Purple Hibiscus

Purple Hibiscus Summary and Analysis of Chapter Four


Ade Coker’s wife Yewande comes to the Achike house in tears. Jaja sneaks down to the kitchen and listens. He tells Kambili that Ade has been arrested by soldiers on his way home from the Standard. His car has been abandoned, the driver’s door left open. Kambili thinks he was arrested because of his article accusing the Head of State and his wife of paying people to transport heroin abroad. Papa assures Yewande that her husband will be protected by God.

At school, Kambili receives her report card. Although Mother Lucy, the principal at Daughters of the Immaculate Heart, praises her intelligence and obedience, Kambili is disappointed that she is ranked only second. Papa will not be proud. He often tells his children he does not spend so much money on tuition so that his children can be second. His godless father never paid a cent for his own education and he always ranked first.

Mama is waiting by the door to greet them with a song in Igbo. Kambili tells her she ranked only second and Mama pauses. She knows too well that Papa will not be pleased. Papa comes home and visits Jaja’s room first. Jaja is ranked first, as always, and Papa takes his time. When he gets to Kambili’s room, she is terrified. He does not punish her now, only asks her who came in first.

At dinner, the family samples a new biscuit produced at Papa’s factory. The family praises his work. Afterwards, Papa tells Kambili to come upstairs. She follows him to his room and she sits on the bed and takes off her slippers, sinking her toes into the plush cream carpet. His room looks like heaven – Kambili fondly remembers the times Papa would comfort her here when she was a child. He tells her that she did not come in first because she chose not to. Kambili braces herself, but a phone call interrupts them. Papa is preoccupied by Ade Coker’s ordeal.

Kambili waits to be punished. Even when Ade Coker is released from jail a week later, her report card is not mentioned. Ade thanks Papa in the Standard and Kambili takes pride in her father’s bravery. Though Ade does not publicly talk about his time in prison, Papa learns he was tortured. Cigarettes were put out on his back. Papa decides that they will publish the Standard underground to keep the staff safe.

Mama takes Jaja and Kambili to the market to buy new sandals and bags before the new school term. The market is a different world from their estate – women loudly haggle with vegetable sellers, men freely urinate against walls, merchants fight over customers. This time, the market is even more chaotic than usual as soldiers hassle the village women and demolish vegetable stands. Mama ushers her children into the car, but watches a woman crying desperately in the dirt.

Papa drives Kambili to school on her first day back. Daughters of the Immaculate Heart is protected by high walls erected to keep hawkers out. At his request, Kambili takes her father to her classroom. They are intercepted by Sister Margaret who thanks him for his generous donation to renovate the library. As he speaks to her, Papa changes his accent so that he sounds more British.

Papa asks Kambili to point out Chinwe Yideze, the girl who came in first. He asks her how many heads she has. Then he takes out a mirror and asks how many heads Kambili has. Papa tells her that since she has one head, just as Chinwe has, there is no excuse to come second. Chinwe is not special. Papa tells her that since they are privileged, God expects more out of her. He leaves her to join her classmates at assembly.

The new term is begins with assembly. The students sing a welcoming song from the Catholic Hymnal and Mother Lucy reads from the Bible. The national anthem and pledge follow, a new ritual at Kambili’s school. Only the Nigerian Sisters sing the anthem. Mother Lucy chooses Kambili to lead the pledge and she panics. She finally stutters the opening lines and the rest of the class joins in.

Kambili’s friend Ezinne greets her and asks if she traveled over break. Kambili yearns to thank Ezinne for talking to her and not calling her a “backyard snob” as the rest of the girls do. Chinwe, clearly the most popular girl in school, says hello to Ezinne and other classmates. She has never talked to Kambili so she passes right by her. Ezinne gossips, telling Kambili that Chinwe buys Coke and biscuits for the other students at break. They flock to her because she is rich and outgoing. Chinwe started calling Kambili “backyard snob” because she is so quiet, choosing to spend breaks in the library instead of with others. Chinwe assumes Kambili feels too big to socialize. Kambili cannot tell Ezinne the truth – she runs home because she is not allowed to be late. Everything she does is to prevent punishment.


Papa takes his family’s privilege very seriously. In a country that is wracked with poverty, the Achike wealth must be justified by duty. He tells Kambili, “Because God has given you much, he expects much from you.” There is no excuse for coming in second place. His father did not pay for his own education, yet he always strove to be the best. Papa demands excellence from his children and gets results only by instilling fear in them. After he leaves, Kambili joins her classmates in the assembly. When Mother Lucy calls on her to lead the pledge, Kambili chokes up. By invoking God in his speech, Papa equates failure with sin. She is terrified to make one false step, and therefore cannot even handle a simple task.

However, Kambili does have fond memories of her father. When she is called into his room to, presumably, be punished, she slips off her shoes and digs her toes into the plush white carpet. This room carries memories of both punishment and protection. While waiting for a potential beating, Kambili remembers being enveloped by a cream-colored blanket during a storm. This moment of fatherly love is a memory she holds on to. It is a symbol of paternal love that has been fractured by the severe punishments. Since Kambili, at this point, cannot imagine another way of life, she chooses to cling to the good memories to distract her from the pain.

There is a storm in Nigeria. Before Kambili can be punished, Papa is called away with news of Ade Coker’s arrest. Papa is a man that is balancing his filial duty with his duty as a citizen. He applies a sliding scale of morality to the men who work for him at the Standard. Papa gives them bonuses and vacation as a way to protect them from the government’s wrath. Papa is aghast when he learns about Ade’s torture. However, he inflicts physical torment on his own family. Papa can rationalize these two paradoxical beliefs because he is doing God’s work. He is saving his family from damnation and speaking out against corruption.

At the market, the presence of the soldiers is disquieting. Mama and the children watch a woman harassed by these men while shopping. Unlike with the rioters, they are near to the violence. Mama ushers her children into the car quickly, but the emotional effect of seeing the hassled woman in the dirt has already taken its toll. Mama does not tell her children to look away, as she did at the roadblock. Here, she watches the woman scream in despair as the car pulls away. She sympathizes with the woman even though she is protected by her status. This is the first instance where Mama identifies with a victim, recognizing herself in the face of someone less fortunate.

Kambili is perceived by her classmates as a backyard snob. For most of the novel, Kambili is unable to defend herself from such casual slander because she is saddled with having to both avoid punishment and distract from the truth. When her father visits her school, he speaks in the same British-inflected English he uses with Father Benedict. Just as Papa disguises his voice to portray a more polished persona, Kambili disguises her personal misfortune. Her wealth is a sticking point with the classmates who dislike her. Class tensions hamper the relationship with her cousin as well. Because she is unable to tell anyone of her responsibilities, in their eyes she behaves oddly. Though Kambili is called a snob, she is the exact opposite. Her self-worth is tied to her father’s judgment.