Breaking Gods - An African Postcolonial Gothic Reading of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's 'Purple Hibiscus' and 'Half of a Yellow Sun' | Gothic Fiction | Igbo People

Breaking Gods: An African Postcolonial Gothic Reading of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun

university of Missouri-Columbia
LiLy G. N. MABuRA

ABSTRACT
This article examines Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus (2003) and Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) through an “African Postcolonial Gothic” lens. it begins by tracing the historiography and manifestations of Gothic attributes in precolonial and colonial Africa as exemplified in novels such as Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1959), Mongo Beti’s Poor Christ of Bomba (1971), and Bessie Head’s A Question of Power (1974). it then discusses Half of a Yellow Sun, which explores postindependence ethnic strife in Nigeria, particularly the Biafra War, and situates it as the historical precedent of the contemporary haunted setting in Purple Hibiscus. Adichie, i argue, participates in an ongoing reinvention and complication of Gothic topography in African literature. She teases out the peculiarities of the genre on the continent; dissects fraught African psyches; and engages in a Gothic-like reclamation of her igbo heritage, including igbo-ukwu art, language, and religion.

othic as a literary term emerged in the later eighteenth century and has been thought by some to have hardly anything to do with the European Goths who sacked Rome in 410 AD. Some revisionists like Robin Sowerby, however, note that Edward Gibbon wrote the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire about the time Gothic fiction emerged on the literary scene. Such revisionism links the word metaphorically to its origins by intimating that Gothic fiction tells tales of “invasions,” which embody transgressions of all sorts, including those across national, social, sexual, and identity boundaries (Heiland 2–3). Eighteenth-century Europe evoked the Goths’ “fierce avowal of the values of freedom and democracy.” • REsEaRch in afRican litER atuREs, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Winter 2008). © 2008 •

G

204

REsEaRch in afRican litER atuREs

During this time and on to the French Revolution, the Goths were remembered and admired for their opposition to the tyrannical expansionism of the Roman Empire, an expansionism that was “subsequently identified with the Catholic Church” (Botting 5). Similar opposition to empire and church emerged in twentieth-century African novels that predate Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus (2003). in Mongo Beti’s The Poor Christ of Bomba (1971), the people of Tala, in colonial Cameroon, are set in direct contestation with Catholicism much like the Goths and subsequent eighteenth-century protagonists of Gothic novels. in the novel, Fr. Drumont–Father Superior of Bomba mission–abandons Tala’s residents for three years for failing to convert to Catholicism or for backsliding to their indigenous religion and cultural practices, including polygamy. While visiting the village of Timbo in Tala country, Fr. Drumont asks the local catechist what the people there think of religion. “Father,” the catechist answers, “they say that a priest is no better than a Greek trader or any other colonialist. [. . .] They say that you must be hiding things from them. What about all the whites who live in concubinage with loose women in the town, do you ever rage against them?” (Beti 20). Fr. Drumont does not rage about this, not to mention the fact that “he refuses to believe that Zacharia is really bad” (Beti 10). Already married and with two sons, Zacharia takes sexual advantage of the sixa girls who live in the mission for “two to four months [doing] manual work for more than ten hours a day,” all in the name of being prepared to be “mothers of Christian families” (Beti 5). Denis, a fifteen-year-old mission boy under Fr. Drumont’s care, narrates Zacharia’s affair with Catherine, one of the sixa girls. in addition, Denis reveals his own seduction by Catherine and provides readers with an insight into the eventual collapse of the mission of Bomba, whose sixa turns into a brothel raging with syphilis. Seen through a Gothic lens, Denis is reminiscent of the sexually naïve priest Ambrosio who is seduced by Matilda in Mathew G. Lewis’s The Monk (1756). According to Steven Blakemore, “[T]hematically and allusively, Matilda is the Lovelace-like seducer protesting his innocent intentions, and Ambrosio is like the damsel whose virtue is threatened” (524). Blakemore argues that “Lewis’s point is that Catholic vows of chastity feminize monks whose sexual ignorance makes them vulnerable to temptation and hypocrisy” (522). This is the same point that Beti seems to be making, especially in regard to Denis, whose seduction is filled with lamentation: “Oh God, what shall i do?”—Denis asks—“i’m so unhappy. And all because of that cursed girl, that Catherine. Ah! She is Satan herself [. . .]. i should have watched out, indeed i should. But how could i have done? How could i suspect that she wanted to make me do that?” (Beti 81). The parallels between the initially innocent Ambrosio and Denis and the demonic Matilda and Catherine enhance the thematic similarity between these two novels and their anti-Catholic subtexts. Further, Lewis’s novel posits that “cloistered ‘feminine’ virtue is easily seduced” (Blakemore 524), a point that Beti demonstrates in the seduction of Denis and the sixa girls. in The Monk and The Poor Christ of Bomba, Catholicism is depicted as having perverted “pure” religion and produced “deviant sexual practices originating from ‘unnatural’ vows of chastity,” which violate nature. Geographic locations aside, novels like Lewis’s and Beti’s reveal that Gothic fiction is imbued with “a nostalgic relish for a lost era of romance and adventure, for a world that, if barbaric, was [. . .] also ordered [and that in] this respect Gothic

Dan. and the threat of illicit love or lust. Here the village of Umuofia stands surrounded by a large forest imbued with both good and evil. ancient prophesies. indeed. an atmosphere of overwrought emotions. “colonized peoples attempt to maintain and revive indigenous or exiled homeland conditions. fear. That said of Adichie’s African literary predecessors. This Gothic feature is well exemplified in Bessie Head’s A Question of Power (1974). and ways of looking at the world [and] the imaginary” (Wisker 174). and doom precipitated by various notions of evil. That said.lilY G. immediately emerged as well in the modern African novel like Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1959). Such landscapes. present in early Gothic fiction like Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story (1764). as already seen. the boundaries of the Gothic novel/fiction have widened over time to include the “Postcolonial Gothic” novel among others. in this novel. and writers like Beti. On one hand. i deem her novel Purple Hibiscus as encompassing a larger palette of these Gothic stock features than . and driven to psychological disintegration by a powerful tyrannical male who embodies patriarchal oppression. M aBuR a • 205 fiction preserves older traditions” (Botting 5). were further compounded in the colonial and postcolonial settings where color and gender served as dual oppressors for women. Gothic fiction has retained certain stock features. bloodshed and villainy” (Cuddon 356). and women in distress—female characters that are often terrified. n. and sacred caves like that of Chielo–the priestess of Agbala. belief. indigenous sexism and patriarchy. usually emanating from some other evil man’s desires for the woman or one of her multiple suitors. for example. exiled in Botswana. the village is host to the sacred python. As African novelists like Beti demonstrate. and Head are significant when tracing the historiography and manifestations of the genre’s attributes on the African continent. indeed. a cursed landscape where people who die of evil diseases are buried. Other stock features of Gothic fiction include apparitions. it is partly the Evil Forest. Head’s novel can also be read as a tale of a romance gone bad. and other notions of evil. such literature in the twentieth century has contributed to the emergence of the “postcolonial Gothic. ikemefuna. which were no strangers to precolonial Africa.” As Gina Wisker argues. is imbued with Gothic trappings and demonstrates varying degrees of commitment to the genre’s topography and stock features. it. These stock features of Gothic fiction. Walpole’s novel The Castle of Otranto has been described as “a gruesome tale of passion. the “history of postcolonial peoples is one that reeks of the elements of horror: silencing. hauntings of repressed past histories. abjection and the split self. oppressed. was a tale of romance. if not all. from its early beginnings. And on the other. is driven to a psychological hell by her abusive lover. [and] colluding with the ruler” (174). African literature. ghosts. From this it might be argued that most. Achebe. Gothic fiction. Elizabeth. tension between the female protagonist’s true love and patriarchal control. a painful parting of the lovers. or the sublime and supernatural. are not a novelty in African fiction. usually has a castle setting that is sometimes surrounded by wild and desolate landscapes and dark forests. curses. however. revered shrines. Elements of Gothic romance include a sudden and passionate love. by virtue of its effort to preserve and reclaim older traditions and cultures. it is also the dumping ground for twins (who are considered evil) and the site for ritualistic killings such as the oracle-stipulated murder of Okonkwo’s adopted son. Undoubtedly.

