly learn from their cousins that their life does not need to be dictated by someone else. Near the end of the book, Kambili remembers: “Jaja and Mama and I spoke more with our spirits than with our lips. Until Nsukka. Nsukka started it all.” Aunty Ifeoma’s flat in Nsukka “began to lift the silence,” allowing Kambili and Jaja to grow and speak more freely. In her aunt’s democratic household, children are treated with respect. They are given responsibility and their views are taken seriously. The two main settings of the book, the main home in Enugu and Aunty’s house in Nsukka, convey the themes of the book. In Enugu, Kambili and Jaja were oppressed by Eugene and his rules and punishments. In Nsukka, the brother and sister were able to experience freedom and encouragement for the first time. Here, they were able to develop their characters and learn what it meant to be free.
He Falls Apart: The Art of Female Subversion in African Literature
Within any system of oppression, the oppressed, once they realize their treatment is a type of oppression, oftentimes have the impulse to resist. This resistance, sometimes exceptionally dangerous, often bucked by popular opinion and those who have not recognized their own oppression, can take several different forms. Few can deny writing remains one of the most influential types of resistance, words capable of breaking down barriers that divide, a form of education that reaches out to the masses.
Within several distinguished African texts such as Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, women exhibit exceptional craft and wit to buck traditional gender roles and circumnavigate the systems of oppression established through patriarchal norms. This circumvention not only occurs within the actual text, exhibited by strong characters such as Aunty Ifeoma in Purple Hibiscus and Ezinma in Things Fall Apart, but also within the techniques the authors use to tell their narratives, paying close attention to narration and characterization.
A discussion of female subversion and strength, particularly within the context of African literature and culture, proves to be exceptionally timely, especially amid American perceptions and misunderstandings pertaining to African culture. While one cannot deny that violence against women and a deeply engrained patriarchal structure exists in some African societies, we seldom consider womankind’s own ingenuity in circumnavigating these structures and rebelling when deemed necessary and appropriate.
Some critics have praised strong women as they gain more agency and climb the ranks within many different professional fields, while others have difficulty coping with these changes, particularly to familial responsibilities being delegated between the sexes. Professor Oseni Taiwo Afisi praises traditional African culture for its strong reliance on the principle of equality—compartmentalizing tasks based on the strengths of each gender without hierarchy—while also demonizing women, labeled empowered within his piece “Power and Womanhood in Africa: An Introductory Evaluation”. He states that these women, by choosing to stray away from what he views as familial obligations in order to pursue careers outside of the domestic sphere, endanger morality. He credits lapses in morality, as seen through “cultism in our schools, corruption in all fields of our lives and electoral fraud in our polity” to a lack of strong familial structure with the female fulfilling domestic responsibilities (Afisi 236).
While Afisi’s praises of the magic of womanhood should be noted, it seems as if he romanticizes the role of women within traditional African society quite a bit for his own intellectual and argumentative gain. He makes an effort to commend women who have become political leaders such as Africa’s first female president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia and economic leaders such as “managing directors of banks, insurance, and also directors of general public corporations” but criticizes these women for not adequately performing their roles of wives and mothers.
Perhaps his most problematic argument stems from the concept that equality had been reached within Africa before colonial powers influenced the nation. He argues that due to colonialism, women have been placed on a lower rung to make way for capitalism, globalization, need for power, superiority, and “compartmentalization of roles and responsibilities with different values attached to them” (Afisi 234). He insists that women now occupy passive roles due to colonization: female children uneducated because of the implication that they will become young brides, domestic violence running rampant and women having little very little parental rights over their children.
While colonial powers definitely played a role in furthering this gender divide, as we see in works such as Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie with the relationship between Eugene and Beatrice, it did exist before colonial powers emerged. The beginning of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe takes place before colonial intervention, showing an Igbo society prior to European influence, then during the introduction of it. In this piece, there is still oppression and violence against women, specifically tied to a type of toxic masculinity represented by the main character Okonkwo. The preference of masculinity over femininity within this society is not only seen through Okonkwo’s violence against his wives, but also through the usage of feminine as an insult and the gendering of particular crops. Yams are often described as a masculine crop within the text, signifying not only their heartiness and the strength needed to harvest the vegetable, but also the economic importance of the vegetable to the society. Legumes are described as feminine because they are supplemental, easy to harvest, and economically insignificant in comparison to yams.
