Purple Hibiscus

Purple Hibiscus Summary and Analysis of Chapter Nine


Kambili and Jaja share in the chores in Aunty Ifeoma’s house. Kambili wishes her Aunt were there to speak for her when Amaka criticizes her. Amaka’s friends visit and compliment Kambili on her long, natural hair. At first, Kambili does not realize they are speaking to her. Her cousin has to shout her name to get her attention. The next day, Kambili overhears Amaka asking her mother if she’s sure Kambili and Jaja aren’t abnormal. Aunty Ifeoma tells her daughter she can have her own opinions, but she must treat her family with respect. Kambili’s hands shake.

Kambili reads a book from the veranda when the neighborhood children come over to play. She watches them as they run about in the garden. Obiora asks Jaja where his name comes from, as it is not Igbo. Jaja explains that his real name is Chukwuka. Aunty Ifeoma chimes in, telling Obiora “Ja-Ja” was the only thing he could say as a baby, so the nickname stuck. She likens him to Jaja of Opobo, who Obiora identifies as the stubborn king. Aunty Ifeoma corrects him, telling the story of the defiant king of the Opobo people who did not sell his soul to the British when Nigeria was colonized. Obiora shrugs, saying the British took over anyway. Jaja answers back, to the surprise of his sister. The British may have won the war, but they lost many battles.

Chima asks Jaja what happened to his little finger on his left hand. It is withered by abuse. Aunty Ifeoma answers quickly – he had an accident. Kambili knows the truth. When Jaja missed two questions on his catechism test before Communion, Papa took him upstairs and locked the door. Jaja has not used his finger since. Mama calls to tell her children that soldiers barged into the new offices of the Standard. Ade Coker is in custody again. When Papa calls later in the evening, he asks Aunty Ifeoma to keep Kambili and Jaja for a few extra days.

Every time the phone rings, Kambili is afraid that something happened to her father. Father Amadi comes for dinner and she can’t help but stare at him. Each time he looks at her, though, she looks away. The family jokes about playing football that weekend, but Aunty Ifeoma is distant. She tells her family that Papa-Nnukwu is ill. Father Amadi’s brows furrow. He suggests she brings her father home to Nsukka. He offers to give her emergency fuel stored in the chaplaincy for the journey to Abba. During prayer, Kambili wonders where Papa-Nnukwu will stay. She prays that her father will never find out she shared a room with a heathen.

When Aunty Ifeoma takes Obiora to Abba, Kambili sits on the veranda watching Jaja in the garden. Amaka’s music blares from her bedroom. Kambili asks Jaja if they are abnormal. He looks up at her, asks what abnormal means and then resumes tending the flowers.

Papa-Nnukwu arrives in the afternoon. He prefers to sit on the floor in the living room. Since the doctors in the clinic are on strike, Aunty Ifeoma arranges for a house call that evening. Jaja remarks how skinny his grandfather has gotten since they’ve seen him. Kambili asks whether he is concerned Papa will find out. Jaja’s brow is not knitted with worry like hers. She asks him if he told Aunty Ifeoma what happened to his finger. He answers simply – she asked, so he told her. Kambili is almost frightened by his tone. He cleans his aunt’s car, his toes tapping to an Igbo song. She thanks him, using an Igbo term she uses with her own sons.

The medical lab staff is on strike too, so Aunty Ifeoma cannot get tests done on Papa-Nnukwu. He feels well enough to join them for dinner. Aunty Ifeoma buries his medicine in his food so he can stomach it. Amaka is pleased to have her grandfather around. They share a strong bond. Since Papa-Nnukwu doesn’t speak English, they tease him lightly in their learned tongue. During dinner, the lights go out. The children implore Papa-Nnukwu to tell them a story.

At Chima’s request, Papa-Nnukwu tells his family how the tortoise cracked his shell. During a famine, the animals gather. They are weakened by hunger. Lion’s roar is but a thin whine and Tortoise can barely carry his shell. Only Dog looks well. He insists because his family eats feces, they are still healthy. Since the rest of the animals won’t do what Dog does, they decide they must sacrifice their mothers to be eaten. Each week, a different mother gives up their life to feed the village. A few days before Dog’s mother is to be killed, the village hears him wailing. He tells them his mother has died of disease. They cannot eat her. A few days later, Tortoise hears Dog calling his mother. A rope descends from the sky. Tortoise learns that Dog’s mother is still alive, living in the sky with wealthy friends. Dog’s health has not suffered because he has been eating all along. Tortoise schemes, telling Dog he must take him up to the sky or else he will tell the village the truth. Dog agrees. Soon after, Tortoise becomes greedy, wanting not only his portion but Dog’s as well. Mimicking Dog, Tortoise asks for the rope to be lowered one day. Dog finds him and is furious. He calls to his mother and she cuts the rope. Tortoise lands on a pile of rocks and his shell is cracked to this day.


Jaja’s name, derived from a childhood nickname, is similar to a legendary king of ethnic Nigerians, Jaja of Opobo. He is known as the Defiant King. Before coming to Nsukka, Jaja is not defiant. He is shy and quiet for a seventeen-year-old boy, raised, as his father says, with the fear of God. Though he is denied the initiation rite, he begins to act like the defiant king. He says though the British won the war, the Opobo won many battles. He intends to win battles against his father.

Jaja’s defiance begins to blossom in Nsukka. When the Obiora asks him about his deformed finger, Aunty Ifeoma responds quickly that it was an accident. She is clearly covering for him. Later, Kambili asks if Jaja told her about what had really happened. He says simply that she asked, so he told the truth. Neither Kambili or Jaja are accustomed to telling the truth. They kept their father’s secret of abuse.

Government corruption is a thread woven in this chapter. Military leadership has taken over the country following a coup. There is no democracy and the government does not respect the rights of the people. The government controls the university, forcing salary freezes. Access to fuel and food in Nsukka is limited. Even medical centers are on strike. Daily life is a struggle. Even Papa’s business is suffering in this climate. Soldiers storm the new offices of the Standard. Threats of violence are used to intimidate people into order. Papa’s actions can be viewed as a metaphor for the corrupt Head of State. He punishes his people by withholding and violence. Paradoxically, Papa believes in democracy.

While dining with Papa-Nnukwu, Obiora declares that morality is relative. This is an important point. Papa does not believe that morality is relative. For him, there is one true God and one true path leading to heaven. Obiora’s family is more liberal and rational and they approach faith from a broader perspective. Their morality is determined by a more humanistic approach. Papa-Nnukwu, though of a different faith, is not turned away. For Mama, morality is relative as well. When she becomes aware of the severity of the abuse, Aunty Ifeoma cannot believe that she stays in Enugu. But Mama’s experiences up to this point teach her that morality is synonymous with family. She is behaving as she always has within the family unit. When she finally comes around to putting a stop to the abuse, she poisons Papa. Even if Jaja had not taken the blame, Mama would not be considered a murderer. Her situation dictates a different code of morality.

Papa-Nnukwu shares the story of how the tortoise’s shell was cracked. In Igbo legend, the tortoise is a trickster figure that deceives the other animals in the world. In this parable, the tortoise is punished for his greed. There is a parallel in this story to what is happening in Nigeria. Dog, or the government, is hoarding food during a famine. Dog lies about how he stays healthy, as the government misdirects funds into their own pockets. The greedy Tortoise aligns himself with Dog rather than telling the rest of the animals. If you are friends with those in power, no harm will come to you. Papa criticizes the papers that are soft on the inherent corruption and he also will not participate in standard bribes. When Kevin drives Kambili and Jaja to Nsukka, he bribes soldiers at a checkpoint – something he would never do if Papa were in the car. Tortoise represents those who profit from greed. When the children wonder who in the sky is feeding Dog, Obiora guesses that it is rich ancestors. By this he means that ancestors will protect their lineage. Just as the mothers of the other animals were willing to sacrifice themselves, Dog’s mother and relatives were willing to lie for him. But they are not living up to their moral code. In the ritual that Papa-Nnukwu recites each morning, he says that he shares what little he has with those who have less.