Themes & Symbolism in Purple Hibiscus

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Nabilah Chowdhury, 11Ra _ Extra Information
Themes and Symbolism
Background Information
"Things fall apart" is a reference to Chinua Achebe's famous novel about the destructive effects of colonialism on a
Nigerian tribe and the down fall of its chief.
- Introduces theme of rebellion / disobedience and its consequences
- Missal ­ importance of religion in the family's life
- Broke the figurines ­ destruction of something fragile
- Étagère ­ a fancy piece of furniture is a signifier of their socioeconomic status
"Things fall apart" is an allusion to one of the most well-known English-language books about Nigeria.
The Achike family reflects both the roots of their ancestry and the impact imperialism has had on their traditions.
Background Information on Nigeria
Like most all Nigerian writers, Adichie relates overall postcolonial experience to individual experience.
Adichie fictionalises real events (death of Ken Saro-Wiwa and letter bomb to newspaper editor) to show how torn
apart Nigeria is by the coup.
The political unrest and corruption touches Kambili's family when Ade Coker is killed.
The escalating violence echoes the rising tensions inside the Achike home.
Kambili and Jaja's fight for independence echoes the fight of the pro-democracy activists.
Breaking Gods (Jaja defies Papa as a God)
Speaking with Our Spirits (K & J's spirits emerge as they reconnect with their family, cultural heritage, etc in Nsukka)
The Pieces of Gods (aftermath of Jaja's defiance ­ Papa's regime crumbles)
A difference silence (Future)
From reading the first section we know that things will reach `breaking point', so we read section two with
uneasy knowledge of events slowly building up; but also helps us to understand/further sympathise with
Jaja's actions
Palm Sunday is the day that life in the Achike family changes, hence why the story is structured around it.
By starting three quarters of the way into the book, Adichie stresses the pivotal nature of Palm Sunday.
The Speaking with our spirits section is the longest and leads up to the events in Palm Sunday. This is the
longest section because it reveals how deeply conditioned Kambili was before she found her freedom in
The tight structure of the novel makes it feel enclosed rather than using chapters that might open it up. The
tight structure reflects Kambili's original limited and narrow worldview.
"Things started to fall apart at home" is a tantalising hint and makes the wonder about how life was like before for
Kambili, why Mama doesn't replace her figurines, why Papa is so violent etc. The reader is intrigued and curious to
find the answers, and thus continue reading the book.
GCSE English Literature Exam Notes: Purple Hibiscus

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Nabilah Chowdhury, 11Ra _ Extra Information
The atmosphere is tense and never relaxed because the Achike's never laughed or smile.
This is contrasted with Ifeoma's family, where there is freedom, laughter, and an encouragement for voicing
your opinions.
Mama breaks matriarchal convention because she is unable to keep her children safe
"I'm sorry your figurines broke"
Kambili does not directly address who broke the figurines, rather she speaks passively.…read more

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Nabilah Chowdhury, 11Ra _ Extra Information
Father Amadi believes that faith is both simpler and more complex than what Father Benedict preaches.
He is not a moral absolutist like Papa and his God. Religion, when wielded by someone gentle, can be a
positive force, as it is in Kambili's life.
The environment is used to reflect both inner turmoil and joy.
When Ade Coker dies, a heavy rain falls. Likewise, sadness and pressure fall on Papa.…read more

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Nabilah Chowdhury, 11Ra _ Extra Information
Kambili adds detail to the story by overhearing conversations, and when people tell her things.
Kambili's narrative and thoughts seems to be moving in the direction that she is heading e.g. when they are
heading towards Ifeoma's house, she begins by talking of Marguerite Avenue, but as she gets closer to
Ifeoma's house, her narrative changes so that she is now talking about the "peel paint" on the walls.…read more

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Nabilah Chowdhury, 11Ra _ Extra Information
Figurines- Reflects the fragility of Mama's passiveness.
When they break, the whole family is breaking apart as well.
Purple hibiscus ­ Freedom, independence
When it is planted in Enugu, it seems to imply that Jaja's rebellion is growing
Red hibiscuses ­ Pain, suffering, blood
Papa is associated with this colour.…read more


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