Afisi also makes an effort to defend perhaps one of the most harmful aspects of the patriarchal familial structure in African culture—polygamy—by insisting that polygamy remains the best structure for “achieving family social and economic stability” within a culture where on average more females are born than males (Afisi 231). He uses a quote by B. Dobson to bolster his argument which states that women “might otherwise never enjoy the status and benefits which accompany becoming a mother, a bearer of children” (Afisi 232). The issue stems from the lack of choice within this arrangement. While some women would benefit from more economic stability and affluence in exchange for child rearing, other women would perhaps take a different path if given the opportunity. Women, within this idealistic traditional society that Afisi presents, still do not have equal rights because they are not given the same amount of choices as men, and are still pigeonholed to one specific path instead of given the opportunity to explore different paths.
With attitudes such as Afisi’s promoting a return to traditional values, despite the fact that several times within his piece he identifies some of these values as oppressive towards the female sex, one can start to gain insight into how important women writing about women (as well as men writing well developed female characters) has become in this modern time. Without catalogues of lived experiences, the complexities of womanhood can be lost, especially upon a modern reader who seeks to understand each side to the narrative in its entirety.
Writers such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Chinua Achebe have both brought voice to African women who perhaps would not have had their narratives told otherwise. While Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” centers around a male narrator, he provides rich characterization to the female characters, refusing to succumb to stereotypes. He also provided a platform for female writers to exercise their voices in his short story anthology. Adichie, a feminist Catholic Igbo writer, offers a unique perspective particularly through her piece “Purple Hibiscus” which follows the maturation of Kambili, her softspoken narrator.
Aunty Ifeoma, Eugene’s widowed sister, represents a pivotal foil to Beatrice’s submissiveness and adherence to the status quo. While Beatrice embodies the peacekeeper within the family—a woman who picks up the remains of messes her husband makes—Ifeoma pays little attention to whether she ruffles her brother’s sensitive feathers, especially pertaining to how she addresses him. During the family’s time in Abba, Ifeoma points out that “everybody in Abba will tell Eugene only what he wants to hear. Do our people not have sense? Will you pinch the finger of the hand that feeds you?” (Adichie 96) Ifeoma, though freedom gained through sad circumstance, has gained freedom within the way she lives her life. No one monitors how loudly she can laugh, or how often she can grin widely with her gapped teeth. Ifeoma insists to Beatrice that sometimes “life begins when marriage ends” showing that she has genuinely gained a new lease on life, contradicting Afisi’s argument previously stated that polygamy benefits women, because a woman unmarried cannot enjoy status, benefits, or cultural respect (Adichie 75). Aunty Ifeoma teaches at the university, and while she admits her life is not easy, she insists that she remains genuinely happy within her life choices. She refuses to ask her brother for aid because as an intelligent, educated woman, she understands that dependence on her brother to provide for her strips her of her autonomy. She understands that within this structure of control Eugene has established, and society has reinforced, she surrenders certain freedoms just by admitting that she could use his assistance financially or otherwise.
While Eugene remains the symbolic figurehead of patriarchy within the family, patriarchy exists in other forms as well, exhibited through the “Roman Catholic Church, education, and the State” (Stobie 421). Adichie argues that toxic masculinity and unchecked patriarchal power leads to political corruption, unlike Afisi who argues that political corruption can be credited to women who have stretched themselves too thin, trying to adhere to their cultural responsibilities as mother and wife while pursuing their own ambitions.
The other main elderly male character, Papa-Nnukwu, gains reader’s admiration within the text. Despite his casual sexism, stating that once he dies his spirit will intercede for Ifeoma to find her a good man to take care of her and the children, he remains a sympathetic character due to his good nature, generosity towards Kambili and Jaja, and willingness to forgive his tyrannical son who has casted him off for his traditionalism which he labels as paganism (Adichie 83). Adichie does not deny that flaws exist within this type of traditionalism, but seems to favor it to the fanatical Catholicism showed within Eugene’s character. She seeks to contradict Afisi’s earlier point that sexism within African culture is a new phenomenon by juxtaposing these men within the same piece, showing that both the modern, post-colonial, democratic, Catholic culture and the traditional, pagan, Igbo culture are sexist in one way or another.