first. Afigbo “contends that colonial rule was a stunning and crucial experience for the igbo. and her older brother and only sibling. and sovereign powers under. These two novels have been published to wide international acclaim but have so far generated hardly any significant criticism. afraid to leave the security Eugene’s immense wealth and social status affords her and the children. where her father Eugene Achike runs various businesses. Eugene pushes Beatrice to the limit and she. which i trace to her second novel. She brings the reader into her family’s palatial homes in not only the coal mining town of Enugu. second. Further. By showing Adichie as participating in an ongoing reinvention and complication of the “African Postcolonial Gothic” topography. the Nigerian federal state. Olanna and Kainene. language. social. who have grown up in Lagos where they received an elite private school education .206 • REsEaRch in afRican litER atuREs is found in many preceding texts. Hers is. Kambili is extremely close to her mother. Adichie teases out the peculiarities of the “Postcolonial Gothic” in continental Africa as she dissects fraught African psyches and engages in a Gothic-like reclamation of her igbo heritage. a university lecturer. in the end. on the whole. As Adiele Afigbo notes in Ropes of Sand: Studies in Igbo History and Culture. admits to the crime of poisoning his father. and his character generally reads like the proverbial oppressive Gothic patriarch. juridical. Nsukka. This is the world that Adichie explores in Half of a Yellow Sun. a more faithful rendition of the genre. This circumvented igboland setting in modern day Nigeria resounds with the Gothic subtexts of invasion and trauma. The main protagonist. To protect his mother. including igbo-ukwu art. I flesh out this thought in greater detail by closely examining Gothic topography and elements in Purple Hibiscus and their historical roots. however. where their paternal aunt. The novel focuses on the lives of two igbo adult fraternal twins. Half of a Yellow Sun (2006). and. Adichie’s novels Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun support this claim by Afigbo. ifeoma. partly because of its aims and partly because of its methods both of which occasioned far-reaching changes” in the economic. and psychological aspects of igbo society (283). her paternal ancestral home that the family visits every Christmas. Kambili Achike. and religion. but with the prospect of freedom in the near future. Purple Hibiscus is set in the South Eastern Nigerian towns of Enugu. almost sixteen. poisons him. and her children live. Jaja (possibly named after a historical Nigerian figure. however. and Abba. second. in turn. the colonial government and. narrates her family’s life and history in modern day Nigeria. Eugene overexerts his children academically. Jaja. ifeoma. Jaja of Opobo). is reluctant to do so. which are predominantly igbo in ethnicity. i argue. though. they also place great emphasis on the implications of igbo loss of political. A fanatically religious patriarch. Beatrice. there have been only two times a foreign army has marched right through all the individually autonomous villages of Igboland: first. i also hope to attract further scholarly attention to her works. a university town. in the abortive postindependence Biafra secession war of 1966–67 when Nigerian government forces occupied the region. which confine the novel’s characters to this particular region of country. in the late nineteenth century when British imperialism systematically subjugated the villages by war and gunboat treaty. Beatrice. tries to counterbalance Eugene’s excesses and often urges an entrapped and abused Beatrice to leave him. The novel ends with Jaja in prison. In the following pages. Kambili and Jaja often seek refuge from him in Nsukka. but also in Abba.

who has just returned from England. but the North and Lagos. Chinua Achebe’s own wartime memories of Lagos reveal that “the people were jeering and saying. religious. as well as between feudal yoruba in the West and republican igbo in the East” (88). as being “very Jewish” (154). whose name means “Let’s watch and see what next God will bring” (58). “owns half of Lagos” (HYS 59). Chief Ozobia. is the older twin and the complete opposite of Olanna. i had been living in a strange place” (225). who feel that the igbo people “want to control everything” in the country and wish that they would “stay in their East” (HYS 227).lilY G. in that regard. refuse to admit igbo children into Kano schools. for instance. like his wife. The novel closes at the end of the war when their parents return to find Olanna alive. but the igbo in this novel do not venture back. Thus. i realized suddenly that i had not been living in my home. in Half of a Yellow Sun. the igbo lose thousands of lives and their property and bank accounts are confiscated or destroyed. where he and Olanna seek refuge from advancing government forces. incidentally the Achike family’s hometown in Purple Hibiscus as well. brokering military contracts during the Biafra War. and after the fall of Port Harcourt. feel discriminated against and insecure outside igboland. has no formal education. The Ozobias. Odenigbo. some igbo venture back to larger igbo towns like Enugu. due to memories akin to those voiced by Achebe: . Olanna. and ethnic divisions [often promoted by the British during the colonial era] between the predominantly Muslim North and the largely Christian South. clannish. for example.’ That kind of experience”—Achebe says—“is so powerful. is mostly skirted in Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus. refuges from the haunting memory of the war and its hurriedly built dirt bunkers. Richard Churchill. Nsukka. Kainene’s house. a lecturer at the University of Nigeria. The largely islamic Northerners. is planning to move to Nsukka to join her Igbo fiancé. There are those. Susan. but Kainene missing and her fate unknown. The novel commences as Olanna. After the war. but. in Purple Hibiscus. a historically bloody and haunted landscape for the igbo. that the igbo regroup and commence postwar reconstruction. while Kainene. it is in towns like Abba. Kainene plays the role of the son in the family. fleshy body” (23). whose name means “Gold’s Gold” (58). the harmattan blows and brings with it the smells of the North and the Sahara. which is the historical precedent of Purple Hibiscus. Chief Ozobia and his wife flee Nigeria during the war and seek refuge in England while Kainene and Olanna stay and witness the horror and chaos that ensue. food will be cheaper in Lagos. a British expatriate and Richard’s former lover. Half of a Yellow Sun sheds light on postindependence ethnic strife in Nigeria. During the war. for example. feels that the igbo are uppity. and running an Igbo refugee camp. on the other hand. Their father. ‘Let the igbo go. “The crisis of the Nigerian state reflected long-standing geographical. The igbo. the igbo are beaten back to interior igbo towns like Abba. describes her as “almost androgynous” and with “boyish hips” (60). n. M aBuR a • 207 before attending college in England. Odenigbo’s hometown. When the Biafra War erupts. As Olu Oguibe asserts. it is something i could not possibly forget. expanding the family business in Port Harcourt. As such. an Englishman who falls in love with Kainene. has smooth skin with “the lush color of rain-drenched earth” and a “curvy. lose their family house in the predominantly yoruba capital city of Lagos. forcing the igbo union to construct an igbo union Grammar School (38). and controlling of markets and describes them. homes are built in inland towns like Abba.

