Sights Of Victimization Of Women And Gender Roles In Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer


Women are given the position of ‘second sex’ since the time immemorial. They have been subjected to have a secondary treatment and they are deprived of the opportunities which are enjoyed by men. This discrimination pushes the fair sex into the background position and they fail to get the status equal to men. Women are victimized by the societal system in various forms such as domestic abuse, wife battering, discrimination at work place and cruelties to them in various physical, emotional and psychological forms have been a global phenomenon leading to their oppression, suppression, repression, marginalization and victimization.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a representative voice of Nigerian women, has recognized the factor of differentiation as the sole cause of women’s derogatory status in the hierarchical order, of most of the societies. Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, projects violence on woman very closely. This work evidences politically, domestically and culturally dominated position of women and how they started to have a voice against the oppression and set their way to shout and fight to the tyrannical systems to which they are victimized. This proposition will be verified through the interpretation of Purple Hibiscus of Adichie.


“For most of history, Anonymous was a woman” (Woolf: A Room of One’s Own). This statement of Virginia Woolf makes clear that women have been destined to stand in the background position throughout the history. Invisibility, suppression and muted voices have been women’s destiny in all parts of the world. And among all, the lives of African women are most heart wrenching, and the most extraordinary chronicle of human disaster. Their battle against anonymity is far from any end. Reproduction, mommyism, and vanishing into men’s world without any strong reaction, have become their endlessfate, around which their lives revolve. The condition of women, ensures the line of subjugating continuation of women in the patriarchal society, as they are as a child owned by their father, as a wife by their husbands and as a mother by their sons.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the latest Nigerian female writer to make a mark in the African literary scene and to win several international prizes within a short time. She is quoted to have said that her greatest inspiration comes from Chinua Achebe. Life of Nigeria and Nigerians are as frequent in her writings as in Achebe. Adichie is an immensely powerful voice of new Nigerian tradition of writing. Nigerian lives and in particular the lives of Nigerian women are intoxicatingly described by Adichie in her fiction works.

Adichie’sfirst novel, Purple Hibiscus, is a narrative of Postcolonial Nigerian society where a young girl, named Kambili, explores and exposes the oppression and violence prevalent on different levels and captures the impact of patriarchy, domestic violence, general intolerance and autocratic rule on a group of individuals, particularly, women who are constantly marginalized, brutalized and victimized. The novel is a tender first-person narrative of Kambili whose narration is built around the lives of her oppressed mother, Beatrice, her silent brother, Jaja, Aunty Ifeoma, her children and herself. All these characters present the relentless struggle against the domination of different kinds. Narrative of Purple Hibiscus is of violence, suppression and intimidation. In fact, the very opening lines of the novel suggest the act of violence from Papa (Eugene): Things started to fall apart at home when my brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the etagere.

Purple Hibiscus beautifully explores the subjugation and exploitation of women in both familial and socio political domain. All women characters go through an endless suffering perpetrated by either male oppression or the State tyranny. The novel presents patriarchal violence executed on many levels and in many forms. The issues of Patriarchal oppression are highlighted through the character of Papa (Eugene). He is a thoughtless and inconsiderate patriarch who resorts to violence, even at the slightest provocation from his wife and children. Kambili, the narrator and her mother Beatrice are the victims of domestic violence; on the other hand Kambili’s aunt Ifeoma suffers deprivation of equal rights and wages as comparable to her male colleagues.

Silence: a Weapon against Freedom

Patriarchal society is basically an institution of male- rule whose existence flourishes on female obedience and subordination.The patriarchal household of Eugene reflects the saying of Orwell’s Animal Farm that:

“All Animals are equal

But some are more equal

Than others”

War of power and control are often war over who is heard and who is not and over who gets to speak and who does not. The women must be silent in order to make the men able to exercise their power over them. Sadly most of the women accept this discrimination and deprivation as their fate. In Purple Hibiscus, the author displays how silence is used as a weapon of patriarchy. The state of silence or muting leads to domestic slavery. Silence is very abundantly used as a tool in the novel. The victimized characters of Purple Hibiscus, such as Kambili, Beatrice and Jaja are silent spectators of their own exploitation. Their muteness encourages Eugene’s patriarchal excesses on them. Beatrice is depicted as a docile wife who silently suffers her husband’s constant cruelty without any resistance. Kambili, herself unknowingly encourages her father’s patriarchal excesses on her family by choosing to remain silent. Prevalent deep silence that filled their domestic world is multi layered that can be seen on literal level as well as metaphorical level. Kambili describes the profuse silence that became integral part of their family life: Our steps on the stairs were as measured and silent as our Sundays: the silence of waiting until Papa was done with his siesta so we could have lunch…the silence of driving to the church for benediction afterward. Even our family time on Sundays was quiet… (31)

This shallow silence actually suggests an inner helplessness of Beatrice and her children. Their lives revolve around the rigid rules and the bound-up schedules of Papa that make their superficial luxurious life intolerable. They became a prey to Eugene’s unpredictable mercy that forces them to live an excluded life from outside world, confined by “compound walls, topped by electric wires”. The anxiety of anticipated violence has snatched their ability to speak out, as on one occasion Kambili fails to speak out: “I cleared my throat, willed the words to come. I knew them, thought them. But they would not come.”(48) Kambili, Jaja and their mother Beatrice have over the years learnt to communicate without words, only interconnecting with their eyes in fear of evoking Eugene’s dissatisfaction.

