Issues of Modern African Households in Purple Hibiscus

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A well-written piece of African literature set against post-colonial Nigeria exploring a variety of themes prevalent to modern African households. We explore this book through the eyes of the 15-year protagonist Kambili on her coming of age of alongside her brother Jaja. Both the characters are undergoing the transition into adulthood and have to overcome adversity as they are forced to assimilate to new ideas of liberal religious views, freedom of speech, heathens, and love. They also come to realise that an essential part of growing up is being able to mold your own individuality and form independent opinions on the world around you. The book begins with the scene of Jaja, who had refused to take communion on Palm Sunday depicting his rebellion against his father (Papa), who is a devout Catholic.

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Papa is described to us as being a wealthy, well-respected prominent figure in the community and a very religious man. His zealous religious beliefs manifest itself in violent and cruel ways in his household. He is a tyrant man, who controls and oppresses his family both emotionally and physically and uses religion to justify his actions in the name of love. We find Kambili to be a shy, quiet young woman who is in awe of her father and lives to please him all she does. But as the book story, she later comes to realize that her father is a ruthless man? In their lavish house in Enugu, the characters are subjected to follow the strict rules and schedules on their daily living as drawn up by their father, who severely punishes them when they stray. Upon their visits to their aunt Ifeoma in Nsukka, they are astounded by how the way of living is so different from what they are accustomed to. By their aunt’s, the home is small and less luxurious but the home is full of laughter, love, and mutual respect. She lives with her three children who have been given the authority to voice their opinions and speak freely. It is in Nsukka where Jaja and Kambili are introduced to an environment that is less strict where they are allowed to speak their mind, contest ideas, and draw independent conclusions and opinions. The title of the book ‘Purple Hibiscus’ is an important symbol throughout the whole book as it depicts freedom and defiance, which is what the book is about. These flowers grow in Nsukka, and that is where these two characters obtain their newly found freedom and discovery of their individuality.

At the beginning of the book, Adichie refers to the book THINGS FALL APART, by Chinua Achebe that explores the introduction and later domination of colonial missionaries in Nigeria, which have a tremendous impact on the traditions and practices of African tribal rituals. In both texts, there is parental conflict resultant from western imperialism on Igbo culture ( Nigerian tribe). Papa has ostracised his father (Papa Nnukwu) on the basis that he still practices his traditional rituals. Religion is a core theme in this book, the children are made follow the Catholic ways of living and are not to interact with non-believers, who are labeled as heathens or they will be severely punished.

Upon the release of this book, the author presented a TedTalk (TedxEuston, 2011) speech on the ‘ Dangers of a Single Story’. She discussed how important it is for us to never rely on one side of the story, rather make decisions based on both perspectives of the story. Single side stories are always biased. Kambili and Jaja have taken up all that their father has told them about their grandfather Papa Nnukwu and the evils of this world. As children, we illustrate and absorb what we told by the people we love and respect especially our parents. But there are unintended consequences of single side story. We observe the world in the eyes of the people we look up to and hence that limits our ability to generate own thoughts and view and draw opinions on issues because we believe what we are told is factual. One side stories are dangerous as they make us see the issues of the world and other people in a single stance and have judgments about them even before we get time to know them better. Purple Hibiscus is an interesting and mind cultivating read. A book about oppression, religion, tyranny, and later defiance and promise of freedom.

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