Purple Hibiscus chapter notes by nuhman10

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									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‟.

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
    - 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

   - 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

       freedom.” 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; a man of principle and courage, modesty.
   -   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, always burned my tongue. … But
       it didn‟t matter because I knew that when the tea burned my tongue, it burned
       Papa‟s love into me.”

   -   dares to disobey his father and not go to communion, also uses the word
       “wafer” instead of “Host” which is offensive to their father. When confronted,
       he is resolute and says “Then I will die.” And “he looked Papa in the face
       now.” Then at the table, he refuses to speak and leaves the table before the
       final prayers.

Mama –
- When Mama‟s favourite ballet figurines are broken – she silently comes in and
  picks them up with bare hands. She does not challenge him or comment in any
- “Her Igbo words were low and calming.” She speaks quietly, 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.
- “Only two weeks ago, when her swollen eye was still the black-purple colour of
  an overripe avocado.” “She limped slightly…”

Kambili –
     - her responses reflect her fearful love of Papa. We see a naïve, childish
          pride in her father. She is young, observant, compassionate, sensitive.
     - She self-censors, “I meant to say I am sorry Papa broke your figurines, but
          the words that came out were “I‟m sorry your figurines broke, Mama.”
     - After Jaja leaves the table in a final act of rebellion, she starts violently
          coughing – a psychosomatic reaction showing the disturbance this has
          caused her inwardly.

      - is stifling, heavy – sense of oppressiveness of Papa‟s dominance. “The
         silence was broken only by the whir of the ceiling fan as it sliced through
         the still air. Although our spacious living room gave way to an even
         wider living room, I felt suffocated. The off-white walls… were
         narrowing, bearing down on me.”
      - “the bell shaped yellow fruits hung lazily, drawing buzzing bees..”
      - “the frangipani trees …filled the yard with the sickly sweet scent of their
      - Later, during the meal – it is tense, silent. The children and Mama
         struggle to keep conversation going about the food to placate Papa.
      - Fear – dominant. Mama and Kambili act fearfully, nervously as they
         watch the showdown between father and son. Kambili observes her
         brothers fear hardening and transferring into fear in her father‟s eyes.

        -   After Nsukka p.192 – K sees her home in a different way: “it did feel
            different to be back..our living room had too much empty space, too much
            wasted marble floor that gleamed..our ceilings were too high. Our
            furniture was lifeless, the leather sofa‟s greeting was a clammy coldness,
            the Persian rugs too lush to have any feeling”

Compared with Aunty Ifeoma‟s house in Nsukka – very different pp112
      - although they are not wealthy, their home is colourful and lively
      - “I noticed the ceiling first, how low it was. I felt I could reach out and
         touch it; it was so unlike home, where the high ceiling gave our rooms an
         airy stillness. The pungent fumes of kerosene smoke mixed with the
         aroma of curry and nutmeg from the kitchen” 113
      - P 119 mismatched chairs and plates, dining table cracked and wood layer
         shedding, however there is atmosophere of warmth and enjoyment:
         “Laughter floated over my head. Words spurted from everyone, often not
         seeking and not getting any response. We always spoke with a purpose at
         home, especially at the table, but my cousins seemed to simply speak and
         speak and speak.” 120
      - P. 140 – good description of the joy at Ifeoma‟s place – laughter, clean
         flat, but little money

Symbolism / motifs
Hibiscus flowers:
    - “vibrant bushes of hibiscus reached out and touched one another… the purple
        plants had started to push out sleepy buds, but most of the flowers will still on
        the red ones.”
    - {colour symbolism:
    - red- blood shed, anger, violence that has been set in motion; Later (p. 28) it
        is mentioned that red is the colour of Pentecost.
    - Red (God web)
        Signifies action, fire, charity, spiritual awakening. It also glorifies the sun and
        the joy of life and love. In the Christian symbolism, it denotes Holy Spirit. It
        is the color of Pentecost.
    - purple – royalty, self expression, freedom that will eventually come? But
        also the colour of BRUISES, and the miscarried foetus of Mama.
Purple (according to Godweb _)
Purple speaks of fasting, faith, patience and trust. It is the liturgical color used during
seasons of penance, Advent and Lent.
    - “Jaja’s defiance seemed to me like Aunty Ifeoma’s experimental purple
        hibiscus: rare, fragrant with the undertones of freedom, a different kind of
        freedom from the ones the crowds waving green leaves chanted at
        Government Square after the coup. A freedom to be, to do.” - establishes
        theme of freedom v. 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, “O maka, so beautiful.” –