of unused bathrooms and kitchens and . such as those by John de St. in Kano. This four-story white house. with a “spurting fountain in front” (PH 55). are “topped by coiled electric wires” and were so high she could not see cars driving by on their street (PH 9). Kambili describes the house as “spacious” but “suffocating” (PH 7) in a standard Gothic metonymy of gloom and horror: the yard is “wide enough to hold a hundred people dancing atilogu.” and that he “grew up inside that silence” believing in the idea of Nigeria that many easterners had originally fought for during independence from the British until “it became increasingly apparent” that he was surrounded by people who were not his own. Gothic landscapes are desolate. in retrospect. Adichie’s literary emphasis of Igbo reluctance to leave the confines of their ethnic homeland after the Biafra War seems to counter early reports. and the effects of imperial and mission expansionism. Olu Oguibe. which appeared in Transition. “people who. who have most likely experienced both Nigerian independence from the British and the Biafra War as young adults. Jorre. and i wish to spend some time locating it within the Gothic tradition. a suppressed nostalgia for the North. disease and starvation” (Nixon 473). suggestive of violence and menacing (2). are “Biafra’s children. has wide hotel-like passages. “the sand was fine. Eugene’s house. miles of flatland went on and on” (37).” it is on this bloody history of a two-and-a-half-year secession war that is claimed to have caused over a million deaths from “military action. as Oguibe. As in a typical Gothic plot where the castle serves as the “major locus. Eugene and Beatrice. unlike the bursting greenness that sprang up and cast shadows on the road to umunnachi [her paternal hometown]. like Achebe’s haunted war memories.” contended that the igbo elite. is as well exemplified in the Achike family house in Abba.” but like the generic Gothic castle it is imbued with a sense of entrapment—“the compound walls.” the Achike family house in Enugu is “gloomily predominant” (Botting 2).” would “often pitch up in Lagos in their own cars” and shop at the Kingsway department store “before looking for their old jobs” (37). There.” The setting.” Kambili notes. an igbo who was caught in the midst of the war as a child.208 • REsEaRch in afRican litER atuREs gone is the real essence of the North like Olanna in Half of a Yellow Sun experiences while visiting relatives and her former boyfriend. The circumscribed world of Purple Hibiscus. spacious enough for each dancer to do the usual somersaults and land on the next dancer’s shoulder. the trees were tame. and sun-seared. The labyrinthine nature of these spaces. trade the idea of unity for personal or sectarian gain. are raising their two children as Oguibe was raised—under “a blanket of silence. Oguibe says that he “was raised under the blanket of silence that Nigeria draped over Biafra at her defeat. who in his “Nigerian Civil War Notebook. that the Achike family in Purple Hibiscus is psychologically grounded before “things [start] to fall apart” (PH 3).” They. which are sometimes occupied and sometimes abandoned. According to Botting. even sleek. nothing like the clumpy red earth back home [igboland]. “Lessons from the Killing Fields. and is riddled with “the impersonal smell of doors kept locked most of the year. contests this generalized opinion of the igbo elite. “plumb. Mohammed. Jorre claimed that these formerly “fanatical Biafrans” appeared “to have adjusted themselves to the prewar situation with remarkable speed” (37).” in a manner congruent with both Adichie and Achebe. Here. St. in his 1971 article. gray. at a moment’s notice. is a crucial Gothic element. speaks of his feelings on the matter in a 1998 article.

calls Olanna “an abnormal woman” and a witch who did not suck her mother’s breasts. The family’s two castle-like households are domestic sites of contestation between the past and the present. the room still seemed to have too much space. This notion of the horrific that is found in Purple Hibiscus is also explored in Half of a Yellow Sun. the labyrinthine quality of the Gothic castle is assumed to mirror the fraught psyches of its inhabitants.] He looked up at the ceiling. polish this slipperysmooth floor. Here Odenigbo’s mother.” and it is from “the reappearance of figures long gone. a medium-sized stone structure. As Kambili describes it. Poisons. which was once considered an evil phenomenon within igbo tradition. there dwell[s] ultimate horrors or concepts of horror and terror” (389). Eugene Achike and his family present an ideal case study for Botting’s premise. housing a rising African middleclass mainly composed of teachers. Further. the shelves crammed with books. so high up. so piercingly white. who procures poison from her uncle. perhaps. . overcome by a new wonder. She is against the idea of Olanna’s marriage to her son and claims that she comes from a family of lazy beggars in umunnachi and that her father. and looked around to make sure it was all real. . He opened his eyes. amassed his wealth by stealing from hardworking people (HYS 96–97). wash these gauzy curtains. a “powerful and emotive” element of the horror story (Cuddon 399)—the horror story itself being a literary form that derives from the Gothic novel (Cuddon 394). the side tables between them. To think that he would sit on these sofas.]. Preceding it on this Gothic landscape was the intermediary middle-class house. Odenigbo tells Olanna that she is merely an uneducated victim of their postcolonial world. of uninhabited rooms” and two upper-level floors that have not been used for years (58). in defense of his mother. .] and where. but he couldn’t. We see one such setting through ugwu’s perspective in Half of a Yellow Sun: ugwu [Odenigbo’s household servant from the village] had never seen a room so wide. and gives it to Beatrice. that the Gothic pleasures of horror and terror emanate (PH 2). like we find in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. . The horror story. (4–5) ugwu’s counterpart in Purple Hibiscus is the longtime Achike housemaid. “a powerful witch doctor” (PH 290). for example. Cuddon says. all that lies on the dark side of the mind and the near side of barbarism.lilY G. the Achike castle-like house is a progression from the wild sublime forest setting. He argues that she “had no say in whether or not [she] . and point to the genre’s concern with psychological and social disintegration (Botting 7). bad medicine. and the center table with a vase of red and white plastic flowers. . this is a modern opulent space housing wealthy African elite. usually with two or three bedrooms. [. what lurks on and beyond the shifting frontiers of consciousness [. This is the poison Beatrice uses to eliminate her husband. formerly a tax-collector. . and witchcraft evoke terror. M aBuR a • 209 toilets.” in these spaces. He closed his eyes and tried to reimagine this spacious room with the alien furniture. Botting sees them as signaling “the spatial and temporal separation of the past and its values from those of the present. Alluding to the significance of such Gothic settings to the plot. as if alluding to Olanna’s twin birth. As a Gothic setting on the igbo landscape and much of the rest of Africa. n. Despite the brown sofas arranged in a semi-circle. Sisi. “explores the limits of what people are capable of doing and experiencing [.

The novel’s very structure is reflective of this.” shrank their economic resources. death. Ekechi. which the local dibias were unable to stem (221). has not been given tools to negotiate the new world. (medicine) either for group protection or for individual cures and protection” (224). represents possible desubjectification. Felix K. who seems to see beyond Odenigbo’s modern reasoning and feels that his mother is up to something evil. impregnated Amala. Green’s Ibo Village Affairs (1947). it later emerges that Odenigbo. according to Ekechi. Amala bears a girl. and at times created “outright disbelief” in their supernatural powers (224–25). it is this child. the Sabbath or the Christian Sunday. Ekechi in his paper on Roman Catholic missionary strategy in igboland says that “the combined force of missionary evangelism and European colonial power dealt a considerable blow to the social status and prestige of nde dibia [medicine men]” and that the dibias. reveals that in times of sickness. kill her” (98). While Odenigbo is right in claiming that the old world. exhibited “relentless hostility toward Christian elements” (225). under a spell of his mother’s making. the igbo. Expounding on this central Gothic motif. Christian missions challenged the influence of dibias. after the manner of the Gothic castle. in such a manner. were drawn to European medicine particularly during the dysentery epidemic of 1890. such as that of the dibia. in turn. His worries are realized when he sees “more than a hundred fat greenish flies” by the kitchen sink. “The Pieces of Gods—After Palm Sunday”. The metaphorical significance of the Sabbath can be found in various religious texts. M. fights in his modern Igbo household—a setting that. and “A Different Silence—The Present. David Punter and Glennis Byron in The Gothic posit that herein “one may be ‘subjected’ to a force that is utterly resistant to the individual’s attempt to impose his or her own order” (261–62). however. the young village girl that she brings to his house. we cannot help but marvel at the Catholic fort he has erected against his igbo cultural past. Aelred was a twelfthcentury Cistercian monk who noted that the Sabbath had no morning nor evening . or an unforeseen crisis. so too is ugwu in his suspicion that this past is resentful of the new world and consistently raids or haunts it in a bid to reverse the status quo. Chiamaka. is both a literal and metaphorical device serving as the novel’s structural linchpin. “a sign of bad medicine from the dibia” (215). That form complements function towards this goal is discernable in Adichie’s decision to divide the novel into the following four sections: “Breaking Gods—Palm Sunday”.” God’s day of rest. that perhaps she wants to “tie up Olanna’s womb or cripple her or. This. dibias were “expected to make ɔgwө. Despite Eugene’s eventual demise. whom Odenigbo and Olanna–unable to bear any children themselves–adopt as theirs. most frightening of all. “Speaking with Our Spirits—Before Palm Sunday”. The clash between dibia medicine and the modern postcolonial world as exemplified in Adichie’s novels has its roots in the late nineteenth century when the two worlds came in contact for the first time in Igboland. including Aelred of Rievaulx’s Speculum Caritatis. forced the igbo to recognize “the potency of the white man’s medicine” (224).210 • REsEaRch in afRican litER atuREs wanted this new world” and had “not been given the tools to negotiate” it (101). however. nicknamed Baby. drawing from M. “eroded some of their traditional roles in society. as happens to Eugene. in Purple Hibiscus. It is the possible Gothic reappearance and influence of this Igbo past that Eugene Achike. it is the ever superstitious ugwu.

