Reading and Textual Analysis of African Prose – Purple Hibiscus by Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie

Welcome to class! 

In today’s class, we will be talking about Purple Hibiscus by Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie. Enjoy the class!

Purple Hibiscus |

The author’s biographical sketch

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria in 1977 to the family of Professor James Nwoye Adichie and (Mrs.) Grace Ifeoma Adichie.  Her short fiction has been published in literary magazines in Nigeria, the U. K. and the U. S.  Purple Hibiscus is her first novel published in 2006.

THe backgroundto the text

The background of the book is all about the period when the military was in charge of Nigeria.  It is a time that the civil rights of the people and the constitution are suspended for the decrees of the military.  And under this dispensation, it was a taboo for civilians, in whatever form, say, the press, newspapers, political parties, pressure group etc., to confront the government.  This was the period in which the characters, particularly Papa (Uncle Eugene), the father of Jaja and Kambili existed.

The plot

The story begins in the home of Eugene (Papa as fondly called by his children), who on realizing that his son, Jaja broke God’s Palm Sunday by not attending Mass for the day, got ablaze with anger over his son.  This anger nursed and nurtured right from the church becomes fully expressed as “Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the étagère” (p. 11).

This is when “Things started to fall apart at home…” as Jaja stands to reply to his father to his face.

The continued effrontery from Jaja to Papa, even at the dinner table, makes Kambili sickly as “My body shook from the coughing”  (p. 22), and she’s forced to stay “… in bed and did not have dinner with the family”.  In her bed, she thought to know what possessed Jaja, and so “… 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;  Aunty Ifeoma’s little garden…”

(pp. 23-24), and we are launched into the history for Jaja’s revolt to his father’s standards on God’s palm Sunday.  After Kambili’s an effort to intimate us with all the past, we are linked to the corollary of breaking God’s palm Sunday.

The plot account of the book depicts the experiences of a Christian family of four who lived in Enugu under a military regime.  Papa who is the head of the family, a devout catholic, saw it a

A misnomer to disobey any doctrine of the Roman Catholic.  He is a man of great personality, who owns several factories and a newspaper house called ‘Standard’. He is a great pillar for many to stand, such as Saint Agnes Cathedral, Destitute and his village community.  He stands against every form of corruption through the effort of his paper and his editor, Ade Coker and is well cherished and respected by the people of Saint Agnes church, his workers and the people of his community; that was why he got the chieftaincy title ‘Omelora’ (one who does for all).  He is an extremist, who believes in impeccability, as he deals decisively with those he tags ‘heathen’.

The story continues that the nature of Papa in upholding “righteous living” drove Ade coker to his death.  And his nature also makes Amaka consider Jaja and Kambili, abnormal.  This (Papa nature) also forces Kambili and Jaja to request for and want more of the visits to Nsukka.  It follows that after the death of Ade Coker and Papa Nnukwu, and while Kambili and Jaja were away from home, Papa displayed one of his traits as a “Christian” by hitting his wife, Beatrice, who was pregnant unknown to him, with one of the centre tables in their house.  Mama, Beatrice, has

no other choice but to poison Papa’s tea.  And Jaja who is in the nature of protecting his mother and sister decides to give himself up in place of his mother to be responsible for his father’s death after it was discovered by the autopsy that Papa died of poison.

Jaja is reprimanded in the prison for close to three years before chances of freedom became known to the surviving family.

The setting

The contextual setting noted in the book, Purple Hibiscus, is Nigeria.  But the textual or immediate settings in the story are Papa’s house in Enugu, Saint Agnes Church and Father Benedict’s house in Enugu, Kambili’s School, Papa’s house at Abba, Catholic Church at Abba, Papa Nnukwu’s house, Aunty Ifeoma’s house at Nsukka, the market places both at Nsukka and in Enugu and the prison.

The above settings mentioned served as a stage for the actions or events captured in the book, and they further help to give the text the local identity it possesses.

The themes

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, as a writer, sorts to enlighten her readers with some vital lessons through her novel on how to manage one’s faith and relationship in the family.  These lessons include:

  • Theme of modesty and perfection

This is seen between the relations of the family of Uncle Eugene and the outside world.  It happened that Papa (Uncle Eugene) who is a wealthy man having several factories and a newspaper house, and living in an edifice, opted for a standard that is in no wise less to perfection.

This is evident in his relationship with his children when they are at the dining table.  It begins that there is a systematic but stereotyped method with which the family have their meal.

It is also seen at the moment Father Benedict was raining praises on Eugene in the church that Kambili decided on putting on a straight face not to betray the advice or instruction given by her father that one does not respond to praises in public by chuckling or smiling in order to be modest.