There is something to also be said about how Ifeoma interacts with her elderly father. While remaining respectful towards him, she does subvert his casual sexism with tiny sarcasms and truths about her lives. When told that he would help her find a good man to take care of her after death, she responds that she would his spirit hasten her “promotion to senior lecturer” showing that she does not expect a man to provide for her, and knows the means to better provide for herself (Adichie 83). Earlier within that scene, she also contradicts her father when he states that within education, because she is a woman, she does not count. This particular section remains important and outlines the innate sexism that still exists. Despite Ifeoma and Eugene receiving the same exact education through missionary schools, Eugene has found power through the male dominated Catholic church, while Ifeoma cannot receive a promotion at the university to help care for her children. Ifeoma responds to his casual sexism in a light, teasing way, without sharply criticizing her father.
Another element to consider when discussing female subversion is Adichie herself. The piece slowly unravels like the unfurling of a hibiscus within a garden, only with time the flower does not grow more beautiful but more violent, revealing complexities and contradictions within Eugene’s character over time. In the beginning, there are soft, subtle hints about Eugene’s violent impulses—he is not written in a way that automatically assigns him the role of villain. The opening scene within the novel shows Eugene throwing the church missal and shattering Beatrice’s ballerina figurines to pieces in reaction the Jaja’s actions in mass. The love sips showing that Kambili has developed an understanding of love as painful and earned. Then, Adichie slowly escalates the violence, dropping hints about bruises on Beatrice and explaining how she miscarries, a repercussion for the merciless beatings from Eugene. Finally, Adichie unveils the scope of Eugene’s abuses, showing his full physical violence when he whips his family when Kambili breaks the Eucharistic fast, and forces Kambili and Jaja to soak their feet in boiling water as punishment for visiting their grandfather. Slowly unveiling this violence overtime is one way that Adichie makes the piece feel more believable, like a portrait of a family falling to pieces. By not assigning Eugene as villain immediately, she allows the reader to come to their own conclusions about the character. This slow progression buildup also makes the ending feeling within reach instead of farfetched.
Adichie also makes use of a young, naïve narrator at the cusp of her naivety. She does not model the narrator from her own beliefs but instead uses her as a blank slate for the ideas surrounding her. Perhaps, Adichie uses both of these techniques, the slow unfolding of violence and the naïve narrator, to place an objective lens on the story and to protect herself from heavy critique. When faced with the accusation that her novel read as feminist, she did not shy away from the content she chose to write, but instead, stood proudly behind her novel, not refusing the label of feminist. While receiving plenty of critique for this decision from men and women alike, she does not waver in her beliefs, which help to color her fiction in a new way.
Similarly, within Things Fall Apart, Achebe had a tremendous responsibility in the way that he chose to tell the narrative to include female voice that felt authentic. He includes two particularly subversive female characters within the piece: one of Okonkwo’s wives Ekwefi and her only daughter Ezinma. While the plotline with Ezinma reinforces the preference of males within the society, Okonkwo seeing many good traits within Ezinma which could be used to the fullest if she had been born male instead, it also presents the reader with a type of paradox. Why waste these precious skills, quick-wit and intellect? Why sentence Ezinma to a life of being a third wife when her capabilities stretch far past taking menial orders? Okonkwo, knowing that her quick wit will be viewed as mutiny instead of prized and used to better society, attempts to shut it out of her. He holds a soft spot for her, particularly because of this intellect but also her physical vulnerabilities, particularly after he experiences his own vulnerabilities in full later in the piece.
Another act of subversion in the piece takes place when Ezinma’s mother Ekwefi, sneaks out in spite of warnings to stay and sleep, to check on her daughter while the priestess treats her. This action, an act of passion not stemming from a rejection of the societal norms, but from love of her daughter and want to see her, remains an interesting act to analyze within the piece. There is more empathy within this situation than when Okonkwo’s other wife left cooking dinner to fix her hair before the festivities, though both women come from a central point of wanting to do what they want. One, however, can be explained within a cultural context by the passions of a mother who fears losing her child while the other assumes selfishness on the mother’s part. It seems that even rebellion here is monitored through a motherly lens: women can act out if it still remains in the best interest of the family.
