Thursday, April 3, 2014

Purple Hibiscus: A Synopsis

Purple Hibiscus is the story of a 15-year-old Kambili. Kambili alongside her brother, Jaja, and her mother, Beatrice, is forced to live a life of another by her religiously fanatic father. Being a Catholic family, every member of the household must obey God through the callous and autocratic headship of Papa, the father and dictator of the house. The children: Kambili and Jaja, must abide by a time schedule every day, denied access to the television, visiting friends; a situation which has turned them into stereotypes. Even at school, the children are not themselves: they cannot express themselves; they can hardly do anything on their own without being watchdogged by the fear of their robotic father.

The children, however, become temporarily relieved of this physical as well as psychological incarceration when they visit Nsukka, Aunty Ifeoma’s house – a place where ‘cackling laughter’ is a norm and freedom is but a right, not privilege. Surprisingly to Kambili and Jaja, their cousins are free and bold; they can express themselves without fear of any one. After the visit, the children have discovered the need to be free. Thereafter, Aunty Ifeoma convinces Kambili’s father that the children be allowed to stay in Nsukka for three days. So Nsukka is a beginning of an era of freedom for the children. In Nsukka, Kambili and Jaja meet a life that is completely different from and livelier than what is obtainable back home in Enugu. Enchanted and enamoured by the simple and free life of their Cousins, Kambili and Jaja feel, and even seem, abnormal to other children of the house. Surprised at the unique way of life in Aunty Ifeoma’s house, Kambili, at a table with her cousins one day, remarks:

I had felt as if I were not there, that I was just observing a table where you could say anything at any time to anyone, where the air was free for you to breathe (128).

Thereafter, the children find their voices; they find the courage to rebel against Papa’s autocratic regime. Kambili, for instance, gets the gut to fall in love with the liberal and immaterialist Father Amadi, a catholic priest who frequents Aunty Ifeoma’s house. Meanwhile, Jaja becomes defiant to Papa when he refuses to go to mass on a Sunday.

After the death of Papa-Nnukwu, things start to fall apart for Eugene. Ade Coker, Eugene’s employee and friend dies of a letter bomb and his much valuable and expensive equipment destroyed at the Standard’s office, his newspaper company. In addition, Beatrice, Kambili’s mother, loses her pregnancy again owing to Eugene’s brutality.

Tired of the sufferings and persecution from Papa, Beatrice, his wife poisons him and he dies. Jaja claims responsibility for the murder and is sent to jail. Meanwhile, Aunty Ifeoma, who is a lecturer in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is asked to resign for participating in a violent riot that breaks out in the school and later travels abroad with her children through the help of her friend. Mama suffers from nervous breakdown and Jaja is eventually released from prison. The novel ends on a hopeful tone; three years have passed and Kambili has grown into a young woman of about eighteen years and their mother’s hailing health has improved.