But for all its divine intentions. is the publisher of the Standard—the only newspaper that dares speak the truth about a corrupt and poorly governed Nigeria. is practically monastic in regard to prayer–they say the rosary even while traveling (PH 54) and listen to “Ave Maria” on cassette (31).” Father Benedict deems igbo unacceptable. Agnes in Enugu. separating study from siesta. he calls the songs “ ‘native’ [with] his straight-line lips turned down at the corners to form an inverted u” (PH 4). eating from prayer. are strapped with a rigorous academic schedule reflective of a Catholic work ethic that demands “serious and constant effort” (Ekechi 226) from its igbo converts. each leading to the next as the soul rose ever higher. As the Holy Ghost Fathers argued in their early mission ideology. which “brings with it the vision of God” (Chevalier and Gheerbrant 817–18). where Father Benedict refers to him in the same context as the pope and Jesus. Seen in this light. commercial and educational functions. each Sabbath a stepping stone. and nationalism. as it were. From this we see that while the actual colonialists have seemingly left the postindependence scene. a life any less demanding would hardly distinguish them from “pagans” (qtd.” Linked to this was Aelred’s idea of the connectedness of Sabbaths. to Protestantism as well. in the form of offertory songs. Eugene looms as large as God. Afigbo traces the dilemma of the Igbo language and culture to colonialism. . attained vehicular status as bureaucratic languages of the state and robbed many indigenous languages like igbo their cultural. Catholicism. St. this Sabbath-like world is riddled with the remains of the empire in the form of British missionaries like Father Benedict whom Kambili notes “still looked new”—he would not tan. almost single-handedly funds St. it can never be the language in which the liturgy is said. His almost omnipotent influence even extends to their local church. Agnes. for example. especially with the white religious” (46).” Kambili says. in black ink. increasingly. The Achike family. n. instead. Kambili reveals that their schedules have “meticulously drawn lines. M aBuR a • 211 and that “it stood outside Creation and belonged to the divine order alone. sounding British. He was gracious. These languages have. He used Papa to illustrate the gospels” (PH 4). prayer from sleep” (PH 23–24). the language[s] of colonization have not. Kambili says. The characters live in a cloistered Catholicism partly of Roman-colonial making and partly of Eugene’s making. not even after “the fierce heat of seven Nigerian harmattans. just as he did when he spoke to Father Benedict. “Father Benedict usually referred to the pope. in Ekechi 226)—a label that the Holy Ghost Fathers generally associated with traditional igbo religion and. to the Sabbath of Sabbaths. the structure of Purple Hibiscus and the world that its characters inhabit acquire a deeply religious significance. the children. When he does concede to the use of igbo. family time from eating. cut[ting] across each day. religious. and Jesus—in that order. Papa. in this progressive Sabbath of the Achike family. in the eager-to-please way that he always assumed with the religious. “During his sermons. Vincent de Paul. siesta from family time.lilY G. and he insists upon a Latin recital of the Credo and Kyrie. in addition. Kambili reveals that Eugene acquiesces to Father Benedict’s views of igbo language and even makes the point of speaking with a British accent when around white missionaries: “Papa changed his accent when he spoke. Eugene makes the biggest donations to Peter’s pence and St. and they aspire to Aelred’s idea of Sabbath of Sabbaths. Jaja and Kambili. and is the recipient of a prestigious human rights award from Amnesty World (5).

Kambili notes. the premier missionary of the Catholic Mission in igboland. the CMS. Afigbo continues. authorities could present as the advantages of reading the Holy Writ in igbo” (380).” but records indicate that the Roman Catholics were actually “deeply anxious to outdo the Protestants” (Ekechi 257). it was not one of the aims of colonialism to preserve the cultural identity of subject peoples. Presently. .] Hence there were powerful individuals and interests in colonial circles who felt that the igbo language should be allowed to die a natural death as this would promote the spread of English” (384). by implication. Fr. the Catholic approach was more popular: “Bishop Shanahan. . there are those who argue that the CMS had hidden motives for this.S. to Father Benedict’s pinch-your-nose monotone. inevitably. [. Afigbo asserts that this “down-to-earth. and in the North where Christian missions were restricted “while encouraging traditional Koranic education and [the use of] Hausa as the second language of administration” (381). was forced to give in (380). went all out to bring home to the people the overwhelming advantages of knowledge of the English language and therefore. They were used to Father Benedict’s sparse sermons. Father Amadi breaks into an igbo song halfway through his sermon: “Bunie ya enu . reintroduces past anxieties and fears for people like Father Benedict and Eugene as they are against his reclamation of igbo language and song. argument [. . He looked sideways to see if Jaja and i were singing and nodded approvingly when he saw our sealed lips” (PH 28).] carried more weight than whatever the C. Agnes. which had up to about 1913 resisted a complete diet of English programs in their schools. The appearance of a young newly ordained reformist igbo priest. .212 • REsEaRch in afRican litER atuREs Afigbo says that the “colonial government did not and could not show enough interest in promoting the study of the language in view of the limited and selfish objectives of colonialism. To avoid losing their converts.” he sings. in fact any attempt to emphasize the teaching of igbo came to be looked upon as a satanic waste of time [and] an imperialist plot to delay the prompt arrival of the igbo nation” (383). that it was a waste of time and resources to attend Protestant schools” (379). In the end though. in response. some had their mouths in a big O. with “this material-successoriented psychology few came to give any thought to proficiency and competence in igbo language since this would lead nobody anywhere. . Slowly they joined in. a factor that was lacking in other parts of Nigeria like the yoruba territory. The crisis of the Igbo language. invited to say Mass at St.M. Father Amadi. . This is the Colonial-Romanist project that Father Benedict fosters and Eugene Achike embraces in Purple Hibiscus. was further exacerbated by the CatholicProtestant conflict in Igboland. paving the way for what Afigbo calls an “English deluge” in Igboland (381). Shanahan argued “that the principal impetus for their [Catholic] aggressive education policy was the desire to destroy ‘the citadel of satan’ [sic] in the country. . some sighed. i watched Papa purse his lips. the “congregation drew in a collective breath. . like hindering their trainees from moving to English-speaking Government appointments and enterprises or the likelihood that they were white supremacists who “wanted to deny Africans competence in English” (Afigbo 379). Afigbo notes. if also cynically materialistic. Amadi’s Gothic nostalgia for a lost era and his intentions of preserving an older tradition set him in contestation with prevailing postcolonial values. where the British-based protestant Church Missionary Society (CMS) chose yoruba as the language of instruction.

