A Postcolonial Reading of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The Purple Hibiscus

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Religious Ideologies and Fractured Identities: A Postcolonial Reading of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The Purple Hibiscus.

 

ABSTRACT

Literature has been a mirror to human society since the birth of civilization. It has been used by people to exhibit their culture, promote certain ideologies, create an individual identity and even to express oneself without fear of being stereotyped and restricted by certain narrow and shortsighted worldviews. In a socio-political world, the concept of identity has been given so much importance as the identities of numerous cultures, ethnic groups and even individual identity is under threat due to the ideologies that consciously or unconsciously attempts to normalize these divergent identities. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The Purple Hibiscus (2004) is a novel that deals with the issues of everyday life. The novel touches on domestic violence and questions the nature and essence of love, patriarchy, imprisonment, religious and political suffering and above all, its repercussions on the formulation of individual identity. This paper therefore, aims to assess how ideologies mold an individual’s identity in the postcolonial era. This is achieved through a detailed analysis of the novel that is considered to be an accurate representation of the postcolonial Nigeria.

Keywords: Identity, Ideology, Religion, Postcolonialism, violence.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, an established third generation African writer, is renowned for her exploration of postcolonial fractured identities. Her novel The Purple Hibiscus, published in the year 2003, is a genuine example of such an exploration of identity. Combining themes like ethnicity, culture, gender and traces of historical revisionism through embodied discourses of pain, violence and power[1], Adichie explores the dynamics of power structure through the layered construction of the novel and examines the way power shapes subjectivity. Power, as depicted in the novel, is a force that creates as well as restructure ‘identities’.

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The novel is set on the issues of ethnic tensions and political unrest in Nigeria and finds these turbulent times as a parallel for the postmodern age. Adichie focuses on an Igbo family and captures the complexity and range of Nigerian experiences through the development of a young narrator Kambili Achike. She is a fifteen-year-old girl who is the protagonist of the novel set in the south-eastern part of Nigeria in the late twentieth century. It’s the story of her father Eugene Adikie, a wealthy businesses man a staunch Catholic and an anglophile. Eugene is portrayed as a man of few words with great respect in the society for his large donations at local churches and yet, he remains a violent authoritarian at home who beats up his wife Beatrice and the kids Jaja and Kambili. He shows no generosity towards his father who is a follower of traditional Igbo religion. He also publishes newspaper The Standard which speaks for justice and against the Nigerian dictatorship. The children fail to live up to Eugene’s expectations as their spirits get crushed because of his strictness. Ultimately, Jaja and Kambli leave to Aunt Ifeoma, Eugene’s sister, who lives at Nusukku in a small apartment with her three children Obiara, Amaka and Chima. She is a widow who raises her kids all alone and tries to face the financial challenges by being a university lecturer. In spite of all her hardships, her house remains cheerful with chatter and laughter. The children changes from the attitude of paterfamilias to much ambivalent attitude towards parents and this shifts happens after exposing themselves with aunt Ifeoma and her kids as well as to their paternal grandfather, Papa-Nnukwu and father Amadi, a very progressive active young priest. The whole family of Achikie gets their freedom after the death of Eugene, who is poisoned by Beatrice his wife and the novel ends with a strong sense of hope, optimism, and liberation towards self.

Set in at a time when colonialism was influencing the nation culturally, socially, and spiritually, the novel explores the repercussions of these on one’s individual identity. Through the opening line “Things starts to fall apart at home” (pp.1), Adichie refers to Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart and pays tribute to Achebe, who helped create an identity for African literature in the modern literary tradition. According to Sophia O Ogqude, “The Purple Hibiscus follows the well-worn theme of the colonial invasion of Africa in the late 19th century and the consequent cultural conflicts between the colonizing other.” (P.110). The way one finds an identity or seeks for identity requires a psychoanalytic approach when concerned with this particular bildungsroman. The protagonist of the novel loves her father so much that his love is hidden because of all the brutal treatment towards her. She lives each day with the burden of her father’s expectation that she forgets to have a life of her own. Therefore as Karen Bruce puts forth, “Kambili has internalized her father’s authority to such an extent that it has become an unquestioned part of the way she experiences and interacts with the world.” The novel focuses on the conflicts of identity through the stereotyped ideologies of religion, culture and moral principles.

Postcolonial Identity

 

[2]The term ‘Postcolonialism’ refers to the representation of race, ethnicity, culture and human identity. In the modern era, the Nigerian society has undergone stages of development in literature and it is characterized by linguistic diffusion and significant cultural diversity within regions and countries. In the book “Souls of the black folk” by W.E.B DuBois, it is said that “what is meant by negro identity cannot be exactly wrapped onto ideologies because the differential and highly contextualized meaning of blackness are closely and significantly bound to histories inhabited and analyzed by Bois and cannot be adequately interrogated without those histories. Therefore Postcolonial theories are seen as forms of struggle against the colonial practices it is also seen as an approach that liberates and supports the colonized. The theories provide an understanding  that creates a pragmatic and reflective way to help the colonized oppression, and it helps to gain an understanding about the domination of power which has been imposed and how identities are constructed via regimes of power. It works on different identities which reject the legal and political systems of the western norms and conventions the study has expanded globally were importance is given to diasporic cultures migrants, economy, lifestyle, and indigenous communities. According to Bhabha (2004, 72–73), “The colonial discourse made a difference ontological so that Europeans’ identity would appear as if it had organic qualities and was simultaneously portrayed as superior to the uncivilized and invisible ‘Other’.” Therefore identities are built through differences and debarment furthermore identities are made to be different  from one person to another, more than any form of  similarity within the same identity group internally .

