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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."

Purple Hibiscus is a 2004 novel by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. 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.

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.
  • 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.
  • Churchgoing Villain: Eugene, being a Christian fanatic.
  • Coming of Age Story: The entire point of the novel.
  • 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. He is also abusive to both his children.
  • Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off!: Eugene beats Kambili with his belt. She's knocked unconscious and wakes up in hospital
  • Dysfunctional Family: Yes.
  • Education Mama: Eugene, to the point where it becomes abusive.
  • 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.
  • Foil: Aunty Ifeoma to Eugene. Jaja to Kambili. Ifeoma's children to Jaja and Kambili. Ifeoma to Beatrice, considering their different reactions to the nature of Eugene.
  • Forced Miscarriage: Eugene kills Beatrice's unborn baby. Twice. The second time wasn't intentional, but still abuse.
  • Flower Motifs: The experimental purple strain of the hibiscus plant, which stands for change and freedom - everything Kambili needs, but lacks.
  • The Fundamentalist: Eugene is a perfect example - he believes that his colonial-influenced style of Christianity is the only right kind, and has no tolerance for what he believes is "paganism". He is so passionate in his beliefs that he gives his children extreme punishments when he believes they have strayed from his beliefs, and isolates himself from his own father because of his religious disagreements - indeed, when his father dies, his main concern is that he had not been converted yet.
  • 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.
  • Honor-Related Abuse: Eugene is a classic example, only abusing his children because they don't live up to his unfairly high standards for what good Christians should act like.
  • Honor Thy Abuser: Kambili, even at the end of the book, loves her father somewhat and deeply mourns his death. Fortunately, it is implied she will understand what happened to her and mature out of her earlier toxic relationship mindset.
  • 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.
  • In Medias Res: The first chapter details what happens just after Kambili and Jaja's second visit to Aunty Ifeoma's before going to the actual start of the story.
  • Knight Templar Parent: Eugene genuinely believes he is doing the right thing by giving his children extreme punishments, which is one of the main reasons the reader isn't meant to see him as a one-dimensional monster.
  • Mama Bear: A depressing example, Beatrice kills her own husband to save her children from abuse.
  • Meaningful Background Event: The coup, which Kambili does notice, but hardly ever mentions and Eugene's crusade against government censorship.
  • Parents Are Wrong: Eugene and Jaja/Kambili, although the conflict is more colonial tradition vs African tradition and not tradition vs change, and Kambili needs much more coaxing.
  • Parents as People: Eugene is an extremely twisted example.
  • Perfection Is Impossible: One of Eugene's primary motivations is his desire for perfection from his children in school and in faith. His children, who are human and therefore not perfect, fall short of his standards often and are harshly punished.
  • 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.
  • Skewed Priorities: A tragic example: Eugene is more concerned with his children practicing the "right kind" of faith and being academically perfect than in their general well-being. This is demonstrated in a flashback where Eugene brutally hurts Jaja's hand for doing slightly bad on a test, but only his left hand since his right hand is the one he writes with.
  • Socially Awkward Hero: Amaka becomes increasingly more annoyed with Kambili's status as this.
  • Straight Edge Evil: Eugene, being a religious fanatic, although the "evil" is ambiguous.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Beatrice becomes one when she kills Eugene.
  • Tears of Remorse: Eugene, whenever he seriously punishes his children. Not that he wouldn't do it again, though.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Eugene, despite having powerful enemies in the government, is highly respected within his local community as the editor of The Standard. Nobody who knew him would probably even dream of what he did to his children.
  • "Well Done, Daughter!" Girl: Played very depressingly, since Eugene is abusive.
  • 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.