Purple Hibiscus

Purple Hibiscus Summary and Analysis of Chapter Seventeen



Nearly three years later, Kambili and Mama drive to the prison to visit Jaja. Mama has been reduced to skin and bones. After Jaja was arrested, she told people, including newspapers, that she was responsible for Papa’s murder. But they did not believe her. Since then, she has been different. Out of pity, no one has criticized her for not attending the one- and two-year memorial masses for Papa. No one mentions that she has not cut her hair, which is customary for widows.

Each week Mama and Kambili visit Jaja. Usually, they go on separate days. But this day is different. Their lawyers, respected members of the state, have told the Achikes that Jaja will be released. Since the Head of State died atop a prostitute, his regime is being swept away. The lawyers and activists have placed the guilt for the murder on the regime. Like Ade Coker, they argue he was killed for his free speech. Almost 200 people imprisoned falsely are to be released. Jaja is fourth on the list.

But Kambili and Mama have not yet let themselves rejoice. A silence still falls over the house. They do not speak of how much money they have after half of Papa’s estate went to the church in addition to donations he secretly made to several charities. Kambili tells their new driver to put her Fela tape on in the car.

Kambili reminisces about the last time she visited Nsukka. The lion statue no longer gleams and there is no longer power. She visits Aunty Ifeoma’s flat, the bemused new tenants letting her in. Despite the changes, Kambili lets out a throaty laugh. Even though the town is in disrepair, the air smells of hills and history. Nsukka can let loose something in your soul, the sound emerging like a freedom song.

They arrive at the prison. Jaja is back in his old, overcrowded cell. He shares the cramped quarters with a number of men. The only bathroom is a plastic bag that they share. They fight over who gets to take it outside, because that person gets to see sunlight. Jaja had a better cell, equipped with a bed and books, because their lawyers knew the right people to bribe. But Jaja says he does not mind the mice and cockroaches, only sleeping next to another man’s feces. Jaja is also beaten routinely for insubordination. Kambili is not sure if he does anything to provoke the abuse, or if it is just business as usual in the prison. Jaja won’t say.

Jaja’s official status this whole time has been Awaiting Trial. His shoulders, which bloomed in Nsukka, have sagged. In the letters Amaka has written to Kambili, she mentions her letters to the office of the Head of State and to the Nigerian embassy in America complaining about his treatment. But she does not tell Jaja this and Jaja does not write to Amaka. What will he say? Aunty Ifeoma sends him tape recordings of her family’s voices.

As reported in Aunty Ifeoma’s letters, she works two jobs. One at a small community college and the other at a pharmacy. Amaka says her family does not have time to laugh anymore and they barely see one another. She says that Chima “outfats” his outfits monthly. Obiora writes the cheeriest letters. On scholarship at a private school, he is encouraged rather than reported for challenging his teachers.

Mama and Kambili offer a bribe to the guard and are ushered in to see Jaja. When he comes out, Kambili takes a deep breath. New emotions are forming where the old ones are dissolving. She thinks about a letter from Father Amadi assuring her that Jaja will be released soon. The letter is in her bag – she always carries his letters in her bag until the next one arrives. Amaka teases her for being lovey-dovey, but there is nothing romantic in their letters. When she asks him if she is happy, he does not respond. She is not competing with God for his affections; she is sharing him with God.

Jaja’s T-shirt, brought new by Kambili two weeks ago, is already filthy. There is a hardness in his eyes now. They eat quickly, Mama trembling at Kambili’s side. They tell Jaja that he is being released. He responds that there are many interesting characters in his cell. Kambili corrects him – he is not being moved, but released from prison altogether. He says nothing. His eyes are too full of guilt to realize that Kambili thinks he is her hero. Though he often wishes he did more to protect his family, Kambili does not think he should have done more.

In this new silence, Kambili thinks about the old silence, when Papa was alive. She does not tell Jaja that she offers prayers for Papa every Sunday and that she longs to see him in her dreams. Sometimes she makes her own dreams, but even then she and Papa cannot meet. Their time is up and Jaja gets led away without making eye contact to his family.

When they leave the prison, there is a moment of hope. Kambili laughs and tells Mama that they will take Jaja to Nsukka and to America to see Aunty Ifeoma, then to Abba to plant new orange trees, and he will plant purple hibiscus again.


The book closes on the present. It is nearly three years later and Jaja has been in prison for murdering Papa. As the title of this section suggests, there is a different silence in Enugu. Mama is silent now, wracked with grief. She has tried to tell everyone that she is to blame for the murder, but her confession has fallen on deaf ears. She speaks with Papa’s money in the form of bribes for the prison guard and lawyers who participate in the corrupt system. They no longer speak out against the same system the Standard would criticize. In her home, Mama does not speak. Kambili respects her silence, knowing that, as before, some truths cannot be spoken. Before, the silence was a necessity to maintain Papa’s image. Now, the silence is self-preservation. Jaja no longer speaks with his eyes. Hardened by his brutal experiences in prison, he has learned to shut the vulnerable parts of himself away. He cannot take comfort in Kambili or else the house of cards he has built that enables him to live through prison will tumble down, like Mama’s figurines. As Amaka understands, what can he say?

America is not the Eden that Obiora hopes it to be. Though he thrives in America, the rest of the family struggles in their new home. Aunty Ifeoma holds down two jobs to make ends meet and Amaka feels isolated from her roots. And though the Nsukka Kambili visits is devoid of the people who once made it a home, Kambili still seeks refuge there. Odim Hill still stands, the air scented with hills and history. It is the history of her country and Kambili’s own history. Rather than her own home, Nsukka’s transformative power is Kambili’s refuge. She comes here to restore herself, to free the song within her that is forced into silence in Enugu. Kambili has roots now. She listens to Fela’s tapes and reminisces about Amaka, but the music has also become her own.