Purple Hibiscus

Purple Hibiscus Summary and Analysis of Chapter Eight


On their way to Nsukka, Jaja forgets when it is his time to recite the rosary. They pass burned out hulls of cars destroyed in accidents. Kevin, the driver, stops at a police checkpoint and hands over a bribe so they may pass. If Papa was in the car, he would allow them to search the car and check the family’s papers; he would never participate in the corruption by bribing the police. They drive under a wide metal arch flanked by security guards. This is the entrance to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where Aunty Ifeoma teaches. The green lawn houses a statue of a lion standing on its hind legs. The school motto is inscribed underneath – “To restore the dignity of man.”

They arrive at Aunty’s flat. There is a sprawling garden filled with flowers on the front lawn. Aunty Ifeoma hugs them tightly when they get out of the car. Kevin presents Ifeoma with the gifts of food and gas cylinders. Aunty dances with joy. They enter her flat and Kambili is shocked at how low the ceilings are. The air smells of spices and kerosene. Aunty gives them a tour, showing them the room where she sleeps with Chima and the room Kambili will share with Amaka. Obiora sleeps in the living room, so Jaja will bunk with him there. When Kevin leaves, Kambili has the urge to run after him with her suitcase and ask him to take her back home.

Aunty’s children come home and greet their cousins. Amaka is wearing lipstick and a tight dress. She barely hugs Kambili before pulling away. Obiora takes Jaja to the corner store to buy soft drinks. When he leaves, Kambili searches Jaja’s eyes for the sense of bewilderment she is experiencing. Kambili follows Amaka to her room. Amaka is brusque as always, telling Kambili that Nsukka is not as happening as Enugu. She mentions two hotspots, assuming Kambili goes out all the time. Kambili manages to say no, again omitting the truth about her life.

Kambili turns away from Amaka when she strips to her underwear. She has been taught it is a sin to look upon another person’s nakedness. Amaka gestures to a battered tape player at the foot of her bed and apologizes patronizingly that it is inferior to the sound system in Enugu. Amaka does not listen to American pop music, favoring culturally conscious Nigerian musicians. Everything is foreign to Kambili and Amaka looks at her as if she is a lab animal to be categorized.

Amaka helps her mother cook and Aunty Ifeoma informs Kambili and Jaja that they will be treated like guests for tonight only. Tomorrow they must pitch in. Aunty offers a quick prayer, unlike Papa’s nightly mass. Supper is meager – a few pieces of chicken on mismatched plates. The kids speak authoritatively with their mother, teasing and joking. Dinner, too, is different from what Kambili is used to.

Amaka constantly teases Kambili when confronted with her cousins’ lifestyle. Just like her classmates, Amaka assumes the luxury Kambili is accustomed to makes her feel big. But Kambili wishes she could disappear or at least apologize for whatever she has done to make Amaka upset. At dinner, the family takes their plates to the TV. Aunty Ifeoma tells Kambili and Jaja to join their cousins if they wish, allowing them to watch as much TV as they like. Jaja tells his aunt that they must follow their schedules and study. Aunty Ifeoma takes their schedules and puts them into her pocket. She tells them that while they are in her house, they are on holiday.

At prayers that evening, the family follows the rosaries with Igbo songs. Kambili and Jaja do not sing. The next morning, the kids get water from their local tap. Jaja joins in, reporting to his sister that he slept on a thin mattress next to Obiora. His voice is filled with wonder, not derision. At morning prayer, Aunty prays for the University but also that they may find peace and laughter that day. Kambili is surprised. The family takes turns bathing before breakfast. Aunty Ifeoma carefully rations each serving of powdered milk. Kambili thinks of the plentiful supply of cold milk in her refrigerator at home. Aunty Ifeoma hurries the kids through breakfast so they can tour the university and come home to prepare dinner for their guest, their friend Father Amadi.

On their way to the car, Jaja admires a purple hibiscus in Aunty’s garden. He runs his finger over the beautiful petals. Aunty explains that they were created as an experiment by her botanist friend Phillipa. They tour the University in Aunty’s beat-up car, coasting down hills to conserve the scarce fuel. Kambili notices each building she passes is worn and in disrepair. Aunty shows them the Institute of African Studies, where she teaches, and the hostels for female students. She points out one dorm in particular, where she says Amaka will launch her activist movements in college. Aunty Ifeoma says maybe Kambili will join her cousin. Kambili does not respond – if, where, and what she studies will be determined by Papa.