By the time the Catholic Holy Ghost Fathers arrived in Onitsha in 1885. a situation that enhances the novel’s standing as a Gothic cautionary tale against absolutism. inadvertently launches an attack on Father Amadi: “That young priest. Eugene. His blind refusal to acknowledge any of these Catholic flaws is apparent from the very beginning. both of which Afigbo traces to colonialism and Roman Catholicism in igboland.] with its steps that glowed like polished ice blocks. By refusing to acknowledge St. and a brand that many scholars have noted was specifically formulated to outdo the thirty years or so of a CMS head start in igboland. . however. having started missions at Calabar in 1846 and in Onitsha in 1857 (Ekechi 218). Assisting with relief food distribution and other camp duties are two Holy Ghost priests.lilY G. education. but materialism as well. n. Eugene seems to reject or ignore the calculated maneuvers and historical short comings of the Catholic Church in igboland. that God’s presence dwelled more in St. Agnes. Eugene confronts Jaja over his refusal to take communion and Jaja explains himself by saying that the priest. His failure to adequately examine these shortcomings and their consequences leaves him vulnerable to a seemingly vanquished igbo past: bad dibia medicine. by not affirming that God lives in this space. keeps touching his mouth and that nauseates him (PH 6). M aBuR a • 213 Following the sermon. he resorts to the old “satanic” (Afigbo 383) rhetoric that was used against the language during colonialization. for instance. Eugene ignores this charge of licentiousness and threat to Jaja’s virtue and angrily flings the missal at him: this Kambili notes. Agnes altar was [. Eugene. unlike Father Amadi. Father Marcel and . Kambili notices. it lodges itself in Kambili and Jaja and can be said to contribute to their ensuing revolt. at least in regard to the brand of Catholicism introduced in igboland—a threepronged brand that mainly consisted of evangelization. During the Biafran War. which is the use of igbo language and song. tags Father Amadi as “Godless.” “Pentecostal. singing in the sermon like a Godless leader of one of these Pentecostal churches that spring up everywhere like mushrooms. Father Amadi. as all the other visiting priests had. the CMS was firmly established in the region. He did not suggest. that the iridescent saints on the floor-to-ceiling stainedglass windows stopped God from leaving” (PH 28). is not that easily done away with and despite Eugene’s efforts. without really pointing to the real crux of the issue. perhaps even in the whole of Nigeria. Father Amadi undercuts the value placed on such possessions in the postcolonial igbo society of which Eugene is a leading member. Father Amadi’s threat. People like him bring trouble to the church. and provision of health services. Or that it was one of the best altars in Enugu. His threat is not only leveled against linguistic imperialism. in a single mouthful. We must remember to pray for him” (PH 29).” To eliminate the threat Father Amadi poses. presumably Father Benedict. “did not say how beautiful our St. he essentially undermines its sanctity. on his way to visit Father Benedict in the parish residence with his family like they always did after Mass. . is when “things started to fall apart” (3). one may deduce that Father Amadi is actually anti-Catholic. Further. When the novel opens.” and “trouble. Kainene is instrumental in turning a former primary school into a refugee camp (HYS 347). Agnes’s material opulence. From this. A similar charge is also leveled against the Catholic Church in Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun.

seems to advocate for a new direction or an amendment of Catholic evangelical strategy in igboland. His association with the name St. Aunt ifeoma offers Kambili the following explanation of Papa-Nnukwu: “[She] said Papa-Nnukwu was not a heathen but a traditionalist. in contrast. that when PapaNnukwu did his itu-nzu. Papa would be scandalized. Father Amadi. but igbo language as well. The women did not tie their scarves properly around their heads. And this is not only in regard to traditional igbo religion and customs. or Jude. others wore trousers. Peter’s. even jeans. Peter connotes that he is the rock on which the new is to be founded.] happily to village meetings and markets (and almost to church).” Father Amadi. urenwa. is discovered to be pregnant. Some just draped see-through black veils over their hair. with whom Eugene has cut ties and consistently refers to as a “pagan” and a “heathen. “buttocks and chests [that] were collapsed into folds of rumpled skin” and spurts of black hair gone red from kwashiorkor (348). Thus. Even more surprising for Kambili. As Afigbo notes in Ropes of Sand. he would say” (PH 240). unlike most of Igboland. Nsukka. it was the same as our saying the rosary” (166).214 • REsEaRch in afRican litER atuREs Father Jude. notes that “The Nsukka area—with its aggressively alive Odo and Omabe masquerades. who belongs to the order of The Fathers of the Blessed Way (unlike Fathers Benedict. in the morning. Agnes. On her part. This is something that Kambili and Jaja immediately sense of Nsukka and something of which their father. The location of Father Amadi’s chaplaincy and the university of Nigeria in Nsukka adds to this Gothic revivalist sentiment. While visiting St. “the main danger to the igbo language is the belief that proficiency in it cannot bring one material success or visible influence and power or reveal to one the wonderful world of the atom” (383). Catholic priests such as Purple Hibiscus’s Father Amadi. the likes of Aunt ifeoma and Father Amadi affect what could be seen as a Gothic reformist change in Kambili and Jaja. picture of an igboland that lost its social and cultural identity with colonial conquest” (351). who belong to the Holy Ghost Fathers). Marcel. guilds of titled men swinging [. Peter’s Catholic Chaplaincy. it unravels that Father Marcel “f***s most of them before he gives them the crayfish” that Kainene slaves to get into the refugee camp and that Father Jude does nothing about it (398). Father Amadi displays extreme concern for her grandfather. to cover as much hair as possible. Afigbo. . university of Nigeria. Eugene. A woman’s hair must be covered in the house of God. its child marriages and puberty rites—does not fit into the usual. inquires after Papa-Nnukwu “as though [he] were his own relative” (PH 163–64). we find a Catholicism gone profane in a manner not unlike that of The Monk. Kambili notes that it “did not have the huge candles or the ornate marble altar of St. Papa-Nnukwu. that sometimes what was different was just as good as what was familiar. i watched them as they came up for offertory. He seems symbolically set up for this role from his seat at St. especially in the house of God. To this day Nsukka. . in this traumatic igbo landscape of naked and starving war children with “taut globes” for bellies. has remained a cultural stronghold. When a small girl. and a woman must not wear a man’s clothes. is wary. his declaration of innocence. are depicted as breaking away from this Gothic perception of Catholicism as perverted. in Ropes of Sand. Afigbo envisions a solution to the problem by proposing to “replace that system with another which will inculcate a balanced vision of life as it really is or demonstrate .

Richard’s novel. Ugwu. it is defiant academics like Ifeoma who partly fueled the raiding of Nsukka during the Biafra War. M aBuR a • 215 that the man proficient in Igbo language and versed in Igbo culture can also attain to as much” (383. therefore. being igbo. just marvelous” (HYS 111). a Nsukka academic—“The details are stunning. and he was disappointed at how easily they came out. When a sickly Papa-Nnukwu arrives at Aunt ifeoma’s house in Nsukka so that he might get medical attention at the university hospital. by insinuation.lilY G. who teaches at the institute of African Studies at the university of Nsukka. include a number of vessels and staff heads decorated with a profusion of insects and interlace” and many are without peer (234. intertextually fragmented and interwoven in the main narrative. stylistic anachronisms in African art. also embody this defiant Gothic prototype that goes against prevailing Igbo social norms. indeed. the book celebrates igbo-ugwu art. Aunt ifeoma. These sisters are fluent in both English and Igbo. While they are not as materially successful as Eugene Achike. remarks that her “igbo words were softer than her English. Present-day writers like Adichie seem to have taken Afigbo’s observations to heart and made an obvious effort to readdress the matter. emphasis in original). and Father Amadi embody such characters for Kambili. Afigbo notes that the “cultural renaissance which from the beginning had been an essential aspect of African nationalism had by and large passed igboland by” (383). in her article on the Treasures of Ancient Nigeria exhibit. This Gothic-like reclamation of igbo language and culture. Olanna and Kainene. is titled In the Time of Roped Pots. it’s quite incredible that these people had perfected the complicated art of lost-wax casting during the time of the Viking raids. n. when in Half of a Yellow Sun Adichie writes that “ugwu had heard that the Nigerian soldiers had promised to kill five percent of Nsukka academics” (HYS 422)—this percentile. Apart from documenting the horrors of the Biafra War. These castings. The two heroines of Half of a Yellow Sun. Indeed. There is such marvelous complexity in the bronzes. Adichie sets up this Gothic cultural reclamation project at the very heart of the conflict between Eugene Achike and his children. it comes as no surprise. Adichie’s novel perceives the university as a “microcosm of the country” (PH 224) and defiance within it is symbolic of defiance within the very state of Nigeria. they are visibly influential in their defiance of prevailing negative perceptions of igbo language and culture and are critical of government autocracy and failures. “which the recent [Biafra] war had done so much to blast further” (Afigbo 383). Richard reveals that he is “very interested in igbo-ukwu art” and that he wants to make it a “central part of the book”: “i’ve been utterly fascinated by the bronzes since I first read about them”—Richard tells Okeoma. He wished she would stumble in her igbo. emphasis in original). is underscored in Half of a Yellow Sun by the character of Richard Churchill. Richard learns igbo against all odds and is nearly fluent (136). get to spend more time with him than is usually allowed by their father— “fifteen minutes” each Christmas in Abba (PH 63) and with strict orders not to eat . who are visiting too. he had not expected English that perfect to sit beside equally perfect igbo” (HYS 23). Her observations are very much in line with Richard’s and the Gothic cultural reclamation that Adichie seems intent on in both Half of a Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus. Suzanne P. Blier notes that the “earliest of the cire perdue castings were those from igbo-ukwu (ninth through tenth centuries). upon meeting Olanna. Kambili and Jaja.

