Fifteen-year-old Kambili and her older brother Jaja lead a privileged life in Enugu, Nigeria. They live in a beautiful house, circumscribed by the high walls and frangipani trees of her family compound.They had a caring family, and attended an exclusive missionary school. They’re completely shielded from the troubles of the world. Yet, as Kambili reveals in her tender-voiced account, things are less perfect than they appear. Although her Papa is politically active in the community, generous and well respected, he
is fanatically religious and tyrannical at home—a home that is silent and suffocating.As the country begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili and Jaja are sent to their aunt, a university professor outside the city, where they discover a life beyond the confines of their father’s authority. Books cram the shelves, curry and nutmeg permeate the air, and their cousins’ laughter rings
throughout the house. The visit will lift the silence from their world and, in time, give rise to devotion and defiance that reveal themselves in profound and unexpected ways. When they return home, tensions within the family escalate, and Kambili must find the strength to keep her loved ones together.
Purple Hibiscus is an exquisite novel about the emotional turmoil of adolescence, the powerful bonds of family, and the bright promise of freedom.It is a book about the blurred lines between childhood and adulthood; between love and hatred, between the old gods and the new.
Plot introduction (Wikipedia)
Purple Hibiscus is set in postcolonial Nigeria, a country beset by political instability and economic difficulties. The central character is Kambili Achike, fifteen for much of the period covered by the book, a member of a wealthy family dominated by her devoutly Catholic father, Eugene. Eugene is both a religious zealot and a violent figure in the Achike household, subjecting his wife Beatrice, Kambili herself, and her brother Jaja to beatings and psychological cruelty. The story is told through Kambili’s eyes and is essentially about the disintegration of her family unit and her struggle to grow to maturity. A key period is the time Kambili and her brother spend at the house of her father’s sister, Ifeoma, and her three children. This household offers a marked contrast to what Kambili and Jaja are used to. Though Catholic, it practices a completely different form of Catholicism, making for a happy, liberal place that encourages its members to speak their minds. In this nurturing environment both Kambili and Jaja become more open, more able to voice their own opinions. Importantly, also, while at Aunty Ifeoma’s, Kambili falls in love with a young priest, Father Amadi, which awakens her sense of her own sexuality. Ultimately, a critical mass is reached in terms of the lives of Kambili, Jaja and the existence of their family as it once was. Unable to cope with Eugene’s continual violence, Beatrice poisons him. Jaja takes the blame for the crime and ends up in prison. In the meantime, Aunty Ifeoma and her family go to America to live after she is unfairly dismissed from her job as lecturer at the University of Nigeria. The novel ends almost three years after these events, on a cautiously optimistic note. Kambili has become a young woman of eighteen, more confident than before, while her brother Jaja is about to be released from prison, hardened but not broken by his experience there. Their mother, Beatrice, having deteriorated psychologically to a great degree, shows small signs of improvement. In essence, a better future is possible for them all, though exactly what it might involve is an open question.
Kambili Achike is the central character in Purple Hibiscus and also the narrator of the story. She is an intelligent, observant, religious young woman, aged fifteen for much of the novel. At the same time, Kambili is shy and inhibited, at least until she has spent an extended amount of time away from her family home at the house of Aunty Ifeoma and her family. Kambili is the younger of Eugene and Beatrice Achike’s two children. She does not like the living environment under her father after she gets used to the freedom of Nsukka. She was a very quiet girl at the beginning of the novel but afer staying with her Aunty Ifeoma, she builds up her courage and opens up much more towards other people.
Chukwuka “Jaja” Achike
Chukwuka Achike, nicknamed “Jaja” by his family, is an intelligent young man about two years his sister’s senior. For most of the novel, in the same way as the rest of his family, he is dominated by his father, although ultimately he displays more overt defiance than them, especially by not going to communion on Palm Sunday and causing a massive family scene as a consequence. He takes the blame for his mother’s crime and spends almost three years in prison before obtaining an amnesty. Through this time, his personality has hardened but not been broken.