With excellent representation of women within classic African literature, readers and critics alike can better understand the lived experience of an African woman, which ripples through polity choices and social attitude towards women obtaining more public sphere influence. While it seems not everyone is completely ready for pieces like Purple Hibiscus which bring to light the extent of oppression that can exist and how easily a victim of this violence and manipulation can be convinced that this is the only way their lives can unfurl, texts like this remain absolutely pivotal for understanding, persuading, and giving light to a narrative that has been largely ignored. It also abandons the Eurocentric notion that African women must be saved from the society they live in, because these women are strong enough to subvert society on their own in the ways they deem fit. Characters like Ifeoma and Ezima ripple the current of the pieces they are placed in, causing the narrative to change around them. Beatrice and Kambili gain strength to understand how dangerous Eugene’s presence within their lives has become, and Okonkwo is forced to show vulnerability through Ezima and Ekwifi’s presence. The ripple continues when these authors stand by the choices they have made in their works, not allowing critics to undermine the successes in their pieces.
The Change in Perspective of Kambili and Jaja
Kambili and Jaja live in a strict, quiet household where everything revolves around their father, Eugene Achike’s, intense religious beliefs and the family’s need to constantly impress him. However, when they visit their Aunty Ifeoma’s house and get to know their cousins Amaka, Obiora and Chima, the lively, unsuppressed atmosphere in the Nsukka house and their cousin’s freedom, changes the perspectives of Kambili and Jaja.
Obiora is years younger than Jaja, however, after the passing of his father, he stepped up to be the man in the household by undergoing initiation into the Igbo culture. He is independent, self assertive and is protective over his mother. When Jaja finds out Obiora has undergone this initiation, he is ashamed of how much older Obiora seems to be than himself, as he had not been able to participate in the initiation, due to his father’s disapproval of the Igbo practices which he deemed to be uncivilised. This has a profound affect on Jaja as he starts to blossom into a young man. Kambili even notices that his shoulders are broadening and he has chest hair, all symbolising his transformation into a man. Obiora encourages Jaja to open his eyes and challenge his allegiances, to both his religion and his father, and to make his own decisions rather than blindly follow what is set out by his father.
Amaka also has an effect on the way Jaja sees religion as together they both make a stand against certain religious practices. Amaka refuses to be confirmed as she does not want to have to choose and English name and Jaja does not go up to receive communion. As a result of her influences, Jaja starts to reject and stray away from religion and rebel against his father’s beliefs and traditions.
Obiora and Chima get told by Aunty Ifeoma that “being defiant can be good sometimes. Defiance is like marijuana – it is not a bad thing when it is used right.” (Adichie 144). Kambili then notices that “her conversation was with Chima and Obiora, but she was looking at Jaja” (Adichie 144). This conversation with his cousins and aunt planted the seed of rebellion into Jaja, and it was here were he first started to think about rebelling against his father’s tyranny. He realised that defying his father might be what is best in this situation.
Amaka had the biggest impact in the growth of Kambili and changing her perceptions. For Kambili, Amaka was a role model after which she could see what life for a normal teenager was like. Amaka was allowed to question authority and speak freely and easily, whereas Kambili was afraid to speak up. Amaka’s question to Aunty Ifeoma “are you sure they’re not abnormal” (Adichie 141) is overheard by Kambili and makes Kambili aware of the fact that the way in which Kambili and Jaja live and the silent atmosphere in their household is very different to the way their cousins live and act. Kambili notices how easily Amaka can speak and converse with friends and Kambili wonders whether she and Jaja really are abnormal.
When Aunty Ifeoma commands Kambili to speak back to Amaka when she criticizes her, Kambili finally responds “you don’t have to shout, Amaka” (Adichie 170) which was her first time standing up for herself. After this, Amaka respects Kambili and shows her how to make the Orah leaves, instead of judging her for not knowing how. Amaka’s words “so you can be this loud” (Adichie 170) shows Kambili is starting to find her voice. Kambili no longer felt so uncomfortable in Amaka’s presence and their friendship only grew from there. Their friendship was the first time that Kambili saw what it was like to converse normally with other girls her age, instead of always having to run away from her classmates at school in order to please her father and she became more comfortable in her skin.
When Chima does not understand what has been said, Aunty Ifeoma explains, however she uses words which Kambili believes Chima would still not understand. However, Kambili realizes that Aunty Ifeoma does this in order to push and better her children. Kambili realizes that when she and Jaja push themselves, it is because they are too scared to not be good enough for the standard which their father expects of them.
