The New Rains of Hope in Purple Hibiscus

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The New Rains of Hope: Analyzing Family, Politics, and Religion in Purple Hibiscus

In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Purple Hibiscus (2004), Adichie depicts the hypocritical nature of religious zealotry. It is in this depiction that she aligns religious zealots with oppressive despots in post-colonial Nigeria. And it is through family relationships, particularly parent-child relationships, that Adichie shows how the traditional Igbo religion clashes, usually tragically and violently, with the imported religion of colonizers: Christianity. However, even with the violence depicted in the novel, mainly by Eugene, Kambili’s father, there are several characters, namely Aunt Ifeoma, and Father Amadi that we see peaceful reconciliation between the two, symbolizing hope both in family relationships and in the political atmosphere of post-colonial Nigeria.

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While Eugene is a complex character, Adichie still takes a very distinct stance in her judgement of the father in her novel, one that is clearly negative and most consciously aligns him with the dictators he himself ironically fights against. Eugene is a severely devout Catholic. He attends Mass regularly, where he “always sat in the front pew” (Adichie 4). He is extremely involved in the Church itself and makes sure that his family follows every rule. For example, when Kambili is eating a bowl of cereal within the hour before Mass for her menstrual pains, she is beaten by her father: “Has the devil asked you all to go on errands for him? The Igbo words burst out of Papa’s mouth. “Has the devil built a tent in my house? He turned to Mama. “You sit there and watch her desecrate the Eucharist fast maka nnidi?” He unbuckled his belt slowly…I put the bowl down just as the belt landed on my back…’Why do you like sin?” (Adichie 101)

This is not the only beating inflicted by Eugene, nor the most severe, which can be contested by several instances. Eugene has beaten his wife, multiple times, while she was pregnant and has thus killed his own unborn children. And as for his living children, he has disfigured his own son, Jaja, and nearly kills Kambili for possessing a painting of his own father, a “heathen” who practices the old Igbo religion. Because of his father’s faith, he doesn’t maintain a relationship with nor fosters one for his children, only allowing an annual fifteen-minute visit on Christmas. It is shown that Jaja and Kambili do not know much about the old Igbo culture and even today, they have trouble fitting in with their peers and even their family as they do not know how to act and are kept away from truly developing bonds outside of their own home: “Are you sure they’re not abnormal, Mom?” (141) their cousin, Amaka, asks. “She behaves funny. Even Jaja is strange. Something is not right with them” (142). However, Eugene is complex. As Kambili reminds us in the last chapter of the novel, Papa Eugene also “anonymously donated to the children’s hospitals and motherless babies’ homes and disabled veterans from the civil war” (297).

And as shown throughout the novel, Papa is fighting against the military dictatorship that has taken power in his country, championing freedom of speech and doing what is “right.” These attributes make Eugene a very complex figure. How can he champion these people and freedoms while being so abusive in his own home? We do not get a view inside Eugene’s head, but one can only imagine the conflicted nature of his own soul and mind if we are to believe he truly believes in what he preaches as Christian. Through these severed family ties and Eugene’s contradictory nature, Adichie is reflecting the larger schism in Nigeria between pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial Nigeria; there are two ideologies clashing, breaking family’s apart by doctrine and ideas, breaking the nation apart as a whole. The intimate family bonds of this family reflect the problem in their society; one that is trying to reconcile with its own identify, historically, and its new life one post-colonization, where even language and concept of self has been challenged at times violently, as shown by coups and military dictatorships taking root. How can they go back to a society that some have never lived in? They have a new language, a new concept of God and lif meaning that is not easily erased.

Papa Nnewge represents traditional Nigeria, Papa is a product of the colonizers, and Kambili and her brother Jaja are born into post-colonization, a purgatory that doesn’t quite make sense to those lost in it, filled with conflict. However, there are several characters that provide hope for reconciliation and the future; primarily Aunt Ifeoma, Eugene’s sister, and Father Amadi, a Catholic priest who also embraces his Igbo identity and shows us a loving side of Christianity. Aunt Ifeoma is Catholic, like her brother, but she fosters a relationship with her father, Papa-Nnuke for herself and her children even though he practices the old ways. Criticizing Eugene’s relationship with his father because of his religion, Aunt Ifeoma says: “Eugene has to stop doing God’s job. God is big enough to do his own job. If God will judge our father for choosing to follow the way of our ancestors, then let God do the judging, not Eugene”. Indeed, this assessment of God’s power and role is truer to Christian doctrine than Eugene who has bastardized it.

Aunt Ifeoma’s judgement can further extend to Eugene’s overall abuse of his family in this matter; Eugene should not be the one punishing anyone for sins, this is God’s job, not his own. Aunt Ifeoma’s acceptance is a much kinder Christianity than we have been exposed to the novel through her brother. Farther Amadi also is a character that provides hope for Jaja and Kambili and thus also represents hope for a peaceful post-colonial society. Father Amadi takes an interest in both children as he notices that they need help based on their mannerism, particularly Kambils’ frightened quietness. He takes Kambili to both get her hair braided and to play football, after which she describes that she had “smiled, run laughed. [My] chest was filled with something like bath foam. Light. The lightness was so sweet I tasted it on my tongue” (181). Kambili eventually falls in love with Father Amadi, and it is their friendship, along with Aunt Ifeoma’s overall sphere of influence that push Jaja and Kambali to grow into their own people who make their own choices based on their own moral codes, not out of fear of their father’s punishment. It is through Aunt Ifeoma and Father Amadi that we see Christianity in a positive light. If one were to only see Papa Eugene’s practice, it would be easy to dismiss the religion of the colonizers and to advocate for the old ways.

However, the conflict truly is in the idea that these people believe Christianity and there is no way back to truly go back their old ways, at least not purely. This is the conflict of post-colonial Nigeria; Post-Colonial Nigeria cannot be the same as pre-Colonial Nigeria. It is through this family that Adichie magnifies the issues facing the society at large. However, there is hope for peace, family, and love in post-colonial Nigeria &for Jaja and Kambili. As Adichi concludes the novel: “The new rains will come down soon” (307). 

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The New Rains of Hope in Purple Hibiscus. (2021, Oct 20). Retrieved from