Eugene Achike is Kambili’s father. He is a wealthy and ostentatious businessman who is also a very strict Catholic who dominates his family for much of the novel by imposing a harsh religious regime in the family home. Indeed, for much of the novel he controls almost every aspect of his family’s life, including imposing a schedule upon the lives of Kambili and her brother Jaja so that every minute of the day is mapped out for them. While on the one hand Eugene is an important man in his society and donates considerable amounts of money to needy individuals and worthy causes, he is prone to outbreaks of violence within the family house, subjecting his wife Beatrice and the two children to severe physical punishment.Eugene has two different masks to face public and private. He might be a kind hero in the public, however, at home he is quite the opposite.
Beatrice, mother and wife in the Achike family, is a quiet, maternal figure for much of the work, presenting a softer, warmer presence in the home in contrast to the often tyrannical presence of Eugene. Passive is another term applicable to her, at least for a great deal of the book. During the course of the novel, Beatrice suffers two miscarriages after severe beatings from Eugene. She polishes the figurines on the Etagérè after every beating. It is insinuated that she stays with Eugene partially out of gratitude for his unwillingness to marry another woman after she could only have two children. Ultimately, however, Beatrice cannot cope with Eugene’s behaviour and poisons him. Her son, Jaja, takes the blame for the crime and she is a shattered wreck after this point. At the conclusion of the novel, however, with Jaja’s impending release from prison, there are some indications that her condition will improve.
Aunty Ifeoma is Eugene’s only sibling, a tall, striking, intelligent woman who works as a lecturer at the University of Nigeria. She is highly capable in many aspects of her life, displaying determination and resourcefulness in bringing up her children without a husband. Though financially struggling, she creates a much happier environment for her children than does her brother Eugene for his family. She was married to Ifediora, who was a professor with her, until his unfortunate death.
Amaka is Ifeoma and Ifediora’s only daughter. She is Kambili’s age, around fifteen, and originally does not like Kambili, believing her to be a snob, and jealous of Kambili’s supposedly lavish lifestyle. After a few weeks of getting to know each other, and after Kambili’s beating, the two become close friends.
Obiora is the second oldest of Ifeoma and Ifediora’s three children, at around age fourteen. He wears glasses, and is very good at maths. He is reserved, yet often speaks up when he feels someone is wrong, as is seen when he contradicts Chiaku.
Chima is the youngest of Ifeoma and Ifediora’s three children. Not much is known about this character, apart from the fact that he looks up to Obiora.
Father Amadi is a young priest in the circle of Aunty Ifeoma and her family. Being youthful, indigenous and well-versed in contemporary life, he could be described as a “new generation” priest, as opposed to white European priests in the country such as Eugene’s pastor, Father Benedict. When Kambili falls in love with Father Amadi, he shows considerable thoughtfulness and honour in the sensitive way he makes it clear to her that, because he is devoted to the church, he will never be able to become her partner. He loves her, yet he dare not start a relationship with her because of his profession. He becomes socially and spiritually attached with some of the boys that he taught football. He is shown to be a little playful as he challenged Kambili to a sprint, this leads to him telling her that she had good legs for running. He also took her to plait her hair which led the hair dresser to tell Kambili that no man takes a young lady to plait her hair unless he likes her.
Papa-Nnukwu is both father and grandfather in the Achike family, being Eugene and Ifeoma’s father. He is a kind, loving man rooted in the traditional non-Christian beliefs of his indigenous culture, presenting a marked contrast, in particular, to his son Eugene’s adherence to European religion and lifestyle.
Father Benedict is St. Agnes’ white priest. He has been in Enugu for 7 years. Being a strict colonial product, Benedict feels strong resistance to the Igbo language, and prefers to lead his services in Latin and in English. He is a strong supporter of Papa’s charity work.
Ade Coker is the lead editor of Papa’s newspaper, The Standard. He is also the author of rebellious works, which ultimately leads to his death. He speaks out commonly against the current Nigerian government. He was killed by a package bomb in his house.
Kevin is Papa Eugene’s personal driver in Enugu.
Other minor characters in the book include Aunty Chioma, Obioma, Celestine, Chidifu and others