Adichie, the author of Purple Hibiscus, uses the cousins to effect change in Kambili and Jaja. This is effective because the way Kambili and Jaja have been raised is in a very conservative, serious manner where they have strict rules set by their father which they have to obey. They are both very quiet and obedient, which is the complete opposite to how their cousins are raised in Aunty Ifeoma’s house. They are loud, expressive and have lots of freedom. When Kambili and Jaja come to visit them in Nsukka, they teach Kambili and Jaja how to liven up and not be so serious as Kambili and Jaja become accustomed to their newly found freedom. It is very effective as we can easily compare the two sets of siblings in the beginning and it points out just how boring and controlled Kambili and Jaja’s lives are. It also makes it easier to see how Kambili and Jaja grow and change as we can track their progress and see how they become more and more like their cousins.
It is clear to see that through various encounters and conversations with their cousins and from merely living with them during their visits, the cousins had an effect on Kambili and Jaja’s perceptions on life and had an impact on their growth and change as people.
Natural Symbolism in Purple Hibiscus
Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus explores the life of a wealthy Nigerian family with the protagonist Kambili, a young girl who tries to find her own voice in an oppressive society and home. Throughout the novel, the author uses a number of symbols to convey her ideas. In Purple Hibiscus, Adichie uses symbolism through nature and pathetic fallacy to reflect the development of the story and character’s growth.
During many occasions in the novel, the red and purple hibiscuses play an important role in the eyes of Kambili and Jaja, but also in the novel as a whole. The purple flowers have been described as “rare, fragrant with the undertones of freedom” (16), which also conveys their importance and uniqueness. Before “things started to fall apart” (3), the hibiscuses were still a vibrant red color, showing that they have not fully bloomed and that freedom has not yet settled in the family. Red, a color with a symbolism of anger and violence, haunts Kambili through her childhood as she has to clean her mother’s blood after an abusive episode. Kambili cannot focus after a long period of time afterwards and can only read with “the black typed blurred, the letters swimming into one another, and then changed to a bright red, the red of fresh blood” (35). As for the red hibiscuses, they symbolize the family’s oppression, since the only way Papa keeps his wife and children in control is through his violence. The children only see the purple hibiscuses when they visit Aunty Ifeoma in Nsukka, and they are surprised since “[they] didn’t know there were [any]” (128). Not only did Kambili and Jaja discover a new flower when they arrive to Nsukka, they also find out what true freedom is. By seeing how Aunty Ifeoma lives with Amaka and Obiora, Jaja and Kambili notice that their lives are strict and controlled unlike their cousins’, who have the freedom to do whatever they like. To Jaja, the purple hibiscuses signify hope that something new can exist, such as a new life without Papa’s rules. He takes a stalk of the flowers with him back home and plants them in the garden in hope that freedom will soon come through. Adichie foreshadows Jaja’s rebellious decisions from the moment he notices the rare flowers to him refusing to go to communion, which leads to Papa throwing a “missal across the room” (3). From that point on, the flowers “started to push out sleepy buds,” even though most were “still on the red ones” (9). As the purple hibiscuses start bloom, so does Jaja’s rebellion towards Papa, which reveals the way the flowers symbolize Jaja’s growth as a character.
Throughout the novel, Kambili’s attitude towards nature changes as she matures, but it also reflects her inner turmoil and joy. Whilst staying in Nsukka, Kambili discovers an earthworm “slithering in the bathtub” (232). Before taking her bath, she picked it up, and “threw it in the toilet” (233) without flushing it, even though she knew Obiora was fascinated by worms. Instead of dealing with the crawling insect, she decides to remove it. The earthworm symbolizes Kambili’s mood, in this case her turmoil, and demonstrates how she is uncertain of her feelings throughout the course of the novel and decides to put them aside instead of confronting them. Whilst getting her hair done, Kambili notices a snail in an open basket. She watched the creature as it was “crawling out, being thrown back in, and then crawling out [of the basket] again” (238), and realizes that she shares similarities to it. Kambili is also trapped inside her own type of basket – her father’s home- and crawls towards freedom just like the snail, but keeps getting pushed back in. She grows in strength and maturity with the love of Aunty Ifeoma and Father Amadi, who bring out the best of her. Later in the novel, she bathes once again, but this time leaves the earthworms alone. By coexisting with the worms and bathing with the “scent of the sky” (270), Kambili learns to love her surroundings and honor the natural world. Her joy gets revealed while she sings and bathes after being with Father Amadi, and it also reveals that she no longer depends on her haunting memories and has found her own voice despite her family’s oppression. Kambili grows into a more mature young girl, and this is demonstrated through symbolism of the snails and earthworms, and also how she finally finds her voice.
