Ms. Adichie’s book, Purple Hibiscus, was painful for me because I feel for those who are abused in any way. However, I found the look into Nigerian culture extremely enlightening. This book centers on the use of religion to “civilize” a people, in this case a Nigerian people. The important themes are love, sin, perfection, money/wealth, appearance, tribal ways/culture, poverty, purple hibiscus, and religion.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs.” (I Corinthians 13:4-5)
Love is not a word I use for inanimate objects, but toward human beings and even pets. But, if 15-year-old Kambili’s father believed in love, he could not have treated his wife and children the way he did. Nigerian culture allowed a husband to go out and get a younger wife since Kambili’s mother only produced two children for him. But, why would a man pound his recently pregnant wife against a door in the children’s hearing 19 times until she was unconscious and miscarried? This made no sense since the mother had been trying to have a third child for six years.
Should a priest have burned the hands of a young male ward (the father) with scalding water when he was caught masturbating? Where were the forgiveness and the love? Where was the priest’s punishment for not showing patience with his young ward? The New Testament Bible says that “all have sinned and come short of the Glory of God” (Romans 3:23-24). Either the Catholic religion in her book is based on Jesus Christ’s example of love or the Old Testament “eye for an eye”. Which is it?
Who is perfect and who is the judge of perfection? When 15-year-old Kambili didn’t make number one among the students in her class this year as she did the year before, she expected to be physically punished. Her brother when younger had his pinky finger mangled by his father for the same sin. But, her father, I believe, took it out this time on her mother, who was constantly being mentally and physically abused because she wasn’t perfect in her husband’s eyes. Some might say that the father was frustrated and fearful about his publication being threatened or the coming overthrow of the government, but that was recent. So, his wife was supposed to be grateful and just keep accepting the abusive situation so that she and her children would not put out on the street by a second wife.
Jesus Christ said to his disciples that “you will do even greater things than I have done” (John 14:12-14). He didn’t suggest that they do worse things. The father in the novel decided what made anyone he met perfect. Even the children’s finger nails were cut to a chafing shortness.
The father had two businesses—a political newspaper and a factory that made consumable products like juice, wafers, etc.—which made him wealthy. He had company cars and his personal cars. So, he gave money away just to show how Christian he was. He took care of the community of people at his vacation retreat every Christmas, gave money to groups of vendors without buying anything, to some beggars, and rescued his workers from political retribution. What he refused to do was to help anyone who did not worship as a Catholic as he did.
Kambili’s father was dark like her paternal grandfather, but there’s where the resemblance ended economically, spiritually, etc. Kambili had long hair but her cousin and aunt had close-cut hair. Skin coloring, hair length and texture, body size and shape also made a difference in her culture just as it does in most cultures.
Should the father have nearly kicked his daughter Kambili to death because she wanted to keep a home-made picture of her tribal paternal grandfather who she was only allowed to meet twice before her grandfather’s death? Although Kambili’s father was raised tribally, he ran away to the Catholic Church as soon as he could as a child and hated tribal language that her grandfather spoke. Kambili’s father spoke as if he were British at her school.
Generally, Catholic priests disdained Nigerian ways. However, a young Nigerian priest was adept at combining Catholic beliefs like Jesus Christ’s love with his singing of tribal songs which Kambili’s father said was the young priest’s confusion. Kambili wanted to leave with the young Nigerian priest when he was leaving to get his first post in another country, but she was too young for him and he left without her.
Those who still worshipped in the tribal ways were excluded from her father’s philanthropy, including his own paternal father and another elder who grew up with his father. Kambili’s father regarded his wife’s father as if he “walked on water” because he looked nearly white and also worshipped as a Catholic before his death.
The local college where Kambili’s aunt worked was not kept up and the students rioted several times in protest which didn’t help much. The community of people who were under Kambili’s father’s care were poor for the most part, and heavily depended on him for the gifts of charity he brought to those who worshipped as Catholic. When he was elected as community leader, he demanded that all pagan undertones be removed from his title-taking ceremony. Along the way to their vacation two weeks per year, there were half-naked mad men near the rubbish dumps, some of whom urinated at corners.
Beautiful red hibiscus plants grew everywhere including in Kambili’s garden outside of her father’s house. However, one of her aunt’s college co-worker/friends created a hybrid purple hibiscus. Her aunt gave her a cutting from the purple hibiscus to take home. The hibiscus was considered a malaria cure.
Kambili and her family had to recite rosaries and other church traditions while at home and when traveling. But, her cousins had freedom in their family to have an opinion, to watch television, to play outdoors, to not be number one at everything, etc., and they turned out to be mature, respectful and fun.
When Jesus left the earth by death for us sinners, he gave the remaining disciples the task of “doing even greater things in the world than I have done”. I don’t believe He meant for them to do worse things than his example. (John 14:12-14)
Written by Rosa L. Griffin