in PapaNnukwu. she rushes to the dashed pieces of the painting on the floor. Watching them. Regardless of the terror that Eugene metes and the day long novenas he begins to say with Father Benedict as if in response to things gone badly on the family and business fronts (the government shuts down his factories in retaliation to anti-government rhetoric in his newspaper). it is then that Eugene—swearing against Godlessness. discovers the painting he flies into a terrible rage and rips it apart. which occurs soon after this scene. who has hitherto. who appears on the scene as Kambili’s champion. Admiring Amaka’s artistic skills. Kambili confesses that she was prone to examining Papa-Nnukwu “for signs of difference. she. is fated to be separated from his love. in Nsukka. Amaka. “was sure they were there somewhere” (63). Eugene. Papa-Nnukwu tells Kambili that her “cousin paints well” and that in “the old days. he scalds their feet with hot water as punishment for sharing a house with a “pagan” and not informing him of it. inevitably. and as tradition demands. in this scene Kambili acknowledges that she was surprised and radically affected by the realization that her grandfather prayed for her own father “with the same earnestness he prayed for himself and Aunt ifeoma” (168). however. Kambili then reveals that perhaps that is what she and Jaja had wanted to happen “without being aware of it. Father Amadi is cast as the Gothic lover disapproved of by the father figure. indeed. suddenly finds himself with an unprecedented challenge—that of Father Amadi. From the very onset of the novel.” and that she felt a longing for something that she knew she could never have (165). she would have been chosen to decorate the shrines of [the] gods” (164). to not be in their original order” (PH 208–09). like her father insisted. relied on a “blanket of silence” to keep his violent outbursts from leaking out.216 • REsEaRch in afRican litER atuREs or drink anything given to them least desecrate their “Christian tongue[s]” with “food sacrificed to idols” (69). Kambili realizes that it “already represented something lost. It is during this conflict that Amaka offers Kambili the unfinished painting of Papa-Nnukwu as a memento. this painting engenders the dramatic climax of the novel.” that perhaps they had “all changed after Nsukka—even Papa—and things were destined to not be the same. heathen worship and hellfire—kicks her with the “metal buckles on his slippers” until she is unconscious and has to be admitted to hospital (210–11). of Godlessness” and that even though she did not see any.” something that she never had and “would never have” (210). in desperation. This happens at the end of the novel when the church sends him to . insisting that Papa-Nnukwu would be buried according to Igbo tradition. Kambili acknowledges that Papa-Nnukwu’s death. When Kambili and Jaja return to Enugu with their father. declares her intention to paint their grandfather on the verandah (169). Kambili and Jaja hold on to Papa-Nnukwu’s painting. ifeoma rejects the offer. It is during this period that Kambili’s cousin. Kambili notes Amaka and Papa-Nnukwu “understood each other. therefore. Eugene faces the real threat of his children’s Gothic devolution to the “pagan” stage he perceives himself to have escaped. this opinion of Papa-Nnukwu as godless changes when Kambili sees him performing his itu-nzu. When Eugene. as if in saving them she would be saving Papa-Nnukwu (210). “had overshadowed everything [and] pushed Papa’s face into a vague place” (187). using the sparest words. With the painting now in shreds. eventually. Eugene makes matters worse when he appears in Nsukka in favor of a Catholic burial and inquires if ifeoma had called for a priest to give Papa-Nnukwu “extreme unction” (188). in congruence with Gothic tradition.

consequently. n. but i could point it out anywhere” (PH 163). “he sounded like a person whose wife was sick” (220). i did not fully comprehend his English-laced igbo sentences at dinner [in Aunt ifeoma’s house] because my ears followed the sound and not the sense of his speech. and in the clear morning sunlight. Father Amadi is instrumental in helping Kambili [and Jaja] break the blanket of silence over their lives and grasp life by the horns. unlike Father Benedict. Father Amadi. Amaka. it is different: their unconsummated love gives her grace. his loping. and generally lives an uncloistered. with skin of a “fired-clay” shade (PH 221). Father Amadi’s love for Kambili is no secret. Arriving at Aunt ifeoma’s early one morning to bring her the petrol she needs to fetch a sickly Papa-Nnukwu from Abba. even death and bloodshed. He is somewhat reminiscent of the dashing Father Ralph de Bricassart in Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds. and in Ambrosio’s case. elusive” (176) as he dashes up and down the football field. “a voice that had the same effect on my ears that Mama working Pears baby oil into my hair had on my scalp. He had not shaved. in khaki shorts that stopped just below his knees. and they achieve such a spiritual union. Kambili’s cousin. who he hopes will pressure Eugene to put Kambili and Jaja in a boarding school and. Kambili reveals. is informal. Father Amadi is cast as Kambili’s true Gothic love and can hardly be viewed in the same light as the corrupting love of cloistered Catholicism as embodied in Mathew Lewis’s Ambrosio or Father Marcel in Half of a Yellow Sun. in this manner. so to speak.” Kambili says. outgoing. is “like blue wind. out of harm’s way (269). Father Amadi. With Father Amadi.lilY G. that Obiora. and it is common knowledge that she is his “sweetheart” in Aunt ifeoma’s household. his stubble looked like tiny dots drawn on his jaw” (150). which he visits frequently (PH 225). she says. Father Amadi seems to depart from Fr. Purple Hibiscus is imbued with an intoxicating element of Gothic romance. in his charming.’ unu. remarks on it. instills in Kambili the notion that she can do anything she wants (PH 239). “Even in the priestly garb. gregarious manner. daring Kambili to use her good running legs. As Father Ralph draws little Meggie from Drogheda. whose interaction with his congregation seems very formal.] Father Amadi included Jaja and me in the conversation. Within the Gothic novel. To Kambili. gi” (PH 135–36). Kambili’s love for Father Amadi comes swiftly: “i had seen [his] small Toyota hatchback only twice before. and provoking laughter in a Kambili who says that she was not sure she had ever heard herself laugh (176–79). so does Father Amadi draw Kambili from her silent and mute existence. When Kambili is admitted in hospital. Kambili’s cousin. antimonastic lifestyle. “He had a singer’s voice. Kambili offers the reader a window into her heart: . Father Amadi voices his intention of speaking to Father Benedict. the later end in desecration of feminine virtue. Conversely. M aBuR a • 217 Germany. however. Father Amadi. Kambili says. an embodiment of Mary Carson’s own “particular brand of imperial malevolence” (McCullough 51). Benedict’s protocol-laced ways. . asking us questions. tells her that Father Amadi was “really worried” during her hospitalization and “it wasn’t just priestly concern” (219). [. . i knew the questions were meant for both of us because he used the plural ‘you. Before his departure. such a higher love. rather than the singular. Kambili notes that he looked “even more unpriestly than before. comfortable gait pulled my eyes and held them” (163).

