Purple Hibiscus (Adichie) is a fascinating novel which tells about a young Nigerian female named Kambili. Kambili wants to be freed from her oppressive upbringing. Adichie uses many symbols in the book to express her message. Some of these include nature, pathetic fallacy, and many others. The symbolism used in the novel can be used to help readers better understand the storyline and the character. This essay examines the meaning and impact of the purple-hibiscus symbolism used in the book. The essay will therefore be about purple hibiscus.
The red, purple, and blue hibiscus are seen as important by Kambili Jaja on several occasions throughout the novel. Purple flowers are described as “rare and fragrant, with undertones that evoke freedom” (16), which conveys both their uniqueness and importance. Before “things started falling apart”, hibiscuses had a vibrant colour, which showed that the flower hadn’t fully bloomed yet and that there was still freedom in the home. Kambili, who has spent her entire childhood cleaning her mother’s blood, is haunted as the color red represents anger and violent behavior. Kambili has trouble focusing for a while and is only able to read in a “blurry black, the letters merging into each other and then changing to a brighter red, the blood red”. Red hibiscuses are a symbol of oppression in the family because Papa uses violence to keep his wife, children, and himself under control. When the children visit Aunty Ifeoma at Nsukka they only notice purple hibiscus flowers. They’re surprised because “[they] did not know there [were]” (128). Kambili, Jaja and their cousins discover not only a new flower in Nsukka but also what freedom really is. Jaja and Kambili see that Aunty Ifeoma’s life is controlled and rigid, in contrast to their cousins whose lives are free. Jaja thinks that purple hibiscus symbolizes hope of a better life, one without Papa’s strict rules. He plants a stalk in his garden and takes it home in hopes that freedom is soon to come. Adichie foreshadows Jaja’s decisions to rebel from the first moment he spots the rare flowers. He refuses to attend Communion and Papa throws a “missal in the air” (3). In the following days, flowers “started to grow sleepy buds,” despite the fact that most of them were still on the reds (9). Jaja begins to rebel against Papa as the purple hibiscus flowers begin to bloom. The flowers are a symbol of Jaja’s growing maturity. Kambili is staying at Nsukka when she discovers “a slithering earthworm” in the bathtub. While she knew Obiora’s fascination with worms was well-known, she decided to “throw it in the bathroom” (233), without flushing. She removes it instead of dealing the crawling pest. The earthworm symbolises Kambili’s mood. This time, her turmoil. It also shows that she is unsure about her emotions throughout the novel. Kambili is getting her haircut when she notices that a snail has been placed in a basket. She realized she was similar to the snail as it “crawled out, crawled back in, then crawled out again [of the open basket]” (238). Kambili’s father’s home is her basket. Like the snail, she tries to crawl out but keeps being pushed in. Aunty Ifeoma’s and Father Amadi’s love helps her to grow in maturity and strength. She bathes again later in the book, but leaves the earthworms behind this time. Kambili comes to appreciate the world around her and learns how to coexist with it. While she sings and takes a bath after meeting Father Amadi it is evident that her joy has been revealed. She no longer needs to rely on haunting memories. Kambili’s maturation is shown by her use of symbolism, such as snails or earthworms.
Adichie, in Purple Hibiscus also uses fallacy to illustrate the thoughts of her characters. After Palm Monday, “howling rains came with angry winds” that uprooted trees and caused the dish to crash. The pathetic fallacy was used to show the similarities in weather and atmosphere of Achike household after Jaja had missed communion. The purple hibiscus [were] also about to blossom” which represents Jaja’s decision on missing communion. When Ade Cocker was killed, the author used a similar pathetic fallacy. . . The rain was furious and strange. The heavy rains represent the depressive and difficult state that Papa is in due to the death of his friend. At the end, when Mama and Kambili are visiting Jaja, they describe the clouds as “like cotton-wool [hanging] down”, giving them an ambiguity. Adichie also uses nature imagery to express Kambili’s future thoughts. Kambili thinks she’ll “plant new trees” in the future. . . Jaja, too, will plant purple-hibiscus flowers”. Kambili believes that Jaja’s release from prison is imminent, and she still has hope for her family to go back to Abba. Jaja is still a hope for her, as she believes that by planting purple hibiscus in his yard he has brought freedom to the home.
Adichie uses pathetic fallacy and imagery to develop the plot of the novel and the characters. The hibiscus in purple and red represent Jaja’s struggle to deal with oppression versus freedom. Kambili’s mature nature, symbolized in the novel, reflects both her inner confusion about her own life and her happiness. The novel is a series of thoughts revealed through pathetic Fallacy. Adichie uses symbols to show characters’ inner feelings and actions.
Gebreyohannes, N. M., & David, A. D. (2022). Women and nature: An ecofeminist reading of Chimamanda ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus. Literature, 2(3), 179-188. (https://www.mdpi.com/2410-9789/2/3/15)
Kabore, A. (2013). The Symbolic Meaning of Hibiscus, Palm, and Figurines in Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus. Linguistics and Literature Studies published an article in their first volume, examining the relationship between the two disciplines. The study found that there was a strong connection between the two and that each could benefit from being studied in relation to the other. The article was published in the first volume of the journal, on pages 32-36. (https://www.academia.edu/68027237/The_Symbolic_Use_of_Palm_Figurines_and_Hibiscus_in_Adichies_Purple_Hibiscus)
Kurtz, J. R. (2011). The intertextual imaginative in Purple Hibiscus. Ariel: a Review of International English Literature, 42(2). (https://journalhosting.ucalgary.ca/index.php/ariel/article/view/35195)
Nigus Michael Gebreyohannes, Abiye Daniel David (2022) Women and Nature: An Ecofeminist Reading of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus (https://www.mdpi.com/2410-9789/2/3/15)
Tunca, D. (2009). Ideology of Chimamanda’s Purple Hibiscus, 2003. English Text Construction, 2(1), 121-131. (https://www.jbe-platform.com/content/journals/10.1075/etc.2.1.07tun)