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Author Study: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Curated by Angela Wang '19

OVERARCHING THEMES

Although every book is special in its own unique way, each of Adichie's novels circulate around two common themes: the concept that love is universal and humane-- there must be flaws, and that every perspective is different therefore every perspective deserves a listen. Present in all her novels, every character goes through their own struggle with love, whether it be for the country, their family, or the lack of love in general. At the same time, every character has a voice that either supports or challenges a common thought or pre-made assumption. Every person's perspective on love and experience with life is different, which clearly is a key highlight in all Adichie's pieces. Below, is a more in-depth analysis of one of Adichie's works.

Themes & Motifs: Purple Hibiscus

 

Mama's Figurines

This motif appears early on in the novel, acting as a representation of submissiveness from Beatrice, Kambili's mother, towards her husband, Euguene, the seemingly perfect Catholic Nigerian man. Eugene not only emotionally abuses Beatrice and her children, but is also revealed to physically harm his wife during the first part of the novel. After every beating, Beatrice will polish the beautiful glass figurines she keeps on th étagère. The book is also divided based on moments before and after the figurines are broken. When reading the novel, take special notice on how different Beatrice acts from before and after the figurines are smashed.
 

Tea

"I waited for him to ask Jaja and me to take a sip, as he always did. A love sip, he called it, because you shared the little things you loved with the people you loved. Have a love sip, he would say, and Jaja would go first. Then I would hold the cup with both hands and raise it to my lips. One sip. The tea was always too hot, always burned my tongue, and if lunch was something peppery, my raw tongue suffered. But it didn’t matter, because I knew that when the tea burned my tongue, it burned Papa’s love into me."

Kambili, Purple Hibiscus

Tea is an interesting motif that works as an analogy and later, a plot twist. As the quote states, tea in the novel relates to Eugene's love for his family. In every instance where Kambili drinks tea, Adichie never simply writes "Kambili drank the tea" but prefers to use phrases like "Papa's love burned onto my tongue" to represent the correlation. Just like Papa's love, when in her house shared with her parents, Kambili experiences the act of drinking tea everyday. Highlight the following sentence for a spoiler: The tea also happens to be her father's own reckoning as well, seeing that Beatrice, the mother, poisons the tea and kills Eugene in the end... Perhaps alluding to the fact that his love not only burns, but is also poisonious to everyone around him...

Purple Hibiscus

"I lay in bed after Mama left and let my mind rake through the past, through the years when Jaja and Mama and I spoke more with our spirits than with our lips. Until Nsukka. Nsukka started it all; Aunty Ifeoma’s little garden next to the verandah of her flat in Nsukka began to lift the silence. Jaja’s defiance seemed to me now like Aunty Ifeoma’s experimental purple hibiscus: rare, fragrant with the undertones of freedom, a different kind of freedom from the one the crowds waving green leaves chanted at Government Square after the coup. A freedom to be, to do."

- Kambili, Purple Hibiscus

As expected, the purple hibiscus itself acts as a motif in the novel. Interestingly enough, many readers have probably never heard of a purple hibiscus nor seen one-- and that's because it's an artificial and rare plant, given to Aunty Ifeoma by a close friend. The flower sits in the garden at Aunty Ifeoma's Nsukka home, and acts as a symbol of freedom and individuality. In fact, most of the rebellious acts in Enugu from Jaja and Beatrice along with Kambili start once Jaja brings a stalk of the plant to his father's home. After experiencing true freedom in their aunt's home, Kambili and Jaja cannot help but to strive for it even if it's against all odds, like a purple hibiscus growing strong out of its environment.


Theme Statement

"…Our father is dying, do you hear me? Dying. He is an old man, how much longer does he have, gbo? Yet Eugene will not let him into this house, will not even greet him… Eugene has to stop doing God’s job. God is big enough to do his own job. If God will judge our father for choosing to follow the way of our ancestors, then let God do the judging, not Eugene.”

- Aunty Ifeoma, Purple Hibiscus

Thus, we arrive at the final theme statement that is motivated by the motifs and symbols, while also pertaining to the overarching themes mentioned previously. In Purple Hibiscus, the main theme is that love is an honest and true emotion, rather than something to be dictated and written down in a law like form. Kambili had no idea of such love, and was restrained by her father's abusive love along with his dictator-like rules-- it was only when she experienced true free form love in Nsukka with Aunty Ifeoma's family, does she come to the realization and actively acts to preserve the pure love. Jaja, on the other hand, rebels and does whatever he can to protect his loved ones and basically ostracizes his own father after coming back from his aunt's house. Regardless of the reaction, both children eventually realize that the love and patriarchy within their family is wrong-- which is essentially what the entire plot and novel is centered around.