has taken his place. S. Hendershot explains. like Jennings. is the licentious nature of pagan religion and literature. is the priest with a British accent and white skin. as a ‘sacrament’ signifying inward spiritual values” (146). in Kambili’s present. (PH 303) Such thoughts reveal that the hierarchy of power within Kambili’s ultimate Sabbath at the end of the novel (the section labeled “A Different Silence—The Present”) has changed: where God and other smaller or metaphorical gods. According to Mbiti. This degrading fascination. i just go ahead and write them. where the priest is formerly a figure solely avowed to God. Le Fanu’s tale “Green Tea” (1869). is afraid of this degradation. Eugene. and is likely to undermine a Christian’s chastity. God and i. his loyalties–as with Father Amadi–are now split. “sex is not used for biological purposes alone. “Marriage is. it has also religious and social uses. his congregation’s. formerly reigned supreme. Eugene faces a peculiar psychological dilemma similar to that explained by Cyndy Hendershot in The Animal Within: Masculinity and the Gothic.” like Father Amadi. Andrew’s. we are simply sharing. Agnes to other churches as well. in this ascent from the old Sabbath to the new Sabbath. they now no longer do so. . where God was to be found only in St. but has been decentralized from his elitist seat at St. but for his . But we are not rivals. we see that Eugene has also fallen prey to a deeper underlying and irreconcilable battle between his sexuality and Catholicism. not only for himself. i no longer wonder if the checks i have been writing to the Missionary Fathers of the Blessed Way are bribes to God. which firmly situate sexuality within religious and social life. . Beatrice. Hendershot notes that sexuality is coded as a sign of the original sin within Christianity while within Darwinism it is coded as a sign of the animal origins of man because man copulates “in a manner similar to animals” (103). Alienated from his African heritage and traditions. and no person may keep away from this dynamic scene of action” (148). they want God as a rival. hence. Kambili finds voice and agency. “in African societies. the god that was Eugene has been broken by the Gothic-like invasion of his past African heritage. i simply go ahead and love him.” Jennings sees pagan religion and art as a “degrading fascination” and a “sure nemesis” for the Christian mind (qtd. Jennings. Mbiti claims in African Religions and Philosophy. in Kambili’s new Sabbath. who as part of his religious duties has been working on a book on pagan religion. i no longer wonder if i have a right to love Father Amadi. like her father and Fr. notes that this particular subject matter is “not good for the mind—the Christian mind. Andrew’s church in Enugu as my new church because the priest there is a Blessed Way Missionary Father as Father Amadi is. in Hendershot 103). [. where the apple of God’s eye and. Just as Darwinism and Christianity converge in the tortured clergyman. in which sex is used in and as a sacred action.] There are African peoples among whom rituals are solemnly opened or concluded with actual or symbolic sexual intercourse between husband and wife or other officiating persons. God. Benedict. the African priest with an Igbo accent and “skin the color of fired clay. Jennings. Kambili now seeks him in St. so they do in Eugene Achike. i no longer wonder if i chose St.218 • REsEaRch in afRican litER atuREs Amaka [her cousin] says that people love priests because they want to compete with God. a sacred drama in which everybody is a religious participant.” John M. not only shares his power. i just go. of J. But looking close at his relationship with his wife. This is like a solemn seal or signature. Agnes. therefore.

. then it would be true. Kambili enacts the Gothic trope of what Punter and Byron term as going “down to the cellar” (57) in a prolepsis examination of his relationship with her mother in the section titled “Speaking with Our Spirits—Before Palm Sunday. closed my eyes. Eugene’s distortion lies in his inability to accept that both the human and the animal/primitive. she is not only doing so to protect herself from physical harm or to escape entrapment. Swift. allows her “female gothic” narrative. as Henderson puts it. To expose this peculiar imperial trauma in her father. qtd. it goes beyond that. Hendershot claims that “heterosexuality is a problematic coded with epistemological issues of nature and man [.] because in the sexual act feminine nature may master them rather than vice versa. . but of heterosexuality as well. that there is the pagan in the Christian. seek a hybridization path with his conceived notion of paganism. like Kambili and Jaja already have.” Beatrice as a Gothic character embodies the “spectral presence of the mother [figure] representing the problems of femininity that the protagonist [Kambili] must confront” to fully attain her own “psychic individuation” (Byron and Punter 280). holds the power to eliminate him and his species through further processes” (103–04). in a way. M aBuR a • 219 offspring as well. one may deduce that Eugene seeks to destroy the product of his weakness (the sexual act with Beatrice) in order to regain his sexual mastery over her and to also take over her feminine power of natural selection. i sat down. reveals the profundity of Beatrice’s problems and the violence she endures in Eugene’s hands: I was in my room after lunch. reading James chapter five because I would talk about the biblical roots of the anointing of the sick during family time. even a saintly Christian as he. While we could read Eugene’s behavior as an act merely aimed at subjugating his wife’s body and keeping his family under iron-clad patriarchal control. n. Counting made it seem not that long. he is unable to accept the implications of Darwinism: that “the history of man is of a difficult and extensive family network which takes in barnacles as well as bears. His violent relation to Beatrice not only reveals a general obscured fear of sexuality as previously explained. if i imagined it hard enough. in the popular imagination at least. (PH 32–33) The full extent of Eugene’s physical violation of Beatrice manifests itself in the number of miscarriages she has had. in Hendershot 118–19). an extended family which will never permit the aspiring climber—man—quite to forget his lowly origins” (Gillian Beer. figuratively.lilY G. devolution-prone species because they are unlikely to stick to the straight and narrow and might. [and] this fear is redoubled when read within the context of Darwinian science [for] it threatens to remind the male subject of his helplessness in the face of a feminine nature who created him through natural selection and who. when i heard the sounds. i imagined the door had gotten stuck and Papa was trying to open it. using Hendershot’s premise. Kambili’s ghosting. and the uncivilized in the civilized. Her act also. Thus when Beatrice poisons Eugene. and started to count. As such. to be heard. heavy thuds on my parents’ hand-carved bedroom door. he eliminates her unborn. . Sometimes it was over before i even got to twenty. to resist control over her feminine nature and protect her endangered offspring. in addition. made it seem not that bad. but. as it were. “shade into each other” (110). sandwiched between Eugene’s and Kambili’s.

