Notes on Purple Hibiscus

Breaking Gods Palm Sunday First section of the book. Gods = things held sacred, untouchable. Not the Christian God. Jaja’s act of disobedience is breaking a sacred taboo in their family and is the precursor to much of the disruption that is to follow. Palm Sunday – the day Christ rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and people shouted Hosanna in celebration. However it comes before the Passion – the suffering and crucifixion. { Jaja’s sacrificial action to take the blame for his mother and go to prison has some of these overtones, the suffering Kambili and Jaja experience at the hands of their parents and the political coup can all be seen as the kinds of ‘Passion’ moments?). Kambili refers to the crowds waving green leaves chanted at Government Square after the coup – a different kind of Palm Sunday – (??? Need to find out more about this..) p. 27: “the green branches meant Solidarity.” With the demonstrators who were chanting ‘Freedom’.

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First chapter (and sentence) introduces key ideas and characters in novel (good to come back to after having read whole book): “Thing started to fall apart at home 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.” - Things fall apart – ref 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 (prefigures later domestic violence – and Kambili’s mother’s strike back at her husband) - Étagère – a fancy piece of furniture is a signifier of their socioeconomic status Papa: - his first action is a violent one - his second one describes his intensity of his religious piety, “ he pressed hard on each forehead to make a perfect cross with his ash covered thumb and slowly meaningfully enunciated every word..” - he kneels to receive communion, and shuts his eyes “so hard his face tightened into a grimace.” This overly punctilious / exacting attitude is seen when he says grace, “for twenty minutes he asked God to bless the food. Afterward he intoned the Blessed Virgin in several different titles.” - He is used as an example to others: “ Father Benedict usually referred to the pope, Papa and Jesus -- in that order.” - “He could have chosen to be like other Big Men in this country, he could have decided to sit at home and do nothing after the coup, to make sure the govt did not threaten his business. But no, he used The Standard to speak the truth even though it meant the paper lost advertising. Brother Eugene spoke out for 1

a man of principle and courage. sensitive. also uses the word “wafer” instead of “Host” which is offensive to their father.Later. part of her subservient attitude towards her husband – tries to make peace by giving tea to Papa and giving jobs to children She is physically abused by Papa but suffers in silence.. Mama and Kambili act fearfully. it burned Papa’s love into me. childish pride in her father.She self-censors. The off-white walls… were narrowing. . “I meant to say I am sorry Papa broke your figurines.” . but the words that came out were “I’m sorry your figurines broke. Although our spacious living room gave way to an even wider living room. he is resolute and says “Then I will die. The children and Mama struggle to keep conversation going about the food to placate Papa. … But it didn’t matter because I knew that when the tea burned my tongue. “Her Igbo words were low and calming. he refuses to speak and leaves the table before the final prayers. Jaja - Mama – When Mama’s favourite ballet figurines are broken – she silently comes in and picks them up with bare hands. heavy – sense of oppressiveness of Papa’s dominance.her responses reflect her fearful love of Papa. during the meal – it is tense. “Only two weeks ago. observant. Atmosphere .” Then at the table. She is young. Kambili observes her brothers fear hardening and transferring into fear in her father’s eyes. she starts violently coughing – a psychosomatic reaction showing the disturbance this has caused her inwardly.“the frangipani trees …filled the yard with the sickly sweet scent of their flowers” . “The silence was broken only by the whir of the ceiling fan as it sliced through the still air. 2 . Mama. We see a naïve.After Jaja leaves the table in a final act of rebellion. drawing buzzing bees.” And “he looked Papa in the face now. nervously as they watch the showdown between father and son. compassionate.is stifling. silent. When confronted.- freedom. I felt suffocated. bearing down on me.” .” “She limped slightly…” Kambili – . She does not challenge him or comment in any way. Kambili’s reference to his habit of offering the children a “love sip” – shows the way the family have been indoctrinated by him to accept cruelty/pain as a form of love: “The tea was always too hot. modesty.Fear – dominant. always burned my tongue.” She speaks quietly. . when her swollen eye was still the black-purple colour of an overripe avocado.“the bell shaped yellow fruits hung lazily.” We also learn he has won a human rights award and modestly did not want to be featured in his own newspaper – These show his admirable qualities.” dares to disobey his father and not go to communion.” .

