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COMMENT ON HOW ADICHIE PRESENTS THE CONFLICT BETWEEN OPPOSING IDEAS IN `PURPLE HIBISCUS'
Nigerian-born Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie began her debut novel, Purple Hibiscus, with the
universally recognisable "things started to fall apart at home...". It is uncertain whether this opening
line was purely coincidental or the carefully planned ploy by the beginner, to borrow a line from her
compatriot, and idol Chinua Achebe.
Purple Hibiscus, set in modern-day Nigeria epitomises beauty and richness of the country.
Purple Hibiscus, like Nigeria is a paradox in itself. Whilst portraying the beauty of the country, it is
unafraid of displaying its trauma, tragedy, desperation, resignation, and political tribulations. Reading
Purple Hibiscus is to relive life in Nigeria for those aware of the trials and tribulations one is faced
with, but for those who perchance, might have just received an insight to Nigerian life through the
eyes of protagonist Kambili Achike; it is a shock therapy education into the life.
Kambili sets the stage for this consequently nostalgic book. "I lay in bed after mama left and
let my mind rake through the past, through the years when Jaja and Mama and I spoke more with
our spirits than with our lips. Until Nsukka. Nsukka started it all....". Although Nsukka was the
beginning of the domestic revolution, the novel is based in the city of Enugu, in the valleys of the
Milliken Hills in Eastern Nigeria. It is also a novel of modern-day Nigeria, of which a leader once said
the country has just one problem, which is `managing prosperity'. The novel has been able to
effortlessly capture a nation which has fallen to its feet under the influence of bad governance and
Purple Hibiscus is a metaphor of sorts. The tale of this near defective family which reaches a
tragic end, leaves emotions on edge. Metaphorically, "the missal flung at the étagère, the shattered
figurines and brittle air", over time, became reality and portrayed the dissembling and broken family
and things falling apart. It is a symbol of Jaja's insubordination, "rare, undertones of freedom,
freedom to be, to do" for which, in the long run, he ends up serving a sentence for voluntarily taking
ownership of a crime he did not commit. It is also a metaphor for a malnourished and suffocating
society, in which patriarchy overwhelm the goodness of society. The hibiscus flower, which is usually
of a red colour, by its transformation to purple, represents both abnormality and unending hope.
The confliction between traditional and imported Westernised religions plays the part of
portraying the clash of civilisations; this is personified by Eugene and Papa-Nnukwu. Although both of
these characters part ways on matters of their native customs and religions, they ironically prayed to
the same "Chineke-God", in their different ways, with each using different symbols as means for
intercession. Eugene, as a character, has an extremely dictating role. This attribute of his is what
seems to make the religion which he practices, Christianity, seem rather extremist and restricted in
comparison to the way in which Papa-Nnukwu practices paganism. He had absolutely no qualms
about physically abusing both his children, and his wife to the point of causing a miscarriage, he also
forsake his father for being a "heathen" - and all in the name of God.
This harsh influence of religion which Eugene places upon his family not only plays the factor
which breaks his family apart, but also the one which leads him to his own death. Beatrice Achike
enters the scene, in which Eugene is questioning Jaja regarding his absence at communion, with a
t-shirt which had "the words `God is love' scrawled over her sagging breasts". Beatrice is almost being
pulled down by the weight of the oppressing monotheist views of Eugene as can be gathered by her
"sagging breasts" and the fact that "God is love" is inscribed over them. The fact that Eugene is
dominating the lives of the Achike family with his strong religious views, is causing not just the family
to question his authority but also the strength and truth of his monotheist views. The "sagging cross
shapes" that are placed beside the "gold-framed family photo" represent the fact that slowly, just
as the palm fronds, the family's religious way of life is beginning to droop and falter.
The battle between freedom and oppression is personified in the Purple Hibiscus by Aunty
Ifeoma and Beatrice Achike. Aunty Ifeoma is Eugene's sister, a striking, intelligent woman who works
as a lecturer at the University of Nigeria. She is highly capable in many aspects of her life, displaying
determination and resourcefulness in bringing up her children without a husband. Though financially
Ayesha Khanom 11L
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for his family. Beatrice, mother and wife in the Achike family, is a quiet, maternal figure for much of
the novel, presenting a softer, warmer presence in the home in contrast to the often dictatorial
presence of Eugene. Submissive is another term applicable to her, at least for a great deal of the
novel. As is noticed throughout most of the text, "there was so much that she did not mind".…read more