Gender Roles in Purple Hibiscus
Paper II: Purple Hibiscus
To what extent do male and female literary characters accurately reflect the role of men and women in society?
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie uses dominance, control and power to accurately reflect the role of male literary characters and silence and oppression to reflect the role of female literary characters in society in Purple Hibiscus. Eugene Achike has power over his family, companies and newspaper which leads to a desire of abusive control which can be seen through his family relationships. Obiora and Jaja assume the role of dominance, like an older son who was lacking a father figure and cared about the well-being of his family would. Beatrice Achike nurtures her children and plans for them, regardless of the abuse and oppression she undergoes due to her husband.
Eugene Achike, referred to as Papa, is one of the main characters present in Purple Hibiscus. He is the father of Kambili, the narrator of the book. Papa is dedicated to his religious studies, as well as his snack companies and being the editor of the newspaper he works for. Kambili is talking about the new baby while characterizing her father when she says, “Kambili was written in bold letters on top of the white sheet of paper, just as Jaja was written on the schedule about Jaja’s desk in his room…Papa liked order.” (pg.23) Papa wanting order or control in the household is similar to the stereotypical role of men in a household. In many forms of literature, men are perceived as the “bread-winners.” According to dictionary.com, a bread-winner a person supporting a family with his or her earnings. This can be seen again when Kambili doesn’t place first in her class and her father takes her to school to look for Chinwe Jideze and points out the fact that she only has one head, the same advantages that Kambili has, so Chinwe should not do any better than Kambili. “’Why do you think I work so hard to give you and Jaja the best? You have to do something with all these privileges,’” (pg. 47) shows Papa believes the structural influence he puts in Kambili’s and Jaja’s life is beneficial, since when he was growing up he didn’t have these privileges of a private Christian school or transportation from a personal driver.
Another example of how Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s characters reflect gender roles in society is the relationship between Obiora and Aunty Ifeoma. Similar to the controlling, bread-winner role Papa has on his family, it is a western cliché that if the father is missing from the family, the oldest son will assume that role. On page 74, it is revealed that Amaka’s, Obiora’s and Chiaku’s father got into a car accident, and that was the reason he was not present in their lives. When Kambili and Jaja are visiting Nsukka, Obiora tells Amaka to stop being mean to Kambili, siphons fuel for Aunty Ifeoma’s car and slaughters chickens for his family. This shows dominance and responsibility within Obiora, where he assumes a role within his family, something that Jaja wishes he had. Towards the end of the story, after Papa dies and Mama is broken, Jaja says “I should have taken care of Mama. Look how Obiora balances Aunty Ifeoma’s family on his head, and I am older than he is. I should have taken care of Mama.” (pg. 289) Jaja feels this need of dominance like his father, earlier in the book when he kneels next to his mother on Palm Sunday and helps her pick up the broken ballet figurines and tells her to be careful, like a caring husband might do for his wife. This also can be seen when Jaja takes the blame for his father’s death.
A female character which accurately reflects the role of women in society is Beatrice Achike, also known as Mama. Not all married women are sheltered and silent, and subjects of marital abuse, however the majority of mothers are caring and want what is best for their children. This can be seen many times from Kambili’s perspective. Mama’s characterization begins when Kambili is in her room studying and Mama brings her uniforms in so that they wouldn’t get rained on. Mama and Kambili share a moment, like any other relationship between a mother and daughter, when Mama tells Kambili she is pregnant. When Kambili and Jaja come home from Nsukka, and their father pours boiling water on their feet for walking into sin, Mama is there to comfort Kambili afterwards. “Tears were running down her face…She mixed salt with cold water and gently plastered the gritty mixture onto my feet. She helped me out of the tub, made to carry me on her back to my room, but I shook my head…” (pg. 195) This shows Mama assuming the role of a woman, of a mother, the role to be caring and protective of her children. Finally, Mama chooses to protect her children by killing the man who oppressed and abused them since they were little. “’I started putting poison in his tea before I came to Nsukka…,’” (pg. 290) Mama tells her questioning children. We can assume that she did this because of the harm he was inflicting on her and her children.
Throughout Purple Hibiscus, the gender roles between the characters stays constant. One is able to see the inborn struggles between each character and the problems that are caused because of each struggle. The oppression of the Mama and the care Mama gives to her children accurately represents female roles in society. The power struggle in Papa is also extremely evident with the way he treats everyone in the family. Obiora’s need to care for his family when his father is not present also shows a role of a young man in society. Adichie does a great job representing each facet in the roles of each character.
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