The display of continuous confession even at mealtime and the concomitant punishments on his children any time he considers them to have sinned is a trace to and trait of perfection and modesty according to Eugene.

  • Theme of love and hatred

In the book, there are countless displays of love across the characters.  First, the love displayed by Kambili to her father, especially the moments she takes a love sip from Papa’s tea. Love as idealized by Kambili is well captured and expressed in her believing that her father was right when he pours hot water from a kettle on their legs and hits their mother with a table in the sitting room, which all stands as correction based on love.  On the other hand, Kambili’s cousins displayed their unquenchable love towards their grandfather, irrespective of being a ‘heathen’ against the beliefs of Eugene.  Love also is seen in the sudden but gradual acquaintance made between Kambili and Father Amadi, that at the end of their last meeting, she confessed to him her love.

Love as a theme in the novel is also intercepted and interjected by hatred at different phases which made Jaja give himself up as the murderer of his father, in place of his mother (the real murderer).  Hatred also in the book, though clumsily based on religious grounds, made Uncle Eugene refuse his father entrance into his compound in the village.  It is further displayed in his ‘decisive treatment’ of his children when they spent 25mins instead of 15mins at Papa Nnukwu’s house, and when Jaja and Kambili hid Papa Nnukwu’s visit to Nsukka from him, even when it was

Christmas and a holiday respectively.

  • Theme of religious supremacy

This is a theme that is of greater preeminence.  It is the coy that holds the different parts of the book together.  In the book, Papa (Eugene) in an effort to assert the supremacy of his religion over Papa Nnukwu’s, decided to neglect his responsibilities of providing the up-keep of Papa Nnukwu and asking him not to come to his house.  This is further displayed in his refusal to assist Aunty Ifeoma when she was bankrupt, because of her interference with Papa Nnukwu. The scene surrounding the chieftaincy title he got is not to be relegated.  Papa had to seek Father Benedict’s consent on whether he should accept a title as pressed by the people of his community, on the grounds that it is normally attached with things of a lesser god from a lesser religion.  The opening of the book where Papa threw the Missal at Jaja for refusing to attend Mass on a Palm Sunday, is also a strong point for this theme.

  • Theme of maltreatment and threat

Threat in the book is seen to come from the military government to ‘truth-Sayers’.  This threat is given to stop the activities of Ade Coker as the editor of the Standard newspapers and it was actually carried out.  Threat and Maltreatment do not just stop there, it is also displayed in Aunty Ifeoma’s house in relation to her job as a lecturer in the University of Nsukka at Nsukka.  It is also identified in the manner in which Uncle Eugene corrects his children and attends to his wife.


  1. Give a detailed plot account of the novel, Purple Hibiscus.
  2. Discuss two major themes of the book, Purple Hibiscus.

The character and characterization

  • Papa (Eugene):

He is the husband of Mama (Beatrice) and the father of Jaja and Kambili.  He is a wealthy Nigerian that owns several factories and a newspaper house; a devout Catholic who uncontrollably became a fanatic from a brand of Catholicism which objects to every form of acts that he considers ‘heathen’.  He is under the spell of the western culture, style of worship, and behavioural pattern.

He is constantly attacked by the inferiority complex as he consciously and unconsciously detaches himself from his cultural and traditional existence in his actions and inactions on the bases of being an ardent catholic.  He is a philanthropist to the church, his workers, beggars and his community, but a sadist to his father and all who he considers heathen or who toe the heathen line.  He is not a modest man, as he claims, at home.  He flogs and beats the wife even at pregnancy which is against the culture of the western world he imitates.  He remains a flat character throughout the text, and this provoked his death by his wife.  There was no genuine father-children love in their home.  He is an idealist.

  • Mama (Beatrice):

She is the mother of Jaja and Kambili, and the wife of Papa (Eugene).  She is a member of ‘Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal prayer group’.  She is humane and understanding.  This is seen in the manner she treats members of the ‘Umunna’ during Christmas, the way she pities Aunty Ifeoma on her present state, and how she condones her husband and manages her home.  She is a full-time house-wife who is not very educated like her husband.  She had experienced several miscarriages before the one she told Kambili of.  She is manhandled by her so-called modest husband for every little offence.  She, until almost the end of the story, remained a flat character but developed by changing from a selfless and harmless house-wife into a secret murderer as a punitive measure for the safety of her life and that of the children.  She is innocent that she confessed the truth to her children behind their father’s death.

