Purple Hibiscus

Purple Hibiscus Summary and Analysis of Chapter Thirteen


Kambili and Amaka attend mass at St. Peter’s, Father Amadi’s chaplaincy. It is less ornate than St. Agnes, and the congregation is dressed more casually than those who assemble at Kambili’s church. Kambili nearly swoons when she receives communion from Father Amadi. He drives the girls home and reminds Amaka to choose her confirmation name by the following day. She is stubborn, insisting she does not want an English name. He offers to help her choose.

Kambili sits on the veranda with her aunt and her friend Chiaku. They discuss university politics. The son of one of the professors stole his father’s test answers to sell to his students. Since the university closed, the students have harassed the boy for their money to be returned. The professor beats his son for the theft. Chiaku friend says they are trying to treat the symptom and not the cause. If the professors can’t afford food, they cannot blame their children for stealing. Beating the boy will not put an end to the tyranny. Chiaku tells Aunty Ifeoma about her time in Cambridge, where she was treated as a second-class citizen. She warns Ifeoma that she will face the same fate in America. She echoes Amaka’s desire to address the problems at home rather than run away. Obiora interrupts, defending his mother. Chiaku leaves soon after and Aunty Ifeoma punishes her son for the disrespect. Amaka squeezes Kambili’s hand and calls her brother stupid for wanting to leave Nigeria.

The power outages have spoiled the majority of the meat in the refrigerator. Kambili and Amaka pick stones out of rice on the veranda. They listen to Amaka’s tapes of Fela and Onyeka. Kambili has never felt such companionship. Without warning, Mama shows up. She emerges from a taxi, unsteady. Aunty Ifeoma ushers her inside and asks what happened. Papa broke a table over Mama’s stomach, not knowing she was pregnant. The beating causes another miscarriage. When released from the hospital, she took a cab straight to Nsukka.

Aunty Ifeoma does not let Mama come to the phone when Papa calls. But when she insists on calling him back, Mama reports that Papa will pick up his family the following day. Aunty Ifeoma is incredulous. Mama says that Papa has been under enormous strain since Ade’s death and the shuttering of his factory. When Aunty Ifeoma pushes her, Mama asks her where she would go if she left Enugu. She dismisses Ifeoma’s suggestion to move out as “university talk.”

Papa comes the next day. Kambili is surprised to see how thin he has grown in the last few weeks. His entire face is covered with a pimply rash. When Kambili hugs Amaka goodbye, she calls her me nwanne m nwanyi – my sister. In the car, Jaja will not look at Kambili. She wants to tell him with her eyes how much she wishes to be in Nsukka at Easter. When they arrive home, the gates are opened and Kambili is nauseated by the overwhelming smell of ripening cashews, mangos and avocados. Jaja points to his purple hibiscus about to bloom.

The next Sunday is Palm Sunday. Jaja does not go to communion and Papa throws his missal at him.


Aunty Ifeoma’s argument with Chiaku is a metaphor for what is happening in the country. The professor whose son sold test answers is chided for trying to solve the symptom and not the real illness – corruption. When Aunty Ifeoma defends her choice of moving to America against her friend’s bitterness, Obiora interrupts them. Here, he takes his maturity too far. He is still a child and is reprimanded for his disrespect. Challenging authority is expected but there is a price to be paid if one exceeds his or her limits.

The example of the father and his boy and also Obiora’s punishment can be contrasted with the punishment inflicted on Kambili and Jaja. There is a difference between discipline and cruelty. Amaka explains to Kambili that being flogged by Aunty Ifeoma is not pleasant, but the discussion that ensues afterwards is even worse. Aunty Ifeoma uses corporal punishment as a corrective, but then discusses openly why she was provoked to such a degree that warrants the switch. Papa explains his intention, but the method is so severe that pain and fear become the lesson. Aunty Ifeoma tries to explain this to Mama when she turns up battered.

Amaka’s reluctance to choose a confirmation name is indicative of her uneasiness with colonialism. In Roman Catholicism, there are seven sacraments, three of which are rites of initiation – Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation. Baptism is performed at birth by anointing a child’s head with holy water. The Eucharist, or receiving of communion, is to be nourished by Jesus through the ingestion of his “body” in the form of a wafer. Confirmation is completed by teenagers at the age of fifteen. Young men and women are anointed with oil and choose a confirmation name, typically the name of a saint. Though it is largely a symbolic gesture, Amaka does not want to give up her Nigerian identity.

Amaka calls Kambili her sister in this chapter. This signifies their bond and also echoes Aunty Ifeoma’s use of “my wife” when referring to Mama. Family is forged not only by blood but also by connection and camaraderie. The titles connote the feelings that cannot be conveyed in simple terms. The women in the Achike umunna flout conventional familial titles to flout patriarchy.

Nature takes on symbolic meaning at the end of this chapter. When Kambili and Jaja return to Enugu, Kambili is overwhelmed by the sickeningly sweet scent of rotting fruit. Cashews, avocado and mangos litter the ground and give off this cloying order. Kambili used to delight in the vast backyard, daydreaming while looking outside her window. However, when she returns from Nsukka each time, the luxuries she has grown accustomed to take on a darker shade. Here, the fruits that symbolize status are rotting just as the Achike family is rotting. But Jaja’s purple hibiscus - his rebellion – is about to bloom.

This chapter concludes with Palm Sunday and the book comes full circle back to the beginning. The first three parts of the book are a told in flashback with the forth part indicated as the present. Breaking Gods refers to Palm Sunday, when Papa’s thrown missal breaks Mama’s figurines. The title takes on another meaning, as Jaja’s refusal to partake in mass is his “break” with God. The second section, which concludes here, is called Speaking With Our Spirits. This section charts the coming of age stories of both Kambili and Jaja who are forced to speak only through gesture and actions. As this section unfolds in flashback, the scenes flow like memory. Kambili, as the narrator, is choosing which memories are the most crucial in explaining what happens on Palm Sunday. This puts the story squarely in the point of view of Kambili and we can glimpse how she has changed by how she describes certain events. For instance, in this chapter, Kambili focuses on the card games she lost rather than her inevitable return to Enugu. Having distance from this night, she is able to point to her train of thought as evidence of her growth in confidence. Instead of dreaming of pain or fretting about her punishment, she reminisces about time spent with her cousin. This is a detail that Kambili, speaking from three years beyond this night, identifies as important.