The mother, Beatrice, is a quiet and a submissive woman who probably is the worst victim of patriarchy executed by her chauvinist husband. Beatrice represents the deplorable condition of African women who lack economic independence. Thus, their lives are exclusively controlled by men. It is well manifested by a scene where Beatrice is quite unwell and wants to take a rest in the car. Her husband’s response to her is extremely shocking: “Let me stay in the car and wait, biko”, Mama (Beatrice) said, leaning against the Mercedes. “I feel vomit in my throat”. Papa turned to stare at her… “Are you sure you want to stay in the car?” Papa asked. Mama was looking down; her hands were placed on her belly, to hold the wrapper from untying itself or to keep her bread and tea breakfast down. “My body does not feel right,” she mumbled. “I asked if you were sure you wanted to stay in the car?” Mama looked up. “I’ll come with you. It’s really not that bad.”(29)

Eugene’s word is final for her in spite of the fact that he disregards her feeling. Beatrice hangs at the periphery of Papa’s world. At home, she has no choice over what colour of curtains to hang on the windows of the family mansion. Kambili observes that “Kevin brought samples for Mama to look at and she picked some and showed Papa, so he could make the final decision” (192). The indecision depicted here confirms the marginal position Beatrice occupies in relation to her husband.

Patriarchal violence is so ubiquitous in the novel that we can find it on every second moment and despite feeling the voice of revolt we felt a kind of submissive attitude to it. Kambli’s family lives in extreme veneration of Papa (Eugene) like he is a supreme being or deity.The family is always experiencing nervous moments due to paternal brutality. On one of such incidents,Beatrice who is abused and beaten on a regularly basis when Eugene needs to let out his rage, miscarries her baby. The narrator observes:

“I was in my room after lunch, reading James chapter five because I would talk about the biblical roots of the anointing of the sick during family time, when I heard the sounds. Swift, heavy thuds on my parents’hand-carved bedroom door… I sat down, closed my eyes and started to count. Counting made it seem not that long, made it seem not that bad. Sometimes it was over before I even got to twenty…There’s blood on the floor, Jaja said (32-3).”

Soon after, Papa carries his wife to the hospital, leaving a trail of blood that the children clean up. Beatrice returns from hospital a day or two later, having lost her baby.In order to cope with the violence they repress their feelings and try to pretend that the abuse never happened. Kambili’s narration makes clear the act of repression required: “We did not talk about Mama. Instead, we talked about the three men who were publicly executed two days before, for drug trafficking.” Patriarchy leads to silence which in turn leads to fear. This episode portrays the assault that Papa meets on Mama and at a higher level the violence that is directed towards women, thus unmasking the negative side of patriarchy.

The author condemns Mama’s failure to speak about her situation since the silence re-energizes Eugene resulting to several misfortunes that would have been averted. Although Mama is abused and unloved, she is subservient to her husband as expected in her marriage. She can only respond to her predicament by crying. Kambili observes that: “She cried for a long time. She cried until her hand, clasped in hers, felt stiff. She cried until Aunty Ifeoma finished cooking the rotting meat in a spicy stew. She cried until she fell asleep, her head against the seat of the chair. Jaja laid her on a mattress on the living room floor(249)”. Crying makes Mama’s situation starkly hopeless and irredeemable. As readers we pity Mama and sympathize with the anguish she is going through.

It is ironical that despite the constant brutality of her husband, Beatrice validates his action as something normal and hence, acceptable. She fails to recognize the power of the resistance. In fact, she feels a sense of gratitude towards her husband for not bringing a new wife even after several miscarriages: “The members of the umunna even sent people to your father to urge him to have children with someone else… But your father stayed with me, with us…” (20)

Combating Discrimination and Violence

Adichie, as a feminist writer not only shows the problems of patriarchal domination, but also suggest women’s aspiration to rise above this. Her portrayal of Beatrice’s final act of self-assertion is an attempt to present women in the centre position. Beatrice kills her husband, Eugene, by poisoning his tea. Beatrice is subjected to an unending, unregretful violence of Eugene that forces her to choose an extreme option. One feels immensely outraged and appalled when Beatrice describes an episode of her husband’s brutality: “You know that small table where we keep the family Bible, nne? Your father broke it on my belly”…“My blood finished on that floor…” (248) Although, the act of killing cannot be appreciated or justified, however, it can be seen as an only alternative to extreme cruelity, an extreme decision of revolt, an act of strong rebellion or a voice of self-assertion. Nevertheless, her act of murder is important because it shows a revolt against patriarchal domination. The significant step taken by Beatrice is a deliberate attempt, on the author’s part, to assert an alternative voice of a woman who has ability to redeem her freedom.

Kambili also goes through a transformation from a silent worshipper of her father to someone who defies his authority after she visits Nsukka. For Kambili “Nsukka began to lift the silence” from their life. Her exposure to freedom in her aunt’s home in Nsukka and her affection for Father Amadi lead her to change her typed perception of her Papa and the so called domestic world he had built for his children. In Nsukka, Kambili started realize her voice, her feelings and her desire to question her Papa’s patriarchal principles. Her aunt’s liberal domestic environment develops a desire for freedom in Kambili.

Adichie strongly addresses the problems of patriarchy at the domestic level and the problem of totalitarian excesses at the national level. If Kambili and Beatrice confront patriarchy within the familial domain, Ifeoma confronts it in her professional space. She is a single mother and a working lady of the house but she failed to get an equal rights and wages as her male colleagues receive. She fights against the system and lives her life on her own terms. In spite of being submissive she chooses a life of emigrant that suggests an optimistic picture.


Patriarchy takes different forms in different cultures, but its different belief is the same. This paper takes a cursory look at the patriarchal system in Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and the plight of the feminine gender where women’s body is seen as sight of a battled zone, subjected to violence and torture. It looks at how the system leads the female characters into solitude, voicelessness and loss of their identities. Though Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, shows women’s pain of being dominated at one hand but on the other it is written against patriarchal ideology where women are shown awaken to her being and realizing her own self and started to combat against this discrimination and violence.


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