Aunty Ifeoma points out Odim Hill. She says that from its beautiful view, you can survey how God laid out the valleys and hills. Kambili’s mind drifts to the white hands of God creating the landscape. They drive past the vice-chancellor’s house, explaining that the hedges were recently trampled by rioting students. Obiora tells Jaja they were rioting because they had no light or water for a month. Amaka says that if she were vice-chancellor, her students would never be without utilities. Obiora challenges her, asking how it would be possible if a Big Man in capital city Abuja intercepted University funds. Kambili looks at Obiora, a year younger than herself, but yet so much bolder and assured.

Back in the flat, Kambili helps Amaka peel the large yams they brought from Enugu. Aunty Ifeoma tells Kambili that she will like Father Amadi. He is new to their local chaplaincy but already in demand by the villagers. Amaka says he connects with their family the most. Aunty Ifeoma teases her daughter, saying she is protective of the young priest. Amaka yells at Kambili for wasting yam and Kambili jumps, dropping the knife. Amaka jokes she should add learning to peel properly to her schedule. Aunty Ifeoma tells Amaka to go outside. Kambili is grateful for her aunt.

Father Amadi arrives wearing an earthy cologne. He is an attractive African man with a voice like a song. Kambili immediately takes comfort in his presence. But he makes her nervous as well. She remembers he once visited St. Agnes, following a sermon with an Igbo song ,to the displeasure of Papa. She remembers the song, too. Ifeoma and her children chatter through dinner, praising Papa, Ade Coker and the Standard for telling the truth. They talk about Aokpe, Amaka saying it was about time an apparition of the Virgin Mary appeared in Africa.

After dinner, Father Amadi leads the prayers and song. They watch Newsline together on the TV. Kambili looks up to see the priest’s eyes on her. She suddenly has trouble swallowing. Father Amadi says he has not seen Kambili smile and laugh at all that day. She says nothing. Aunty Ifeoma explains that she is shy. Kambili excuses herself and goes to sleep, thinking of Father Amadi’s voice.


Aunty Ifeoma’s family is markedly different than Papa’s family. She banishes the children’s schedules. In her house, they follow her rules. Aunty Ifeoma’s authority is more respectful of her children and her relatives. Family depends on the interplay of each of its members. She encourages her children to question and to draw their own conclusions. Though she has lost her beloved husband, there is love in the home. Kambili and Jaja love their parents, but are not allowed to interact in any other mode outside of duty. Respect in Aunty Ifeoma’s household is a two-way street. Kambili is shocked, but Jaja responds with wonder.

Kambili is somewhat shocked by the conditions in Aunty Ifeoma’s flat. She notes its low ceilings and well-worn furniture when she arrives. The water can only be pumped once a day, they drink powdered milk, and Obiora sleeps in the living room. Kambili does not judge their economic situation though Amaka assumes she does. Rather, she is ashamed that she does not understand their way of life. This is the first taste of what life is like beyond the gated walls of her compound. She is a stranger to even the simplest task. Privilege is limiting for Kambili.

Amaka is derisive of her cousin but Kambili will not talk back. She has not been raised to justify or defend herself. Amaka only sees the Kambili’s flaws and inabilities as markers of her cushy life. Kambili, of course, cannot tell her cousin the price she pays for the luxuries and that items like the stereo and satellite TV are simply illusions of wealth. At this point, Kambili suffers the wrath of her cousin while longing to be more like her. There is a bridge she can not yet cross.

Father Amadi is also a stark contrast with Father Benedict. As he explains in Chapter Ten, he joined the priesthood because it answered the most questions asked in his young life. Kambili assumes that all clergy must have a calling to a higher power, but she learns that there can be an intellectual as well as spiritual connection to God. His physical beauty inspires a crush but her affections are deepened by his gentle nature and the attention he pays her. He is a stimulus for her coming of age.

The religion observed by Ifeoma’s family is less strict than Papa’s version of Catholicism. Though Ifeoma is devout, she allows her children to question both the nature of faith and its uses in Africa. She prays that her family may find laughter, a completely foreign concept to Kambili. Furthermore, she prays that God look after Papa-Nnukwu even though he does not share their faith. Combined with the exuberant Igbo songs they sing after evening prayer, this freer iteration of Catholicism blends new and old traditions. Faith is a more fluid entity in their household.