  • Jaja:

He is the son of Papa and Mama and a brother to Kabili.  He is a brilliant boy and always loves to protect Kambili and his mother.  He is a round character as we saw him transform from a gentle and fearful kid into a fearless and bold boy as he talks back at his father to his face.  He expresses great love for Kambili and Mama, but great hatred for Papa, which made him give himself up as the killer of Papa in place of his mother who actually poisoned Papa (her husband).  He is a shadow of his father, as he dislikes every tailored lifestyle proposed by his father on him even in and out of the house.  The story started with his breaking of God’s Palm Sunday which expedites the tragedy in the family.  He never fantasized any of his father’s treatment to be love as did by Kambili in the text: he is realistic.

  • Kambili:

She is the daughter of Papa and Mama and a sister to Jaja.  Kambili always comes first in her class, but on an occasion, she came second due to the accident surrounding her mother’s pregnancy, was not spared by her father who followed her to her class in school.  She has a dual role or personality in the book as she stands as the narrator and a character.  Kambili is considered to be a snob by Jideze and her classmates because of the discipline instilled in her by her father.  This further made Amaka consider her and Jaja as abnormal when they visited Nsukka.  She fantasizes every action of Papa to be love even at the expense of her happiness, and always seeks for love sip from her father’s tea.  She lived a tailored life as guided by the schedules made by her father.  She seems to be over-conscious of her actions, so that, she does not betray her anti-social behaviour before others.  Kambili is over-emotional which is identified in her confession to Father Amadi.  She hated her mother for poisoning her father.

  • Aunty Ifeoma:

She is Eugene’s sister and Aunty to Jaja and Kambili.  She is the mother of Amaka, Obiora and Chima.  She is the wife of Ifediora.  She is a lecturer and lives at Nsukka with her children.  At the neglect of Eugene, she solely attended to Papa Nnukwu (their father) until his death.  Unlike

Eugene and his family, Aunty Ifeoma troops in with her children to see part during Christmas.  She is a lively fellow who believes in freedom of association.  She does not hate her father (Papa Nnukwu), because of his faith or belief.  She is seen to be an activist and an agent of positive change. She was intimidated and harassed by members of the school security on invalid grounds.

Her house becomes an orientation camp for both Jaja and Kambili in order to liberate them from the impression instil in them by their father from out of a brand of extreme Catholicism. She stands as a support to Beatrice anytime situations call for that. She is friendly, even to the young priest, Father Amadi.  She becomes a widow in the story and went through hard times of providing for her children and standing up to the insults from her in-laws’ ‘Umunna’.  She, in the end, secures a teaching appointment abroad, which rescued her from the embarrassment of the striking situation of the school authority.  She is a catholic, but not an extremist like Eugene.  She is contemporary in her dress code as she laces her lips and eye-brows with sharp paintings.

  • Amaka:

She is the daughter of Aunty Ifeoma and sister to Obiora and Chima.  Her father is late.  She is a cousin to Jaja and Kambili.  She is seen to be precocious and exhibits a high sense of rationale throughout the text.  She is vocal and blunt that she can be mistaken for her mother (Aunty

Ifeoma).  She looks like Aunty Ifeoma and shares the same perception to fashion and mannerism.  She is well-bred to prepare all kinds of dishes, especially local ones.  Amaka felt disappointed with the attitude or quiet nature of her cousins that she considered them abnormal.  She is a true Nigerian as her love for everything home-made as seen in her choice of music is second to none.  She is very talkative like her mother, as they both can not do without it.  She possesses outstanding qualities even as an artist.  She expresses great love for Papa Nnukwu and goes ahead to draw him as one of her artworks.  She constantly teases Father Amadi over her cousin, Kambili, and also, a tease to Kambili and over a situation that requires her teasing.

Minor characters

  • Obiora:

He is a brother to Amaka and Chima, and a son to Aunty Ifeoma.  He is also a cousin to Jaja and Kambili.  He is younger than Amaka.  He uses a pair of glasses and acts like an intellectual even in his arguments throughout the text.  He is pragmatic as he saw no use for staying back in Nigeria while America stood as an alternative.  He is lively and enjoys the company of others (Jaja and Father Amadi).  He does almost all the masculine chores at home and takes over the position of his late-father at home.  He is objective and less of a tease compared to Amaka.

  • Chima:

He is the last son of Aunty Ifeoma and the baby of the house.  He is lively and enjoys every spirited talk from his elderly siblings and his mother.  He loves sumptuous meals that come with the visit of Jaja and Kambili, and also wished for more of their visit.  He is also inquisitive like his elderly ones.  He is child-like but loving.

  • Papa Nnukwu:

He is the father of Eugene and Aunty Ifeoma, the grand-father of Jaja, Kambili, Amaka, Obiora and Chima.  He lived in a mud house which is different from the big compound of his son in Abba.

