Purple hibiscus is the first published book by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It was published in 2003 and was shortlisted in 2004 for the Orange Prize for Fiction. The narrative includes many themes that intertwine and form the story of the protagonist.
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The central topic of discussion in the book is colonialism, which also relates to violence, including domestic and family relationships. Additionally, the author discusses the issues of how violence leads to silence and how this interaction shapes the process of coming of age. The entire narrative also focuses on the discussion of religion and spirituality. However, the main point of the story is still a change, both in the political, social, and individual background.
The plot of the book unfolds in post-colonial Nigeria, which is characterized by economic and political instability. The main character Kambili Achike is a fifteen-year-old girl living in a wealthy family. The head of the family, Eugene, is a religious fanatic professing Catholicism, as well as a house tyrant who physically and mentally abuses his family members. Eugene’s combination of piety and cruelty is illustrated in the first sentence of the book. Kambili says that “things started to fall apart when my brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the étagère” (Adichie, 2012, p. 4). This sentence foreshadows themes that will further develop in the narrative: Catholic religious authority, male power, and violence.
The book provides an opportunity to explore the influence of British imperialism on Nigeria. Adichie describes an episode where Kambili and her brother traditionally took small sips of tea, which was so hot that it burned their tongue (Adichie, 2012). This aspect illustrates the dependence of Nigeria and its political administration on the empire, which made the inhabitants suffer in the name of demonstrating love and gaining the favor of Britain.
Kambili also repeatedly mentions throughout the book that her “words would not come” (Adichie, 2012, pp. 48, 141). The themes of silence in the narrative constantly arise not only in relation to the main character but also to other female characters. This aspect of the carp not only has a fear of domestic violence and male dominance in Nigerian society but also has symbolism in terms of discussing colonialism.
In particular, Adichie emphasizes that Nigeria did not have the right to vote until it decided to oppose the empire and gain a voice. This aspect is also associated with violence, which is a tool for suppressing the will and pacification of Nigeria by Britain.
Thus, the book also provides an illustration of how violence is associated with silence, and violence, in turn, is associated with religion. Thus, when Eugene pours a bowl of boiling liquid right on his daughter’s feet, he says: “Kambili, you are precious” (Adichie, 2012, p. 194). Additionally, after beating his wife after refusing to meet with a British priest, the head of the family turns to prayer for forgiveness (Adichie, 2012). These episodes illustrate how contradictory the nature of colonialism is, which commits cruel deeds while at the same time professing to follow the divine commandments.
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A more symbolic theme in the book is nature and its external manifestations. The purple hibiscus flower, created by the efforts of a local botanist, is a sign of freedom and liberation. Thus, the central plot is the process of transformation of society and the transition from dependence to choice. This theme is reinforced by descriptions of the character’s brother Eugene’s disobedience, illustrating Nigeria’s rebellion against colonial rule. However, this process is described more deeply through the maturation of Kambili, which goes a long way from completely following the instructions of her father to realizing her own identity. This transformation is in particular due to Aunty Ifeoma, in whose house liberal orders reign and the local Igbo culture is revered.
Overall, the book is a manifesto that describes the roots of Nigeria’s political and economic decline. This narrative can also be extrapolated to a broader theme affecting colonialism as a whole as a historical phenomenon. Through the personal story of the protagonist, Adichie manages to illustrate the global problems that plague the countries of Africa in the post-colonial period. Central to them is the inability to completely abandon imperialist dependence and accept their identity. In particular, this is due to disrespect for their own identity and cultural values.
The book is an example of how skillfully the author uses the fiction genre to describe complex historical and political topics. Considering that this work is Adichie’s first writing experience, we can say that the narrative fully reflects her inner experiences. The book is replete with symbolism that allows the reader to perceive complex topics on a more intuitive and emotional level, building a picture of Nigeria’s political controversy. This book also provides an insight into the broader issues that affect most countries that were under colonial rule. The paradox of imperialism is a historical fact that has left a deep imprint on the life of modern societies.
Adichie, C. N. (2012). Purple hibiscus: A novel. Algonquin Books.