too much wasted marble floor that gleamed. The pungent fumes of kerosene smoke mixed with the aroma of curry and nutmeg from the kitchen” 113 .blood shed. I felt I could reach out and touch it.{colour symbolism: . anger. Words spurted from everyone. spiritual awakening.” . Later (p. so beautiful. it denotes Holy Spirit. but little money Symbolism / motifs Hibiscus flowers: . Purple (according to Godweb _) Purple speaks of fasting. fragrant with the undertones of freedom.“vibrant bushes of hibiscus reached out and touched one another… the purple plants had started to push out sleepy buds. violence that has been set in motion. dining table cracked and wood layer shedding. charity. often not seeking and not getting any response. It is the liturgical color used during seasons of penance. freedom that will eventually come? But also the colour of BRUISES.although they are not wealthy. .establishes theme of freedom v. fire. self expression. and the miscarried foetus of Mama. faith. it was so unlike home. however there is atmosophere of warmth and enjoyment: “Laughter floated over my head. patience and trust. We always spoke with a purpose at home. the Persian rugs too lush to have any feeling” Compared with Aunty Ifeoma’s house in Nsukka – very different pp112 . A freedom to be.192 – K sees her home in a different way: “it did feel different to be back.P 119 mismatched chairs and plates.Red (God web) Signifies action. .. their home is colourful and lively .” – 3 . especially at the table.our living room had too much empty space.- After Nsukka p. where the high ceiling gave our rooms an airy stillness.” . 28) it is mentioned that red is the colour of Pentecost.“I noticed the ceiling first. Our furniture was lifeless.“Jaja’s defiance seemed to me like Aunty Ifeoma’s experimental purple hibiscus: rare. In the Christian symbolism. Advent and Lent.our ceilings were too high. .purple – royalty. oppression • The purple hibiscus are RARE / UNIQUE (“a deep shade of purple that was almost blue”) is first observed by Jaja at Aunty Ifeoma’s place – he says “ I didn’t know there were purple hibiscuses” –he exclaims. to do. clean flat.P. how low it was. It is the color of Pentecost.. but most of the flowers will still on the red ones. “O maka. but my cousins seemed to simply speak and speak and speak. It also glorifies the sun and the joy of life and love.red. a different kind of freedom from the ones the crowds waving green leaves chanted at Government Square after the coup. the leather sofa’s greeting was a clammy coldness.” 120 . 140 – good description of the joy at Ifeoma’s place – laughter.

and he mother smiles.when Mama raised the reddened napkin. . “Jaja’s eyes shone as he talked about the hibiscuses. He hardly spoke Igbo. still saw my baby brother’s spirit strung together with narrow lines of blood. 306 Kambili’s final words to mother “We’ll take Jaja to Nsukka.the long suffering attitude of Mama in the face of Papa’s abuse.” – images of planting  new growth.” – this is the hope and promise of freedom… • The day before the Palm Sunday drama –they arrive back from Nsukka – Jaja sees the purple hibiscuses are about to bloom 253 – symbol of their blossoming independence and freedom • P. too and I’ll plant ixora so we can suck the juices of the flowers”... P.. Eugene does not reflect the more humble.p 98 At a meal with her aunty and cousins.“ We ate silently. After her mothers miscarriage and getting placed 2nd in the class: “ I still saw the print in my textbooks as a red blur.” . Her final words are “The new rains will come down soon. 13 4 .” P. Kambili’s period stains the bed p.e. he did not like us to speak it in public.100 Ballet dancers – pain / discipline of staying with Eugene .. 12 . then go to America to visit Aunty Ifeoma. He models himself on a God who is a punishing father who demands obedience. Papa’s sister. COLOURS: Red – associated with blood / suffering / pain throughout the novel . The figureings are delicate – vulnerable. The rains – image of redemption. newness. we had to speak English. Aunty Ifeoma. he told us. Their breakage is a symbol of what is to happen in the wider family. I remembered her blood on the stairs. like something being banged against the door. 52 . cleansing. and what is happening around them in Nigeria. and although Jaja and I spoke it with Mama at home.- Jaja takes stalks of the purple hibiscus from Nsukka p197 and hides them secretly in the fridge .The missal throwing – is a sacrilegious gesture – highlights that Papa / Eugene is a religious fanatic rather than a devout believer. We had to sound civilised in public.Father speaks to Jaja in Igbo after the incident: “A bad sign. plant new orange trees in Abba… and Jaja will plant purple hibiscuses.” P. She is laughing. compassionate elements of Christianity Language & Silence: Breaking Gods .” .The next morning. said once that Papa was too much of a colonial product. renewal.g.306. fresh life.Palm Sunday: . Kambili is shocked by Amaka’s boldness is suggesting her father reduce the sugar in the cashew juice and it spills “blood-coloured juice crept over the white lace table cloth.” P.She polishes them after “each time I heard sounds from their room.