. Jaja’s sacrificial role is anticipated at the beginning of the novel when he refuses Father Benedict’s communion and Eugene throws the missal at him. Olanna consults a dibia. identifies himself as his father’s murderer in order to protect his mother. that Papa could die.220 • REsEaRch in afRican litER atuREs Despite its inevitability. within the Gothic tradition. “When he was ten. but i know he will shake it free. From this moment on. who instructs her to throw a copy of Kainene’s photo into the River Niger and walk around Kainene’s house in Orlu three times so that she may come back home. the reflection of my hero. [. are united by the monstrosity of the Biafra War. at the end of novel. it is hardly surprising. came out supporting his left hand with his right. and Papa drove him to St. Agnes hospital” (145). Nsukka enables Jaja to break the blanket of silence. using Botting’s paradigm. . As siblings united under Eugene’s monstrosity and excesses. “he had missed two questions on his catechism test and was not named the best in his First Holy Communion class. in turn. Kambili and Jaja are somewhat reminiscent of Olanna and Kainene who.” Kambili reveals. she knows that he is her hero as well: “i want to hold his hand. so is Kainene’s disappearance unbearable for Olanna. a character like Eugene could serve in this context as a Gothic trope in the manner of the cursed wanderer or outcast. the very finger he runs over Papa-Nnukwu’s painting. His eyes are too full of guilt to really see me. we see that Eugene is metaphorically free to die because Jaja is ready to take his place and exchange his cursed condition—a product of “everyday life and the corruption of social and religious institutions” (Botting 107)—for his own suffering.] He had seemed immortal” (PH 287). This turn of events is particularly significant when one considers the terror Eugene has previously wielded over Jaja. As Jaja’s imprisonment is unbearable for Kambili. as shown in the scene when he refuses to offer compliments for a bottle of cashew juice from his father’s factory (PH 13–14). when Jaja. and he will never understand that i do not think he should have done more” (PH 305). He will never think that he did enough. As with Kambili. therefore. This moment is etched on Jaja’s body in the form of his deformed finger. Kambili is nonetheless consciously aware of Eugene’s waning power. Jaja systematically challenges the status quo. Kambili notes. Such tropes. Jaja’s sacrifice has a twofold significance: he metaphorically frees his father by taking his place in the family and literally frees his mother by taking her place in jail. to see his reflection in my eyes. As the novel closes. Olanna is convinced that . Papa took him upstairs and locked the door. she explains. Despite this declaration. Even though Kainene does not appear. the brother who tried always to protect me the best he could. is unbelievable: “i had never considered the possibility that Papa would die. his “shoulders seemed broader. are depicted as being alienated from their language and culture and only free to die if other people take their place and cursed conditions (Botting 107). the apocalyptic breaking of the god that is Eugene comes as a surprise to Kambili. According to Botting. embrace defiance. while there.” and she wonders if “it was possible for a teenager’s shoulders to broaden in a week” (PH 154). When Kambili visits Jaja in prison. The Nsukka experience is crucial because it transforms and empowers Jaja. Her father’s death. Jaja. in tears. and initiate a cultural reclamation of his igbo roots.

however.] to continue alongside loved ones” (Wisker 165). Bright red is symbolically associated with the male and a vast irresistible strength (Chevalier and Gheerbrant 1792 and 794). . is a peculiar situation since Purple Hibiscus was written after Half of a Yellow Sun. that of Olanna and Kainene’s future. seem reunited under this peculiar Gothic phenomenon. where much of Olanna is embodied in Kambili and much of the boyish. where ghosts “frequently return [. but they “did not destroy igbo identity or cultural soul” (283). because this reader departs Adichie’s Gothic writing in Half of a Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus with a heightened sense of cultural identity. . they reflect the “persistence of a cluster of cultural anxieties to which Gothic writing [continues] to respond” (Riquelme. to do” (PH 16). this intergenerational bond seems inextricably linked to Nsukka. This desire is seemingly fulfilled in the subsequent world of Purple Hibiscus. This notion of reincarnation is no stranger to the Gothic tradition. this makes sense since the sixties world of Half of a Yellow Sun predates that of Purple Hibiscus. However. Their existence. Purple hibiscus signifies the state of Kambili and Jaja’s present. “Belief in reincarnation is reported among many African societies. reincarnation has its origins as well in African traditions and culture. goes beyond that of mere Gothic texts: they embody that “curious new life” which emerges “from the need to assert continuity where the lessons of conventional history and geography would claim all continuity has been broken by the imperial trauma” (Punter and Byron 57–58).] and without regard to the sex of the living/dead” (164). Olanna and Kainene. This. . Olanna. though. androgynous Kainene is embodied in Jaja. This purple hibiscus is contrasted with the “startling red” hibiscus of the past (PH16). Further. . The twins. The emergence of purple hibiscus in a formerly startling red space speaks to the presence of a new balance of power—a purple hibiscus that is “fragrant with the undertones of freedom. and. in Davison 136). this experimental purple hibiscus prefigures the eventual triumph of Kambili and Jaja on the haunted Igbo landscape. which is perpetually threatened by the scepter of the past. of course. . [. This is. qtd. n. One might even conclude that they are proof of Afigbo’s argument that colonial rule and the Biafra War transformed Igbo society. and the siblings. Juxtaposed against “the palms of Palm Sunday [which not only] prefigure Christ’s resurrection after the tragedy of Calvary” (Chevalier and Gheerbrant 734) but also reestablish his power. Kainene will be my sister” (433). When i come back in my next life. however. in real time. in tears. M aBuR a • 221 she shall come back again and that they shall “reincarnate” (HYS 433). . Kambili and Jaja. declares. uwa ozo. inadvertently. Adichie’s two novels pay homage to the silent children of Biafra. “Uwa m. as Adichie suggests in Olanna’s consultation with the dibia. According to Mbiti. in this respect. partial reincarnation in the sense that only some human features or characteristics of the living/dead are said to be ‘reborn’ in some children [.lilY G. . with its experimental purple hibiscus growing in Aunt Ifeoma’s yard. in addition.] a freedom to be.

Gina. Colleen.” Transition 75/76. “The Holy Ghost Fathers in Eastern Nigeria. John S. New york: Harper Row. MA: Blackwell. . Felix K. 2004. 2005. 1977. McCullough. John de. “On Biafra. Botting. interview with Rajar Neogy. 2006. Gothic. J. Half of a Yellow Sun. A. Ropes of Sand: Studies in Igbo History and Culture. Earthworks: Past and Present 43:2 (1982): 234–46. “Nigerian Civil War Notebook. Chimamanda Ngozi. David. Blakemore. Afigbo. The Gothic. Trans. eHRAF Collection of Ethnography 38. Jean and Alain Gheerbrant. Davison. Hendershot. Religious inversion in The Monk. The Thorn Birds. Horror Fiction: An Introduction. Ed. 1969. The Anniversary issue: Selections from Transition. Mbiti. African Religions and Philosophy. 1974. and Glennis Byron. 1885–1920: Observations on Missionary Strategy.” The Empire and the Gothic: The Politics of Genre. A Question of Power. African Writers Series. “Self Determination: The Nigeria/Biafra Case. Oxford: Blackwell. Charles R. London: Penguin. Olu. 1994.” Transition 38 (1971): 36–41. Chapel Hill. Bessie.222 • REsEaRch in afRican litER atuREs Achebe. London: Heinemann. Oguibe. Beti. 2002. London: Routledge. Chevalier. Purple Hibiscus. introduction. Wisker. Fred. “Mathew Lewis’s Black Mass: Sexual. Steven. The Animal Within: Masculinity and the Gothic. 2003. “Burning Down the Master’s (Prison)-House: Revolutions and Revelation in Colonial and Postcolonial Female Gothic. Portsmouth: Heinemann. Punter. Adichie. Gothic and Gender: An Introduction.” Transition 77 (1998): 86–99. London: Penguin. Head. Ekechi. St. Gerald Moore.” African Studies Review 15:2 (1972): 217–39. Chinua. London: Heinemann Educational.” Art Journal. Donna. Trans. Mongo. Malden. Cyndy. 2003. “Treasures of Ancient Nigeria. New york: Knopf. WORKS CiTED • • • • • . New york: Continuum. NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.” World Politics 24:4 (1972): 473–97. 1998. New york: Fawcett Crest. 1959. New york: Palgrave Macmillan. “Lessons from the Killing Fields. Andrew Smith and William Hughes. 1971. Cudon. The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols. Suzanne Preston. The Poor Christ of Bomba. 1996. 1961–1976 (1997): 222–31. Ann Arbor: u of Michigan P. 2001.” Studies in the Novel 30:4 (1998): 521–36. Blier. . Things Fall Apart. Jorre. John Buchanan-Brown. Carol Margaret. Ann Arbor: u of Michigan Library. Adiele Eberechukwu. 2004. Nixon. Heiland. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms & Literary Theory.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful