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Purple Hibiscus – Summary

Purple Hibiscus is Chimamanda Adichie’s first novel. Here is a quick summary of the story and what it represents.

Purple Hibiscus – Summary

The timid Kamibili lived in a luxurious home in Enugu, a city in South-East Nigeria. Her father was a wealthy factory owner, philanthropist, staunch catholic, human right activist, and newspaper owner. Eugene Achike, also known as Papa in the story, is reverend in St. Agnes for his devoutness to church activities and monetary support for the church. Consequently, he tried hard to burrow his two children, Kamibili and Jaja, into his extreme belief. Papa planned their lives and hired a chauffeur to drive Kamibili and Jaja to school and anywhere else daily. He tasked the chauffeur to report Kamibili’s behavior and Chukwuka’s (Jaja) to him.

Eugene is famed and respected by outsiders for his philanthropic activities, devoutness to church activities, and human rights activities. At home, he abused everyone in his family. Whenever he honked his car horn outside the gate, everything at his house would slide into silence and tremble. Papa demanded them to follow in his footsteps, and any slip would attract severe punishment; this also holds for his wife. Mama had learned to find peace by watching a collection of figurines of ballet dancers in the luxury house.

Outsiders saw Eugene as a fearless man for criticizing bad governance through his newspaper – The Standard. However, the government saw him as a threat. When the military ousted the democratic government, he continued to take a swipe at the military government through the Standard.

Mama got pregnant again after many miscarriages, so she felt dizzy most time. On Pentecost Sunday, her giddiness worsened, making her dodge her social duty. Papa was enraged by Mama’s absence from the church, so he beat her so that she lost her pregnancy again. Mama fainted, and Papa carried her to a hospital nearby. Kamibili and Jaja watched him take their mother to a hospital in horror.

The mental and physical abuse Kamibili and Jaja were subjected to at home began to affect them badly. They struggled to get the first positions their intelligence reserved for them. When Kamibili came second in her class, Papa fumed. Papa was set to punish Kamibili for downgrading to a second position instead of first but got interrupted by the arrest of Ade Cooker, his newspaper’s editor.

Coker was a strong critic of the military government. After he was released from the hellish military prison, Papa relaxed. He focused his mind and time on his children. When he turned to poorly performed Kamibili he said that God is perfect and expects the same from his servants.

On the eve of Christmas, the Achike family made a plan to visit their home in Abba. It is a tradition for every family living outside their hometown to come back for the Christmas celebration in Nigeria. The Achike’s visited Abba, where Eugene’s father – Papa-Nnukwu, also lived. Papa was also popular in Abba and had a mansion there too. So, when the villagers learned he was back, they began to troop his compound.

The known generous man, Papa, gave the visitors gifts, whereas Mama fed the village women. Papa granted Kamibili and Jaja’s request to visit Papa-Nnukwu for 15 minutes only. Papa did not want his children to stay long with Papa-Nnukwu because he saw Papa-Nnukwu as a heathen.

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Aunty Ifeoma also visited Abba with her three children. Aunty Ifeoma is a single mother and sister to Papa. Unlike her brother, she was liberal. Aunty Ifeoma allowed her children to express themselves without any threat of punishment. She was a lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

In Abba, Aunty Ifeoma took Kamibili and Jaja to a traditional festival against the wish of Papa, along with Papa-Nnukwu, who Papa perceived as a heathen. Kamibili and Jaja heard Igbo folklore from the aged Papa-Nnukwu for the first time. Papa eventually learned that Kamibili and Jaja had gone out to the heathen festival; he made them stand in boiling water.

Jaja had become more defiant and requested that he and his sister spend their Easter holiday in Nsukka. Papa grudgingly agreed. Jaja quickly adapted to the new environment, whereas Kamibili struggled with it. She was slow to learn the house chores, and Amaka, the daughter of Aunty Ifeoma, chided her for coming from a wealthy family. Kamibili began to explore after meeting Father Amadi. Father Amadi was a supportive Catholic.

Father Amadi persuaded her to sing and run to overwhelm her timidity. Kamibili began to have affectionate feelings towards the Father, from whom she learned one can still express oneself and still be a staunch Christian.

Papa-Nnukwu fell sick, and Aunty Ifeoma brought him in for care. She had protested to Papa against his ill-treatment of Papa-Nnukwu, but he only agreed to do better if Papa-Nnnukwu embraced Christianity. Papa learned that heathen Papa-Nnukwu was staying with his children; he went to Nsukka to bring Kamibili and Jaja home. Aunty Ifeoma gifted Kamibili and Jaja Papa-Nnukwu’s art painting. Unfortunately, Papa learned about the gift and beats Kamibili into a coma.

Ade Coker was on the military watchlist for a long time, so he got arrested again for violating the health code, and this time, he got killed.

The situation was tense in Enugu, so Papa asked Aunty Ifeoma that Kamibili and Jaja go over to her place.

Mama paid them an impromptu visit in Enugu, and Papa beats her again into miscarriage and took her children home against Aunty Ifeoma’s wish.

Jaja had become increasingly stubborn at home. One Palm Sunday, he refused to take Holy Communion, prompting Papa to sling the heavy liturgical book at him, but he dodged it. The book hit Mama’s portrait, shattering it into pieces. Since then, he had been resisting Papa’s abuse at home, making others fear him less.

Aunty Ifeoma was fired from her lecturing job at the University of Nsukka and had applied for an American visa, while Father Amadi got an appointment in Germany.

Papa died. Mama poisoned his food. An autopsy was conducted on his remains; the result stated that he died of food poisoning. Jaja learning his mother had poisoned Papa, decided to bear the blame. Mama used her husband’s money to get lawyers and bribe judges to get a loose judgment. Jaja ended up in prison. After spending 30 months in the prison, Mama visited him to share a piece of good news. She rejoiced over the change in government. With the incumbent leaders assuming office, Jaja would be pardoned.

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How did Purple Hibiscus end

Kamibili, Jaja, and Mama had grown tired of Papa’s mental and physical abuse. Kamibili decided to stay with Aunty Ifeoma after she left the hospital. Jaja was more defiant after getting exposed to the taste of liberty at Aunty Ifeoma’s house. Papa had lost all his respect. Mama poisoned his food, so he died an untimely death. The autopsy result revealed that Papa was poisoned. Jaja learning his mother did it, took the blame and ended up in prison.

The setting of the novel

The setting of the novel is Enugu, South East, Nigeria, in the 1980s when Nigeria was having a political crisis and those criticizing it were murdered. Ade Coker, in the novel, represents Dele Giwa, an editor who was murdered with a letter bomb in the 80s.

About the author of Purple Hibiscus 

Purple Hibiscus was written by a Nigerian-American novelist, feminist and short story writer, Chimamanda Ngọzi Adichie. Chimamanda Adichie was born on 15th September 1977, in Enugu, Enugu State, Nigeria. She was born into a family with strong educational background (her father and mother were professors at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka). Purple Hibiscus is her first novel, published in 2003.


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