finding her sense of self .P.140: “Laughter always rang out in Aunty Ifeoma’s house.Kambili is asked to begin the pledge by Mother Lucy: “I cleared my throat but the words would not come. 16 Speaking with Spirits – before Palm Sunday: .suggests he is a successful post-colonial product like Ifeoma – having taken from both cultures and adapting them to his contemporary reality p.” P. 64: Kambili hears Papa Nnukwu’s accent – “his dialect was ancient.“we did that often.” 120 . 135 .Kambili is almost hypnotised by his speech : “my ears followed the sound and not the sense of his speech”.” .P108 Kambili “could not find the words in our eye language to tell him how my throat tightened at the thought of five days without Papa’s voice. [with] none of the anglicizes inflections that ours had. We always spoke with a purpose at home. but my cousins seemed to simply speak and speak and speak.” P. she wants to say sorry that she did not smile or laugh. as if his mouth were a musical instrument that just let out sound when touched.Father Amadi speaks in “English laced Igbo” -.P 99 “I wondered how Amaka did it. without his footsteps on the stairs.At Nsukka – huge contrast to Enugu:“Laughter floated over my head. asking each other questions whose answers we already knew.” . Words spurted from everyone. Arguments rose quickly and fell just as quickly.” . Until Nsukka. often not seeking and not getting any response.” . how she opened her mouth and had words flow easily out.Sundays described as “measured and silent”: “the silence of waiting until Papa was done with his sietes so we could have lunch. “but my words would not come. 48  suggests that even as a narrator.- “through the years when Jaja and Mama and I spoke more with our spirits than our lips.” AS they pray: “our voices sounded loud.” 139 . 31) . and for a while even my ears could hear nothing. Perhaps it was so that we would not ask the other questions. she remains silent in his presence. But they would not come. the silence of evening rosary. thought them.Aunt Ifeoma speaks Igbo while Eugene speaks English (77) . 135 She says of him: “He spoke so effortlessly..Papa expresses disapproval of the young visiting priest who breaks into a song in Igbo at their church “like a Godless leader of one of these Pentecostal churches that spring up everywhere like mushrooms.” . especially at the table. when opened. it bounced around the walls.P117 Amaka notices of Kambili“You lower your voice when you speak. discordant. You talk in whispers. 60 “An outer silence enveloped us all. Even our family time on Sundays was quiet…” (p. as a subject/ person she is finding her voice. the ones whose answers we did not want to know.” 138. 23 . Morning and night 5 .” . I knew them. When he speaks to her. and no matter where the laughter came from.”p. all the rooms. Aunty Ifeoma’s little garden next to the verandah of her flat in Nsukka began to lift the silence.P. the silence of driving to church for benediction afterward. the silence of reflection time. shrouding us. However.

Jaja says to Kambili p. When I speak the truth it becomes disloyalty. she had not needed to” p 185 P215 – The white nun speaks Igbo as well as English speaks “softly” and “created her own silence”.she had not learnt the art of silent crying. “I am not paid to be loyal. . but she will never heal. Amaka.- - prayers were peppered with songs.” Could this apply to Kambili too? She has gained her voice. Speaking also linked to truth-telling – Aunty Ifeoma p 222 learns of a list of disloyal lecturers who may lose their jobs.When Jaja goes to prison – Kambili says “there is so much that Mama and I do not talk about. 306 Break down . WE do not talk about the huge checks we have written for bribes… how much money we have…about how Papa anonymously donated to children’s hospitals and motherless babies homes and disabled veterans from the civil war.Jaja’s continual disobedience creates a precedent that Kambili fears will bring a break down in their entire world: “This had never happened before.” . Sisi. I was sure. Kambili’s first laugh is with Father Amadi – it is an unfamiliar sound to her own ears When Papa N dies – the grieving is loud “loud and throaty.“There is still so much that is silent between Jaja and me.” When do we speak out. She seems to understand Kambili.. In my nightmares it mixes with shame and grief and so many other things… that I wake up screaming and sweating.” She speaks calmly…and makes Amaka laugh. she says “You don’t have to shout.” . …I dpn’t know hot to do the orah leaves. The compound walls would crumble. one that lets me breathe.” P. have you no mouth? Talk back to her!”.259 about Ade Cokers daughter “She will never heal. because Mama is no longer fearful – “she did not lower her voice to a whisper. the maid.” However –something has changed. After a pause.” Turning point in novel – Amaka once again makes a smart comment about Kambili’s ignorance of food prep because she is rich – Aunty Ifeoma suddenly says “O ginidi. and crush the 6 .” 305 . the silence when Papa was alive. Igbo praise songs that usually called for hand clapping. but you can show me. She may have started talking now. eh? When soldiers are appointed lecturers and students attend lectures with guns to their heads?” Pieces of Gods – After Palm Sunday .“Silence hangs over us. but perhaps she will be forever scarred by her childhood . Perhaps we will talk more with time.breaking of figurines . things that have long been naked. she is not afraid. the children go back to the silent house again. or perhaps we never wll be able to say it all.After the Palm Sunday missal throwing – “the silence that descended on the house was sudden. to clothe things in words.When her father dies. but it is a different kind of silence. is the only one who cries. as though the old silence had broken and left us with the sharp pieces. I have nightmares about the other kind. Kambili.