Adichie also plays with pathetic fallacy in Purple Hibiscus to symbolize different characters’ thoughts. After Palm Sunday, “howling winds came with an angry rain” (258) which uproot trees and make the satellite dish crash. The use of pathetic fallacy reflects the similarities between the weather and the atmosphere in the Achike’s household, right after the communion Jaja missed. Moreover, the “purple hibiscuses [were] about to bloom” (253) symbolize Jaja’s decisions on missing communion and becoming more free. The author also uses pathetic fallacy during Ade Cocker’s death, when “it rained heavily . . . [and there was] strange, furious rain” (206). The heavy rains symbolize the difficult and depressive state Papa goes through further in the novel due to his friend’s death. At the end of the novel, after Mama and Kambili visit Jaja in prison, the clouds are described “like dyed cotton wool [hanging] low” (307), which give them a sense of ambiguity, not knowing whether they are symbolized as hopeful or ominous. Furthermore, Adichie uses specific nature imagery to describe Kambili’s thoughts on her future. Kambili imagines that she will “plant new orange trees . . . and Jaja will plant purple hibiscuses, too” (306). Kambili still finds hope within her that Jaja will be out of jail soon, and that they will all go to Abba. The hope that Jaja will do so conveys that he brought freedom into his home by planting the purple hibiscuses, even though his own freedom was taken away from him.
By using pathetic fallacy, imagery and symbolism throughout the novel, Adichie develops the plot and characters’ growth. The red and purple hibiscuses symbolize the freedom versus oppression in the novel and how Jaja dealt with it. Kambili’s maturity, which is symbolized through nature, reflects her inner confusion and happiness about her life. The use of pathetic fallacy reveals different characters’ thoughts through the novel. Adichie reveals characters’ inner thoughts and actions by symbolizing them through nature.
Religious Deception: Catholicism in Fiction and Fact in ‘Purple Hibiscus’
Religious Deception The primary purpose of religion is to promote morality and peace within its followers, and its fundamental principles are based on the spread of such peace in the hopes of unity. However, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie presents her belief that religion dictates morals to the point where it can have the opposite of the desired effect. One instance in which Adichie’s belief is reflected in the story is through the personality of Eugene Achike, Kambili’s father. He is portrayed as an obsessive follower of Catholicism, forcing the religion on the rest of his family and acquaintances. Adichie contrasts the traditionalist attitude of Kambili’s father to Auntie Ifeoma, who is also a Catholic but is much more liberal and open-minded. She is portrayed as a much more gentle and flexible character, a complete opposite of Papa. A careful examination of the research indicates that Adichie correctly asserts that although religion has the capacity for good, it possesses the potential to manipulate morals to the point at which one may misinterpret negative actions as positive ones.
Adichie illustrates the negative effects religion can have on one’s sense of morality through the personality of Eugene, Kambili’s father. Eugene is portrayed as a wealthy man that harbors good intentions through religion, but negatively impacts those he wishes to benefit with Catholicism. When Kambili was caught eating before mass, which is prohibited in Catholicism, her father, stating he has no other choice, punishes her by pouring boiling water over her feet, causing her to cry in pain. He displays reluctance to hurt his daughter but insists he must carry out this act of violence in the name of upholding the rules of his faith, as a way to teach “what you do to yourself when you walk into sin. You burn your feet” (194). The fact that Eugene inflicted this painful punishment on his daughter against his will emphasizes the extent to which religion manipulates his motives. The desire to conform to his religion is so strong that it overpowers Eugene’s paternal instinct and drives him to hurt his own daughter. Another instance in which Kambili’s father displays his fanatic passion to Catholicism is when Kambili’s brother, Jaja refused to receive communion, the most important aspect of a Catholic mass. Upon learning about Jaja’s act of blasphemy, “Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the étagère” (3). In this incident, Eugene once again emphasizes the influence religion has on his perspective and emotions through his impulsive behavior. The severity of his reaction to Jaja’s infraction also depicts the lengths to which Eugene is willing to go to teach Jaja his lesson. By breaking figurines, which were precious to Kambili’s mother, Eugene also indicates that he perceives religion to be a priority above everything, including the happiness and belongs of his wife.
