Purple Hibiscus Summary

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple Hibiscus

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Purple Hibiscus Summary

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Purple Hibiscus is a debut novel from Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. At its heart, the novel is a coming-of-age-narrative that focuses on fifteen-year-old Kambili and her struggle to ‘stretch her wings’ as she deals with the reality around her in her troubled Nigeria. Kambili’s journey is imbued with both awe and terror as her seemingly polished family life comes face-to-face with the tarnished politics around her. In the end, no one will be the same when the dust settles. In Purple Hibiscus, Kambili must decide if her growing knowledge of right and wrong will indeed shape her worldview or keep her shrouded in ignorance.

The Achike family lives a privileged life in Enugu, Nigeria. The family includes fifteen-year-old Kambili, her older brother Jaja, her mother and her larger-than-life father, Eugene. Jaja is outspoken and sometimes given to rebellion, though Kambili takes after her mother, a quiet woman whom Kambili likens to a bird eating when she speaks. Kambili has adopted her mother’s quietness, and observes the world around her as a witness. What she relates is both tender and terrible in its rawness and realness.

From all outward appearances, Kambili and her family are happy. Or they should be. They live in a beautiful home and do not have to worry about poverty, like others outside their village. As family patriarch, however, Eugene Achike is quite one thing to those who love and respect him on the outside of his nuclear family, and something far more sinister to his fearful family members. A wealthy Igbo businessman who runs a newspaper publishing business, Eugene is also an important pillar in the Catholic church. To his family, he is a religious fanatic. His Catholic fervor makes its way known to his family under the guise of domestic abuse, and has even caused him to ignore his own father. Each family member has suffered from Eugene’s brand of order and discipline, though to the people around him, he is a godsend. The irony in the pages is palpable. Eugene is one of the few newspaper publishers willing to stand up to the government, and he is generous to his employees. Yet his seeming morality is left at the front door whenever he returns home.

Adichie’s prose is masterful, imbuing Kambili with a keen eye for exploring and describing the richness of her native land, including the fruits, flowers and food she comes across. Though she must deal with her father’s abuse while describing the beauty around her, Kambili soon finds an outlet when, as things worsen in Nigeria due to a military coup, she is sent to live with her aunt, Ifeoma. Ifeoma is a widow who lives in near poverty, but as a university professor, has a more loving and accepting view of life. Ifeoma imparts this loving approach to the three children she raises, and when Kambili and Jaja spend time with their aunt, it also affects them. Kambili is shown another way of approaching life, of approaching love and family, and when she must return to her father’s house and the devastating politics of the coup, she must determine how best to implement what she has learned.

Kambili’s coming-of-age journey also benefits from the wisdom of her teenage cousin Amaka, and a priest, Father Amaki. As the country around her swiftly declines due to violence, her own family life declines due to her father’s increasing penchant for violence in the face of the country’s own violence. Though Eugene is known as “omelora,” which means “one who does for community,” he only imparts abuse and blame to his immediate family. Kambili must use all her newfound knowledge to try and keep her family together during the daily struggle for survival and identity, including her father’s dehumanizing treatment.

Though examples of Nigeria dealing with the coup do come to the surface in Adichie’s narrative, including student protests and one of Eugene’s editors being attacked, most of the political violence and drama happens away from the immediate drama of Kambili and her family. As such, Adichie’s narrative shows how the effects of domestic abuse are wholly damaging despite the time or place. Violence is violence, regardless of the abuser. Adding the coup to the narrative shows just how resilient Kambili must be, and how resilient people can be in the face of adversity, despite their age. Purple Hibiscus is ultimately a novel about hope, just as it is a novel about the power of change in all its guises.