Purple Hibiscus Novel
Of her beginnings as a writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says:
I didn’t ever consciously decide to pursue writing. I’ve been writing since I was old enough to spell, and just sitting down and writing made me feel incredibly fulfilled (Anya).
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But by the time she was 21, Adichie had already published a collection of poetry, Decisions (1997), and a play, For Love of Biafra (1998). Decisions, Adichie’s first book-length published work, tackled themes such as politics, religion, and love – subject matters that were to become trademarks of the author’s later writing. In the collection, the young author occasionally voiced hope for her country’s future, but in many of the political pieces she stems her emotions from her difficult upbringing in a strict Christian society, chronicling the trials and tribulations she’d faced growing up as an Igbo in Nigeria.
“Things began to fall apart at home,” go the first lines of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s acclaimed first novel, Purple Hibiscus, “when my brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the étagère.” The reference to “Things Fall Apart”, Chinua Achebe’s masterpiece about colonialism destroying tradition, marks Adichie’s debt to her Igbo forebear but also signals her differing concerns. The sentence could perhaps be read to distill the larger ambitions of Adichie’s work thus far: to engage the themes that long defined African literature—the legacies of colonialism, the cause of nation-building—but to do so in a way expressive of a new generation’s ironic view of these questions, and in a way attuned to the intimate lives of her characters.
Adichie was born in 1977 in Enugu, a small village in Anambra state, in southeast Nigeria. She grew up, though, in the university town of Nsukka, where her parents still work, and where she spent her childhood in a house that was once home to Achebe himself. Upon discovering his work at the age of ten, she has recalled: “I didn’t think it was possible for people like me to be in books,” the foundation to her 2013 TED Talk titled, “The Danger of a Single Story.” She briefly studied medicine for gratify her father’s dream for her; “It’s what educated Nigerians are supposed to do” she recalls, but having hoped from a young age to be a writer, she soon quit her course and moved to the United States to finish college (Jelly-Shapiro).
When arriving in the United States for the first time in 1998, she was dumbfounded on encountering such a thing as poverty in a country like America. Growing up, she had watched many American movies and TV shows, and the conditions that she saw driving through Philadelphia on her way to Drexel University jarred her. Yet, nothing would amount to the uncomfortability she’d felt faced with her roommate’s pity when she claimed to have grown up in Nigeria. Utilized as an excerpt in her TED Talk, her speech preached that everyone can be guilty of not seeing the full picture and it’s why its representation in media and literature matters greatly. According to Adichie, she recollects this:
Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity…In this single story, there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals (Adichie).
Meanwhile, finding interest that US programs had to offer, she decided to take up more courses in her past time. She transferred from Drexel to Eastern Connecticut State University, where she studied communications and political science while her pen continued to write. Adichie later earned master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins University and Yale. Then she began writing full-time.
Purple Hibiscus, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2004 for best first book, depicts a teenage narrator and her brother coming to terms with their authoritarian Catholic father as Nigeria begins to fall apart under a military coup. In comparison, Half of a Yellow Sun is more engaged with the outside political world and is centered on the effects that Nigeria’s colonial past; it has helped inspire new, cross-generational communication about the Biafran war. In this and in her other works, she seeks to instill dignity into the finest details of each character, whether poor, middle class or rich, exposing along the way the deep scars of colonialism in the African landscape. She has also written a play, For Love of Biafra (1998), which is an earlier dramatised account of the war; short stories; and a collection of poems entitled Decisions (1998).
Despite her world renowned works, her career is best defined by one significant achievement, the ability to give millennial women the definition of feminism that they could get on board with, recorded as: “Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes’ (Lindsay). On The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, she reiterates that the idea behind feminism isn’t just to convey that you support the empowerment of women but it’s also used to say that you’ve accepted yourself before accepting what society thinks of you. Not only is she a gifted storyteller and a speaker for the unspoken, but her confidence and presence in our developing world encourages others to model her positive characteristics. Despite her rocky childhood, Adichie is a result of hard work, determination, and most importantly, self will. She put in immeasurable efforts regarding her education after witnessing heroes from her very hometown featured on billboards and magazines. Adichie also wants American readers to know that African writers don’t just write about Africa’s problems.
When we talk about the developing world, there’s this idea that everybody should be fighting for the poor, she says. Though it might seem obvious to point out, she adds, people are diverse, and there are different things that are going on with them (qtd. in Adichie 15).
In conclusion, Adichie’s postcolonial writing about Nigeria demonstrates a capacity to look at the family and the wider public sphere with equal regard. Her fiction asks questions about the roles played by colonialism and present day corruption in the conflicts of the land of her birth, and she refuses to simplify the problems or solutions (Ellam). Her aspiration to challenge society’s ideals on how men and women should act reinforced the pathways to establishing a modernized society.