    -   Jaja takes stalks of the purple hibiscus from Nsukka p197 and hides them
        secretly in the fridge ; “Jaja’s eyes shone as he talked about the hibiscuses..”
        – 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. 306 Kambili‟s final words to mother “We’ll take Jaja to Nsukka...
                 then go to America to visit Aunty Ifeoma, plant new orange trees in
                 Abba… and Jaja will plant purple hibiscuses, too and I’ll plant ixora
                 so we can suck the juices of the flowers”. P.306. She is laughing, and
                 he mother smiles. Her final words are “The new rains will come down
                 soon.” – images of planting  new growth, renewal, fresh life. The
                 rains – image of redemption, newness, cleansing.

   Red – associated with blood / suffering / pain throughout the novel
      - e.g. After her mothers miscarriage and getting placed 2nd in the class: “ I
          still saw the print in my textbooks as a red blur, still saw my baby
          brother‟s spirit strung together with narrow lines of blood.” P. 52
      - p 98 At a meal with her aunty and cousins, 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..when Mama raised the reddened napkin, I remembered her blood on
          the stairs.”
      - The next morning, Kambili‟s period stains the bed p.100

Ballet dancers – pain / discipline of staying with Eugene - the long suffering attitude
of Mama in the face of Papa‟s abuse. The figureings are delicate – vulnerable. Their
breakage is a symbol of what is to happen in the wider family, and what is happening
around them in Nigeria.
        - She polishes them after “each time I heard sounds from their room, like
           something being banged against the door.”
        - The missal throwing – is a sacrilegious gesture – highlights that Papa /
           Eugene is a religious fanatic rather than a devout believer. He models
           himself on a God who is a punishing father who demands obedience.
           Eugene does not reflect the more humble, compassionate elements of

Language & Silence:

Breaking Gods - Palm Sunday:
      - “ We ate silently.” P. 12
      - Father speaks to Jaja in Igbo after the incident: “A bad sign. He hardly
         spoke Igbo, and although Jaja and I spoke it with Mama at home, he did
         not like us to speak it in public. We had to sound civilised in public, he
         told us; we had to speak English. Papa‟s sister, Aunty Ifeoma, said once
         that Papa was too much of a colonial product.” P. 13

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

       prayers were peppered with songs, Igbo praise songs that usually called for
       hand clapping.”
   -   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, Kambili, have you no mouth? Talk back to her!”.
       After a pause, she says “You don‟t have to shout, Amaka. …I dpn‟t know
       hot to do the orah leaves, but you can show me.” She speaks calmly…and
       makes Amaka laugh.
   -   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..she had not
       learnt the art of silent crying; 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 seems to understand Kambili.
   -   Speaking also linked to truth-telling – Aunty Ifeoma p 222 learns of a list
       of disloyal lecturers who may lose their jobs, she is not afraid. “I am not
       paid to be loyal. When I speak the truth it becomes disloyalty.” When do
       we speak out, eh? When soldiers are appointed lecturers and students
       attend lectures with guns to their heads?”
Pieces of Gods – After Palm Sunday
   - After the Palm Sunday missal throwing – “the silence that descended on
       the house was sudden, as though the old silence had broken and left us
       with the sharp pieces.” However –something has changed, because Mama
       is no longer fearful – “she did not lower her voice to a whisper.”
   - Jaja says to Kambili p.259 about Ade Cokers daughter “She will never
       heal. She may have started talking now, but she will never heal.” Could
       this apply to Kambili too? She has gained her voice, but perhaps she will
       be forever scarred by her childhood
   - When her father dies, the children go back to the silent house again. Sisi,
       the maid, is the only one who cries.
   - When Jaja goes to prison – Kambili says “there is so much that Mama and
       I do not talk about. 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.”
   - “Silence hangs over us, but it is a different kind of silence, one that lets
       me breathe. I have nightmares about the other kind, the silence when Papa
       was alive. In my nightmares it mixes with shame and grief and so many
       other things… that I wake up screaming and sweating.” 305
   - “There is still so much that is silent between Jaja and me. Perhaps we will
       talk more with time, or perhaps we never wll be able to say it all, to clothe
       things in words, things that have long been naked.” P. 306