131 – like Father Benedict -. of Godlessness.P.80. 63 “I had examined him that day. I was only now realizing it. uprooting frangipani trees… The satellite dish on top of the garage came crashing down…the door of my wardrobe dislodged completely. but it is more brief. The Persian rugs on the stretches of gleaming marble floor would shrink…”. . . taking of communion. Howling winds came with an angry rain.g. P. looking away when his eyes met mine. locked the offices. Unlike Eugene she encourages her children to sing during the Rosary. smashed furniture and printers. . . During Kambili’s visit to Papa Nnukwu’s house she begins to confront the truth of this: p.The faith of Kambili’s father is very legalistic and fundamentalist– based on strict adherence to ritual (e. “when Papa threw the missal at Jaja. ironically.Eugene sees Nigeria as ruled by Godless men and sees people like his father as ‘heathen’ who are going to hell.Contrast in Ifeoma’s and Eugene’s prayers p 150 .” .her father has passed on the sense of Blacks being second class to whites – the Colonial legacy .” P. it was everything. making one group feel superior to others. They had to be. took the keys and boarded up the doors and windows. it was not just the figurines that came tumbling down.” 257 Religion .- - frangipani trees.” Papa’s beating of Kambili seems to break him out of her world The first lines in the section “The pieces of Gods” – “Everything came tumbling down after Palm Sunday. only just letting myself thing it. praying of rosary.she prays for his healing whereas Eugene “asked only that God convert him and save him 7 . Supersititious. seeing another person naked was a sin p117. Wearing trousers by a woman is seen as sinful p. I didn’t see any. but I was sure they were there somewhere. The sky would cave in.Images of God the father – as loving protector but fierce punisher (of Old Testament) can also be seen in the complex character of Eugene . for signs of difference. too.a constant presence in the book from the first chapter .He twists his religion to assuage his own guilt – e. tells children not to touch his food or drink.The weakness of some church leaders to become corrupt and materialistic is suggestion by the Priest on Christmas day p. incident with asking family to pray for Mama’s forgiveness after she has been hospitalized after the abuse / miscarriage. Sisi broke a full set of Mama’s china. 61 He will not even allow his father to enter his house. 146 – destruction of the newspaper office by soldiers – breaking down in the outside world. 90 who lectures the congregation about their offering instead of giving an uplifting message .Novel shows one of the unfortunate consequences of religion – to erect barriers between people.Kambili assumes God is white p. She also says grace before meals.g. keeping communion fast). exposing your hair instead of wearing a scarf was ungodly p100. 124 – Aunty Ifeoma – also a Catholic – has a very different way of living her faith.: “The soldiers took every copy of the entire print tun.

168 K hears Papa praying – for Eugene as well. accept cruelty like Kambili Sense of helplessness – like Mama Do the wounds ever heal? Jaja says to Kambili p. worshipped in their language and packaged in the boxes they made. shouldn’t we at least repackage it?” – the reality of the rise of Christianity in Africa and its decline in the West –missionaries going in reverse direction “p. they didn’t think Igbo names were good enough.- - - from the raging fires of hell”.” P.259 about Ade Cokers daughter “She will never heal. 272: “When the missionaries first came.. 267 Amaka “The white missionaries brought us their god. no thoughts for yourself. 166 Ifeoma tells Kambili that Papa N was “not a heathen but a traditionalist. “Have you ever wondered why …did he have to murder his own son so we would be saved? Why didn’t he just go ahead and save us?” 289 – this resonates with Papa’s style of religion Oppression – its effects Silence – you become passive. He laughs when K says “God works in mysterious ways. … it was the same as our saying the rosary. They insisted that people take English names to be baptized. The difference is Papa N smiles after his prayers – which K’s family never does P 178 When Amadi says he sees Christ in the poor boys faces who he plays football with K thinks “I could not reconcile the blond Christ hanging on the burnished cross at St Agnes and the sting scarred legs of those boys. that …when Papa N did his itu-nzu. his declaration of innocence.which was the same coloutr as them. not only as a “soul” P.” Could this apply to Kambili too? For her resistance – Aunty Ifeoma is fired from the university For his mothers – Jaja goes to jail There 8 .” P. but she will never heal. Shouldn’t we be moving ahead?” Amaka asks Jaja’s disillusionment with religion is clearly shown after the death of his father.” He asks. She may have started talking now. Now that we take their god back to them. She seems to care for him as a person.

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