He is loved by his daughter (Aunty Ifeoma) but despised by his son (Uncle Eugene) for being a heathen.  He is forbidden by his son (Eugene) to enter or visit his (Eugene) compound because of his traditional belief.  He is a critical analyst in the story even as he compares the similarities and dissimilarities the traditional religion and the Christian religion possess.  He is a jovial and loving person to especially his grandchildren. He is a victim of circumstances as he could not enjoy the dividend of having a wealthy son, who has several factories and a newspaper.  He lived a wretched life but for Aunty Ifeoma who occasionally intervened.  He later died at Nsukka in Aunty Ifeoma’s house.

  • Ade Coker:

He is Papa’s (Eugene) editor of Standard newspapers and the husband of Yewande.  He has two children.  He is a fearless man as he confronts and accosts the military government with his writing and provokes tension for the military.  He was arrested for a while and later released by the military, but refuse to stop his line of criticism on the military, and was later killed by the military.

He is lively and funny.  He is principled and abhors all forms of corruption even in the face of death.  He is reliable, positive and friendly.

  • Father Benedict:

He is the priest (reverend father) of St. Agnes Catholic Church who is still called ‘our new father’ because of his colour.  He is a white (foreign) father who completely dislikes everything

(Nigerian) home-made or traditional for the benefit of his western culture and tradition.  He enforces the members of the cathedral to see the use of their mother tongue during worship or in the church to be archaic and sinful but makes them put up every western attribute in their style or mode of worship to God.  He loves praising Papa while in church for the contributions he made to church and Papa’s effort to confront the military government.

  • Father Amadi:

He is a young priest who once visited St. Agnes Catholic Church and broke the sacred rules by using his mother tongue while conducting a mass.  By fate, Kambili and Jaja meet him in one of his visits to Aunty Ifeoma’s house at Nsukka and are told that Father Amadi is the new priest for the campus.  He is affable and good looking.  He is a good friend of Aunty Ifeoma’s family and loves sport.  He is a direct opposite of Father Benedict in taste and in manner.

Language and style

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s style is her manner of writing.  That is all the ploys she exhausted in her work.  One outstanding feature in her book is that of participant/personalized narration.  In this kind of technique, the narrator of the story is also a character, and that is Kambili.  Through

Kambili the story is told and the actions of other characters are revealed, yet she was a character in the book who has a father that becomes a fanatic by a brand of Catholicism.  She is a major character, and also, the protagonist in the book as all actions seem to attack her feelings.

Also, as Adichie’s style is her use of code-mixing with words from her vernacular.  This is beautifully used by her in the text that most readers would confuse her for Achebe.  In other words, her style is Achebean.

The style employed by her in plot structure is also distinct by her use of flashback.  In the book, Adichie uses this technique to arouse the interest of her readers to go through the text or story with her without wishing to stop until the story is complete.

In order to domesticate the story, besides using her vernacular, Adichie deems it feat to mention real societies in Nigeria.  And they are Enugu, Nsukka and Aba, in the Eastern part of Nigeria.

General evaluation
  1. Discuss the role of Jaja in the book, Purple Hibiscus.
  2. Discuss the narrative techniques of the book, Purple Hibiscus.

Weekend assignment

  1. “The star blinked and the wind wailed” is an example of _____ (a)  antithesis (b) euphemism   (c)  metaphor    (d)  parody    (e)  personification
  2. Pick out the odd item from the following_______ (a)  comedy     (b)  octave     (c)  Quatrain    (d)  sonnet    (e)  sestet
  3. “United we stand, divided we fall”, illustrates the use of __________ (a)  anti-climax    (b)  antithesis    (c)  climax   (b)  irony    (e)  sarcasm
  4. The writer’s freedom to use words to suit his own purpose is called_____ (a)  author’s freedom     (b)  author’s license    (c)  poetic freedom   (d)  poetic license(e)  writer’s license
  5. The expression, “Before Idi Amin breathed his last he admonished his children to shun violence” is a/an ________ (a)  anecdote (b)  metaphor   (c)  euphemism(d) onomatopoeia (e)  paradox


  1. Discuss the sociological import of the book, Purple Hibiscus, and its significance.
  2. Write short notes on the following: Papa, Aunty Ifeoma, Kambili, Amaka and Papa Nnukwu.

Reading assignment

Exam Reflection Literature-in-English (Drama & Prose) by Sunday Olateju Faniyi, pgs 129-155.


In our next class, we will be talking about Reading and Content Analysis of African Poetry – “Expelled” by Jared Angira. We hope you enjoyed the class.

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