The manipulation of morals through religion depicted in Purple Hibiscus is also present in the real world. An examination that delved into the motives of religious terrorists revealed that “[the terrorist’s] deep Calvinistic religious beliefs appeared to fuel a willingness to kill women and children in his desire to eliminate slavery” (Johnson). Although the acts committed by the man in question are atrocious, the fact that the purpose of his actions was to end slavery indicates that he carried out these deeds with good intentions, much like the actions of Eugene. Additionally, Muslims statistically make up the majority of terrorist groups because “the interests of a number of Islamic countries are in conflict with the interests of powerful Western countries” (BBC). This article clearly portrays the pervasiveness of religion’s negative influence on moral judgement, since it is driving many people to carry out acts of terrorism in order to preserve their own faith. This occurs in Purple Hibiscus on a much smaller scale, with Eugene committing acts of violence on his own children when they violate the interests of his religion. The religious extremists illustrated in both of these articles support the existence of too much faith in religion that Adichie portrays in the actions of Papa.
Adichie uses Auntie Ifeoma to contrast with the violent nature of Papa in order to further emphasize the ability of religion to distort one’s perception of good and bad. Ifeoma explicitly expresses her opinion on Eugene’s desire to exert control over others that “Eugene has to stop doing God’s job. God is big enough to do his own job. If God will judge our father for choosing to follow the way of our ancestors, then let God do the judging, not Eugene” (95). Ifeoma blatantly portrays the sharp contrast between her and Eugene’s perspective on control, which Adichie includes to establish Ifeoma aas a representative of the original purpose of religion. By introducing such a character, Adichie effectively conveys that although Eugene has good intentions, he is contradicting the very purpose of Catholicism. Later in the story, Kambili reflects on Jaja’s resistance of Eugene’s control, comparing them to “Aunty Ifeoma’s experimental purple hibiscus: rare, fragrant with the undertones of freedom” (15). Kambili’s remark captures Adichie’s sentiment that religion has the potential to make a positive mark on one’s life, as long as it is contained. Ifeoma practices the same religion has Eugene, but is flexible and open to new ideas allowing her to maintain control of her morals in order to help others in a genuinely positive way.
Adichie’s point that religion, as long as it isn’t extreme, is perfectly capable of spreading well-being is reinforced when a church in Texas “partnered with organizations to help those affected, cleaning debris from their homes and distributing needed items” (NBC). In this case, religion inspired its followers to reach out to those in need to make a positive impact on the society around it, much like how Ifeoma allows Catholics to guide her in teaching Kambili valuable moral lessons. Furthermore, when a church shooter devastated the families of a Christian church, Muslims lended a hand in raising money to support the victims, with their only motive being that the “beloved Prophet Muhammed reminded us on our duties towards our neighbours” (Farrell). This behavior is parallel to Ifeoma’s treatment of Kambili, using the little resources she possesses towards helping Kambili enjoy her stay with Ifeoma, and teaching Kambili the wrongs of Eugene’s ways. The personalities of the generous people depicted in these articles and that of Ifeoma serves as a contrast that further illustrates Adichie’s message that religion can only be beneficial up to a point. The actions of both Osteen’s church and the Muslims that reached out to the Christian victims reflect Ifeoma’s broader perspective regarding religion, driving her to take actions are seen as blasphemous to Papa’s narrow viewpoint.
A careful inspection of real life occurrences compared to the course of events in Purple Hibiscus definitively support Adichie’s claim that at a certain point, religion can negatively impact a person and others around him. By integrating the stark differences between Papa’s impulsive and fanatic attitude and Ifeoma relaxed and flexible nature during the story, Adichie illustrates the line between the positive and negative influences of religion. By presenting the idea that religion may have a certain limit of benefit, Adichie speaks out against the horrors of religious extremism but praises the kindness inspired by the same faiths.
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