Break down
   - breaking of figurines
   - Jaja‟s continual disobedience creates a precedent that Kambili fears will
      bring a break down in their entire world: “This had never happened
      before. The compound walls would crumble, I was sure, and crush the

           frangipani trees. The sky would cave in. The Persian rugs on the stretches
           of gleaming marble floor would shrink…”.
       -   “when Papa threw the missal at Jaja, it was not just the figurines that came
           tumbling down, it was everything. I was only now realizing it, only just
           letting myself thing it.”
       -   P. 146 – destruction of the newspaper office by soldiers – breaking down
           in the outside world.: “The soldiers took every copy of the entire print tun,
           smashed furniture and printers, locked the offices, took the keys and
           boarded up the doors and windows.”
       -   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. Howling winds came with an angry
           rain, uprooting frangipani trees… The satellite dish on top of the garage
           came crashing down…the door of my wardrobe dislodged completely.
           Sisi broke a full set of Mama‟s china.” 257

       - a constant presence in the book from the first chapter
       - The faith of Kambili‟s father is very legalistic and fundamentalist– based
         on strict adherence to ritual (e.g. praying of rosary, taking of communion,
         keeping communion fast). Wearing trousers by a woman is seen as sinful
         p.80, exposing your hair instead of wearing a scarf was ungodly p100,
         seeing another person naked was a sin p117,
       - Images of God the father – as loving protector but fierce punisher (of Old
         Testament) can also be seen in the complex character of Eugene
       - Eugene sees Nigeria as ruled by Godless men and sees people like his
         father as „heathen‟ who are going to hell. P. 61 He will not even allow his
         father to enter his house, tells children not to touch his food or drink.
         Supersititious, ironically.
       - He twists his religion to assuage his own guilt – e.g. incident with asking
         family to pray for Mama‟s forgiveness after she has been hospitalized after
         the abuse / miscarriage.
       - Novel shows one of the unfortunate consequences of religion – to erect
         barriers between people, making one group feel superior to others. During
         Kambili‟s visit to Papa Nnukwu‟s house she begins to confront the truth of
         this: p. 63 “I had examined him that day, too, looking away when his eyes
         met mine, for signs of difference, of Godlessness. I didn‟t see any, but I
         was sure they were there somewhere. They had to be.”
       - The weakness of some church leaders to become corrupt and materialistic
         is suggestion by the Priest on Christmas day p. 90 who lectures the
         congregation about their offering instead of giving an uplifting message
       - P. 124 – Aunty Ifeoma – also a Catholic – has a very different way of
         living her faith. Unlike Eugene she encourages her children to sing during
         the Rosary. She also says grace before meals, but it is more brief.
       - Kambili assumes God is white p. 131 – like Father Benedict -- her father
         has passed on the sense of Blacks being second class to whites – the
         Colonial legacy
       - Contrast in Ifeoma‟s and Eugene‟s prayers p 150 - she prays for his
         healing whereas Eugene “asked only that God convert him and save him

           from the raging fires of hell”. She seems to care for him as a person, not
           only as a “soul”
       -   P. 166 Ifeoma tells Kambili that Papa N was “not a heathen but a
           traditionalist, that …when Papa N did his itu-nzu, his declaration of
           innocence, … it was the same as our saying the rosary.”
       -   P. 168 K hears Papa praying – for Eugene as well. 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.”
       -   P. 267 Amaka “The white missionaries brought us their god..which was
           the same coloutr as them, worshipped in their language and packaged in
           the boxes they made. Now that we take their god back to them, 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. 272: “When the missionaries first came, they didn‟t think Igbo names
           were good enough. They insisted that people take English names to be
           baptized. Shouldn‟t we be moving ahead?” Amaka asks
       -   Jaja‟s disillusionment with religion is clearly shown after the death of his
           father. He laughs when K says “God works in mysterious ways.” He
           asks, “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, no thoughts for yourself, accept cruelty
           like Kambili
       -   Sense of helplessness – like Mama
       -   Do the wounds ever heal? Jaja says to Kambili p.259 about Ade Cokers
           daughter “She will never heal. She may have started talking now, but she
           will never heal.” Could this apply to Kambili too?
       -   For her resistance – Aunty Ifeoma is fired from the university
       -   For his mothers – Jaja goes to jail
       -   There


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