Purple Hibiscus

Purple Hibiscus Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What does the purple hibiscus represent?

    Aunty Ifeoma grows the purple hibiscus, a rare hybrid created by a botanist friend of hers. Jaja is drawn to the flowers when he arrives in Nsukka. For Jaja, the flowers represent freedom. Instead of just following what must be, Aunty Ifeoma's purple hibiscus are both uniquely beautiful and a new creation. They are a symbol of an alternative to the rigid life that has been created for him and his sister. When he takes the stalks to his home, he brings with them a new sense of self and possibility.

  2. 2

    Kambili describes in detail many different aspects of nature, including plants, insects and weather. How does the environment relate to the narrative?

    The environment is used to reflect both inner turmoil and joy. When Ade Coker dies, a heavy rain falls. Likewise, sadness and pressure fall on Papa. After Papa throws the missal, a strong wind uproots the frangipani trees and the satellite dish. When Kambili begins to mature, her relationship with the natural world also changes. Instead of being frightened by earthworms in Aunty Ifeoma’s bath, she lets them be. Kambili’s comfort with nature is directly related to her ease of self.

  3. 3

    Papa uses Igbo and English at different times. Discuss what this signifies about his character.

    Though raised by an Igbo traditionalist, Papa rarely uses his native tongue at home and never in public. Papa was schooled by missionaries in Nigeria and in England and is educated in colonial ways. For him, his accent belies his prominence. He speaks with an English-inflected accent to both Father Benedict and Mother Lucy. Maintaining an image of an African who is comfortable with European ways helps to cement his standing in the community. He uses this stature to help his friend Ade. But Papa also carries a shame for his roots. His voice communicates both his education and also his separation from his ancestral traditions.

  4. 4

    Compare the relationship between Amaka and Obiora to the relationship between Kambili and Jaja.

    Amaka and Obiora are siblings who share passions but also don’t see eye to eye on important topics. Both children are intellectually curious and argumentative. They have been raised to question authority. However, Amaka is fiercely loyal to Nigeria and Obiora finds new hope in the dream of America. Unlike Kambili and Jaja, Amaka and Obiora are not scared to disagree. Kambili and Jaja are united by silence. When Jaja begins to spread his wings a bit, Kambili is dismayed that she can no longer communicate with him via the secret language of their eyes. Ultimately, both Amaka and Obiora and Kambili and Jaja allow each other to nurture separate identities but still love one another.

  5. 5

    Kambili describes in detail several dreams. Why are they important?

    Kambili’s dreams are clues to how she feels about certain people and events. Since Kambili only rarely speaks her mind, her mind speaks for her. She dreams that she has Aunty Ifeoma’s laugh because she wishes she could talk as freely and energetically like her aunt. When Amaka is deriding her, Kambili dreams her cousin is flushing her down the toilet. Kambili’s dreams are a gateway into her mind.

  6. 6

    Purple Hibiscus charts the coming of age of both Kambili and Jaja. Discuss how each Achike sibling matures over the course of the novel.

    Kambili is characterized by her lack of voice. She stutters and coughs and can barely rise above a whisper. Both she and Jaja are sheltered and intimidated by her father. Both children, as they mature into adults, must overcome their father. While Jaja’s rebellions are more overt – missing communion, asking for his room key, taking the blame for his mother’s crime – Kambili’s are more personal. She does not reject her faith and compassion, but rather adapts them to fit her new, more complex, worldview. Through all of their hardships, Jaja remains Kambili’s hero.

  7. 7

    Religion is a crucial theme in Purple Hibiscus. Discuss how religion influences the characters.

    There are two religions that are prominently featured in Purple Hibiscus: Catholicism and traditional Igbo practice Papa can be viewed as a symbol of fundamentalism in Nigeria. Influenced by his colonial education, Papa eradicates all traces of his traditional past and indoctrinates his children into religion as it was preached to him. God seeks perfection and Papa’s way to instill perfection is to punish failure. Papa does not let his children spend much time with his own father for he is a “heathen.” Papa’s prejudice severs his ties with his ancestry. However, as Kambili realizes, there are similarities between the faiths of Papa and Papa-Nnukwu. Aunty Ifeoma and, later, Kambili, honor both faiths in their more modernized take on devotion.

  8. 8

    Why does Mama poison Papa?

    Mama’s murder of Papa is first and foremost to protect herself and her children from his abuse. However, she poisons him because she feels she has no other option. She dismisses Aunty Ifeoma’s advice to leave her home as “university talk.” After losing another child at his hands, however, Mama realizes that something must be done. In an environment of repression and violence, she fights back using the only method available to her – poison.

  9. 9

    Discuss how the political unrest in Nigeria affects the Achike family.

    Though the political unrest is removed from Kambili’s day to day life, corruption touches her family. Papa’s friend and fellow pro-democracy activist Ade Coker is murdered in front of his family. Papa is distraught when this happens and remarks that Nigeria is in decline. The escalating violence and police presence echo the rising tensions inside the Achike home. Kambili and Jaja’s fight for independence echoes the fight of the pro-democracy activists.

  10. 10

    Discuss the significance of Kambili’s crush on Father Amadi.

    The comforting presence of Father Amadi causes two changes in Kambili’s life. Her physical attraction to Father Amadi expedites her steps towards womanhood. Father Amadi also greatly influences Kambili’s shifting paradigm of faith. He tells her he did not have a calling, but rather that the priesthood was able to answer the most questions. Father Amadi also incorporates Igbo song and prayer into his sermons. Kambili realizes that her faith and ancestral traditions do not have to be mutually exclusive. She is able to forge her identity as both a sexual woman and as more liberal Catholic.