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Purple Hibiscus Summary and Analysis

by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chapter Twelve

Summary

Kambili and Jaja arrive in Nsukka. Obiora and Chima are delicate with Kambili, offering to carry her bag or prepare a mango for her. Aku, winged termites, swarm in the backyard. Neighboring children run outside to catch them so they can be fried as a snack. Mature Obiora goes outside merely to observe; he does not get caught up in the revelry. He tells his mother he was never a child. Amaka laughs, then joins Kambili on the veranda. There is an ease to their relationship now. Amaka tells Kambili that she has become Father Amadi’s sweetheart. Amaka lightly teases Kambili, who confirms her crush on the priest. Amaka says every girl on campus is in love with Father Amadi, but it is only Kambili he is concerned with. Amaka asks if Papa is responsible for Kambili’s “illness.” Kambili says yes.

Father Amadi comes to check in on Kambili. He gives her a warm hug that Kambili finds tense and delicious. Kambili wishes she were alone with Father Amadi. She sits and listens to his comforting voice.

The next day, Kambili wakes last and finds Aunty Ifeoma sitting on the veranda with a friend. The woman is a professor, like Aunty Ifeoma, but humorless. They discuss the University’s decision to appoint a sole administrator that would displace the elected vice-chancellor. Aunty Ifeoma’s friend says there is a list circulating with the names of disloyal professors. Ifeoma’s name is on the list. She says she is not paid to be loyal, but to speak the truth. Her friend asks if the truth will feed her children. Kambili asks Amaka and Obiora what they are discussing. Amaka says her mother is in danger of being fired. Obiora says they will go to America if that happens. This distresses Amaka, who does not want to leave Nigeria. Kambili does not want to think of her family leaving Nsukka.

Kambili attends a football game with Father Amadi. She realizes that he speaks to his players like Aunty Ifeoma speaks to her children. They set goals for the children, encouraging them to jump higher. The goals are met because the children believe they can reach them. Kambili realizes she and Jaja excel only because they are terrified of what will happen if they fail. A dark cloud appears over Kambili. She tells Father Amadi what is on her mind and he tells her that he needs to believe in those boys so he can put his faith into something he does not question. He puts his hand on her hair and Kambili wishes she could lean her whole body against his.

Students riot in Nsukka the next morning. At least 500 people march in the streets, calling for the sole administrator to be ousted. Aunty Ifeoma assures the children that they are safe, but she turns off the lights so their flat does not draw attention. Later, Aunty Ifeoma learns that the sole administrator’s house had been set on fire. Six university cars were torched as well. The university is shut down until further notice. During Kambili’s nap, she dreams the sole administrator is pouring hot water over Aunty Ifeoma’s feet. When she jumps out of the bathtub, she jumps into America.

That evening, four soldiers barge into Aunty Ifeoma’s flat. They tell the family they have been ordered to search the flat for documentation linking Aunty Ifeoma to the rioters. The soldiers ransack the apartment, scattering contents of drawers without looking through them. Obiora tries to stand up to them, but his mother tells him not to fight. The soldiers warn Ifeoma to be careful. Obiora says they should go to the police but his mother smiles. They are all working together. Obiora says it is time to leave for America, but Amaka yells at him. Running away will not solve problems. She urges that they stay and help fix their broken country. Obiora sneers at her. Aunty Ifeoma snaps at her quarreling children, ordering them to help clean up the mess.

The next morning, Kambili finds an earthworm in the shower. Though Obiora is fascinated with them, she removes it with a stick and throws it into the toilet. She joins Aunty Ifeoma in the kitchen and is served a glass of homemade soy milk. Aunty Ifeoma can no longer afford cow’s milk. One of Ifeoma’s students arrives with a chicken, a symbol of her engagement. The student will get married instead of returning to university when it opens. Jaja offers to kill the chicken even though he has never slaughtered an animal before. Kambili watches her brother slit the chicken’s throat. A cold, clinical precision emerges in his actions. As he plucks the feathers, Jaja tells Kambili that he wants to leave with Aunty Ifeoma when she goes to America.

Father Amadi arrives to take Kambili to have her hair plaited. He takes her to Mama Joe, a friend of Aunty Ifeoma’s. Father Amadi excuses himself and Mama Joe asks what his connection is to Kambili. Mama Joe is disappointed that he is a priest – all that maleness wasted. Like Amaka, Mama Joe insists that no man takes a girl to have her hair plaited unless he is interested in her. Kambili does not know what to say, so she watches a large snail escape from a bucket only to be replaced by Mama Joe. Father Amadi picks Kambili up when her hair is finished. He compliments her and tells her she should try out for the part of Our Lady in his church’s play. Kambili says she cannot act. Father Amadi tells her she can do anything she wants.

Analysis

Shortly after Kambili and Jaja arrive in Nsukka, the aku – winged termites – begin to fly. Aunty Ifeoma jokes that although these insects are just matured versions of the termites considered to be pests, the neighborhood children go crazy for them. There is a sense of wonder and innocence in the aku. Chima is excited but Obiora merely goes outside to “observe.” When Amaka teases him, he announces that he has never been a child. Obiora has been initiated into manhood by both the Igbo ritual and the death of his father. Obiora’s coming of age has been accelerated by tragedy. The winged aku represent maturity and the freedom that it can inspire.

Kambili and Jaja also continue to mature. Like Jaja with his finger, Kambili decided it is time to start telling the truth about her own pain. When Amaka asks her if Papa is responsible for her illness, Kambili says yes. However, she does not want to discuss it because she sees no way out of her situation. She does not look back for Amaka’s reaction. That, too, is a sign of maturity. Before she was concerned with what her cousin thought of her but now Kambili does not feel the need to please her. This only deepens their bond.

But not all is well in Nsukka. Students riot against the sole administrator because they have been without water and power. The rioting university students throw Aunty Ifeoma’s situation into sharp relief. Obiora says that the university has become a microcosm of Nigeria with the sole administrator acting as Head of State. When the soldiers raid her flat, Aunty Ifeoma realizes that the situation is direr than she thought. Later, Kambili dreams that the sole administrator is pouring water over Aunty Ifeoma’s feet. To the university, Aunty Ifeoma’s sympathy towards her students is the sin that she has walked in. When she jumps out of the bathtub, she is in America. For Kambili this is a nightmare. While she does not want to see her aunt abused, she does not want to be abandoned by someone she loves.

When a chicken is brought to Aunty Ifeoma’s flat, Jaja decides that he will kill it. This is his sacrifice. Although he has never slaughtered an animal before, the other children do not make fun of him and he does not ask how to proceed. Kambili goes with him and watches him slit its throat. He does not hesitate. Here he takes up the mantle of provider. Jaja also does not hesitate in telling Kambili that he wants to go to America with his cousins. Crossing an ocean is the only way to escape his father’s reign.

Kambili’s hair has not been plaited for some time. When she was in the hospital, Mama was unable to fix her hair because it caused her daughter too much pain. Father Amadi decides to take her himself. Mama’s inability to plait her daughter’s hair is symbolic of her inability to take care of her daughter. Kambili is told that only men who have affection for girls take them to get their hair plaited. Here, Kambili is transferring some of her dependencies from her Mama to a man she likes. This can be seen as a metaphor for coming of age as well. A ritual of comfort and familial duty takes on a sexualized overtone.

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