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Literature / Purple Hibiscus

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"Jaja’s defiance seemed to me now like Aunty Ifeoma’s experimental purple hibiscus: rare, fragrant with the undertones of freedom, a different kind of freedom from the one the crowds waving green leaves chanted at Government Square after the coup. A freedom to be, to do."
Kambili
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Purple Hibiscus is a 2004 novel by Nigerian author Chimanda Ngozi Adiche. It is a coming of age story in which a teenage girl watches her brother question her father's beliefs, discovers her own heritage and finally blooms into a competent, confident young woman.

The book explores many themes like loss, suffering and particularly change, which is represented by the titular purple hibiscus.

It is now studied as part of a popular GCSE English Literature course in England.


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Tropes used

  • Abusive Parents: Eugene to Kambili and Jaja. He seems to genuinely love them, but the two are put under immense pressure to do well at school, forbidden to speak to their grandfather, beaten often and he scalds their feet as punishment. Eventually, Kambili ends up in hospital.
  • Armor-Piercing Slap: Ifeoma has one, according to Amaka.
  • Berserk Button: Do not do anything which might cause Eugene to question your belief in God.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Kambili is a free young woman, but her love is a long way away, her father is dead and her brother's in prison. The novel ends with a note of hope though - she can see that things are about to change, hopefully for the better.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: Government officials offer Eugene a whole pickup full of money.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: The entire point of the novel.
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  • Confessional: Kambili goes to this, often.
  • Cool Old Guy: An unconventional example in Nnukwu; he might not be powerful or full of magic but he obviously cares for the family very much, telling his grandchildren stories, remaining strong in the face of his son cutting himself off completely and yet still praying to their ancestors for the errant son as much as he prays for his daughter.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Possibly with Beatrice after Eugene shatters her figurines in anger and almost beats Kambili to death. She becomes less mindful of certain behaviors that she used to hide, such as taking food to Jaja's room without wrapping it in a blanket, and she begins adding poison to Eugene's tea every day not long after these incidents. Her overall demeanor never changes though, so it is difficult to determine the exact catalyst event.
  • Domestic Abuse: Eugene towards his wife, Beatrice. She is implied to be beaten often and loses at least two children because of this.
  • Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off: Eugene beats Kambili with his belt. She's knocked unconcious and wakes up in hospital
  • Dysfunctional Family: Yes.
  • Emotionless Girl: Kambili comes off as this at first, and Amaka notices it. The girls in her class also notice, but mistake it for snobbery.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Father Amadi takes Kambili to have her hair done by the same woman who styles Ifeoma's. On the way back she joins in with an Igbo song, which she would never have done before.
  • False Confession: Jaja gives one to protect Beatrice after she kills her husband. The police believe him and he is taken to prison, where he remains for at least three years.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Obscurely. The portrait of her grandfather Nnukwu almost gets Kambili killed.
  • Flower Motifs: The experimental purple strain of the hibiscus plant, which stands for change and freedom - everything Kambili needs, but lacks.
  • Futureshadowing: The first scene of the book is Eugene smashing Beatrice's figurines in anger. The following chapters detail the series of events that caused this.
  • Holier Than Thou: Six guesses.
  • Hot for Preacher: Kambili, in a very innocent, first crush sort of way.
  • I Am Not My Father: Eugene holds this attitude towards Nnukwu, and Jaja holds it towards Eugene.
  • Meaningful Background Event: The coup, which Kambili does notice, but hardly ever mentions and Eugene's crusade against government censorship.
  • Raised Catholic: Literally in the case of Kambili's family, and it's a particularly brutal and repressive form.
  • Sexy Priest: Father Amadi to Kambili.
  • Signature Laugh: Although Ifeoma and her daughter Amaka have the same laugh, Kambili only ever sees it as Ifeoma's.
  • Socially Awkward Hero: Amaka becomes increasingly more annoyed with Kambili's status as this.
  • Spot of Tea: the Nigerian Eugene drinks tea from a colonial tea set often, inviting his children to take a sip and burn his love into their tongues. eventually, his wife starts putting poison in the tea he drinks every day as revenge, causing him a Karmic Death
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: One interpretation of Eugene's character. If you consider him as genuinely believing that his children need to learn about religion the way he teaches them, the reasons behind his behaviour become a lot clearer.
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