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04May

Purple Hibiscus Summary

Purple Hibiscus Summary

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Setting

The novel is set in Enugu, a city in post-colonial Nigeria.

Main Characters

Kambili Achike- is the main character and narrator of the story. Kambili is an intelligent, observant, religious young woman, aged fifteen.

Eugene Achike- he is kambili’s father. Eugene is a wealthy businessman and very strict Catholic who dominates his family throughout the novel by imposing a harsh religious regime in the family home.

Beatrice Achike- she is the mother and wife in the Achike family. Beatrice is a quiet, maternal figure.

Chukwuka "Jaja” Achike- he is an intelligent young man about two years older than his sister.

Aunty Ifeoma- she is Eugene’s sister, who is a tall, striking, intelligent woman and works as a lecturer at the University of Nigeria.

Father Amadi- he is a young attractive priest in the circle of Aunty Ifeoma and her family.

Papa Nnukwu- he is both a father and grandfather in the Achike family.

 

Plot Summary

Papa, a wealthy factory owner, is an active philanthropist in public and an upstanding Catholic, but at home is a strict and violent authoritarian. He publishes a newspaper, the Standard, which is the only paper willing to criticize the new Nigerian Head of State. Mama gets pregnant and one day After Mass, the family visits Father Benedict, their white priest. Mama feels sick and does not want to leave the car. When they return home Papa beats Mama until she has a miscarriage. Later Kambili takes her exams and comes second in her class, disappointing Papa.

During Christmas, the family goes to their home village of Abba. Papa’s father, Papa-Nnukwu, lives there, but Papa does not speak to him because his father sticks to his traditional religion and will not become Catholic. Kambili and Jaja visit Papa-Nnukwu briefly. Aunty Ifeoma, Papa’s widowed sister and a university professor, arrives in Abba as well. She seems fearless and willing to criticize both Papa and the government. Her children Amaka, Obiora, and Chima are outspoken.

Ifeoma takes Jaja and Kambili to an Igbo festival. On Christmas Papa feeds the whole village. The next day Papa catches Kambili breaking the "Eucharist fast” as she eats some food along with a painkiller she needs to take for menstrual cramps, and he beats her, Jaja, and Mama. Ifeoma convinces Papa to let Jaja and Kambili visit her in Nsukka. Kambili and Jaja arrive and are surprised by Ifeoma’s poverty, but also the constant laughter in her house. Jaja is fascinated by the purple hibiscuses in Ifeoma’s garden. Father Amadi, a young, handsome Nigerian priest, comes to dinner.

As the days progress Jaja opens up, though Kambili remains silent and confused. Ifeoma hears that Papa-Nnukwu is sick, and she fetches him from Abba. Amaka starts painting a picture of him. Father Amadi visits often, and Kambili finds herself attracted to him. One morning Kambili observes Papa-Nnukwu’s morning ritual, which is similar to Catholic confession. Father Amadi takes Kambili to the local stadium. He makes her chase after him and tries to get her to talk. Kambili is confused by her feelings and his "unpriestly” demeanor. Papa finds out that Papa-Nnukwu is staying in the house.

The next morning the family discovers that Papa-Nnukwu has died in his sleep. Papa takes Jaja and Kambili back to Enugu, and Amaka gives Kambili her painting. Papa punishes Jaja and Kambili for not telling him they were staying in the same apartment as their grandfather, a pagan, by pouring boiling water on their feet. Papa and his editor, Ade Coker, decide to run a controversial story in the Standard. Ade Coker is assassinated soon after with a package bomb.

One day Kambili and Jaja are looking at the painting of Papa-Nnukwu when Papa comes in. He beats Kambili severely, and she wakes up in the hospital. Papa agrees to let Jaja and Kambili return to Nsukka. Ifeoma worries about losing her job for speaking out against the "sole administrator” appointed by the government. The university closes after a student riot. Men ransack Ifeoma’s flat, trying to intimidate her. Kambili falls more deeply in love with Father Amadi, who seems attracted to her. Mama arrives one day after being beaten into another miscarriage. Papa takes his family home, and the next day is Palm Sunday on which the novel begins when Jaja stands up to Papa.

After Palm Sunday there is less fear and silence in the house. Ifeoma calls to say that she has been fired and is moving to America. Jaja and Kambili return to Nsukka. Ifeoma takes them on a pilgrimage to Aokpe, where Kambili sees visions of the Virgin Mary and reaffirms her faith. Father Amadi leaves to do missionary work, and Kambili weeps and confesses her love to him. Ifeoma gets a visa and prepares to leave Nigeria. Papa is found dead at his desk, and they all go to Enugu. When Papa’s autopsy is complete, Mama says that she poisoned him. The police arrive and Jaja takes responsibility for the crime. Three years later, Kambili and Mama visit Jaja in prison to tell him he will be released soon. Mama has grown withdrawn and rarely speaks. After the visit, Kambili feels hopeful about the future.

Themes

  1. Religion and Belief. Religion and belief are the central themes in the novel, specifically in the contrasts between Papa, Papa-Nnukwu, and Aunty Ifeoma/Father Amadi. The novel begins with descriptions of Papa’s religious beliefs, which were molded by Catholic missionaries and are incredibly strict. He prefers that Igbo not be spoken or sung in church, and believes that priests should be very traditional.
  2. Family. Purple Hibiscus takes place mostly on the family level. It deals with the relations between Papa, Mama, Jaja, and Kambili, and then their relations with Papa-Nnukwu, Aunty Ifeoma, and her children. First, we see the family dynamic of Kambili’s family, where they all live in silence and fear, following Papa’s strict rules and schedules.