The difference was one of the main elements in the formation of identity. i.e race, region ,class and other forms of identity. “I will say that the black man is not a man” (Fanon 1967, 8). In other words, Fanon views says that the black people have merely reduced themselves to objects without  identities of their own and  have overcome their historical past and beliefs, He writes that “the essence of colonized peoples’ struggle should not exclusively focus on their social and economic oppression, but also their internalization of forced constructions of self and identity.” (14–15). Bhabha also argues that “the difference which creates a self-image of identity is an image of post-Enlightenment man tethered to, not confronted by, his dark reflection, the shadow of colonized man, that splits his presence, distorts his outline, breaches his boundaries, repeats his action at a distance, disturbs and divides the very time of his being.” (2004, 62). Furthermore, Fanon says that “[w]hat is often called the black soul is a white man’s artifact.”(Fanon 1967, 6). In other words, there is a reflection of the white soul in the self of the black soul which creates and projects the black person without much importance given to the formation of the black identity which results in the loss of their uniqueness.

The humans create a perceived identity of self, body, and gender and the way of expression  which actually extends beyond an individual’s perception of thinking and it doesn’t encompass one’s family but extends beyond a person’s biological self the  human beings create for themselves an identity which is different from some national to some its racial group .many individuals conceptualize identity differently and it mostly depends on  ethnic  and language conceptualizations of their own identities and for others the identification with all of humankind is stronger than with that of the ethnic or language group into which they happen to be born.

Furthermore, the most guiding principle of an individual’s personality is the psychological balance of forces that have been established based on his or her heredity and life experience. Following these personality dynamics, some individuals may instinctively rebel against authority, or follow authority slavishly; they may find comfortable what is old and established, or favor what is new; they may be animated by a passion for justice and a resentment of inequality, or cynically accept injustice and inequality as inevitable and unchangeable. Therefore ideology plays a crucial role in influencing an individual’s interest where the individual loses his or her interest on the bases of the ideology that is set around them.

 

Religious Ideologies

 

There are incidences in the novel that brings out the flawed identity of an individual through the different opinions and views on religion. The religious identity is one important factor that emerges quite strongly throughout the novel of Purple Hibiscus. The European missionaries spread Christianity in Nigeria and were very involved in the conversion and therefore, in conflict between the traditional views and the religious views. The very first chapter of the books starts with Palm Sunday, and it portrays what the children of Eugene go through when Jaja Denys take communion. The father forces his strict Catholic principles on the children. Kambili and Jaja go through oppression in the name of religion. He controls the kids in a very stern way that whatever they do, it should be up to his expectations and when they don’t, he punishes them severely to protect them from the “burning fires of hell”[3]. Papa is shown as someone who imposes religion but remains to be a different character too were he wins a human rights award and he doesn’t prefer himself to be projected in his own newspapers, Eugene is given so much high respect by the community. He remains to be modest with his principles and qualities.When he finds Kambili eating before the mass he hits her with his belt “Has the devil built a tent in my house?” (PP.102) He shows no humanness towards her and later feels embarrassed about himself and questions, “Why do you like sin?” (pp.102). Her father conditions Kambili; everything seems to be a sin in her eyes, When the little girl sees her grand-father  praying, it changes her view on religion and it turns out to be an eye-opener. The novel makes the reader realize that all religions are same at the heart. Papa Nnukwu’s believes on the traditional African religion which makes him happy and he holds on to his beliefs though his children are converted to Catholicism . Kambili is deeply grazed by what she sees and it increases her belief and willingness to accept the beyond the barriers of one religion as she realizes that Papa Nnukwu is a traditionalist who holds on to his ancestral roots.

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Religion plays a crucial role in Achike’s family so much so that they said their grace before every meals with rosary, and they never missed an opportunity to pray and attend mass. This differs significantly with the beliefs and atmosphere at aunty Ifeoma’s house. Kambili is shocked when she sees her aunt prays for “peace and laughter” (pp.127). Also while praying, they sang Igbo songs which initially makes Kambili and Jaja uncomfortable, “Morning and night prayers were always peppered with Igbo praise songs.” (pp.140) This was a practice that was supported by Fr.Amadi. Fr.Amadi  was more like a family priest to Aunt Ifeoma. He is a young priest whom Kambili has ever known. Kambili develops a passion for Father Amadi ,he is handsome and young . She ends up liking him so much for his kindness and gentlness towards her and he takes much care on Kambili. “I looked up to find Father Amadi’s eyes on me.”(pp.139)  Kambili , doesn’t  understand her feelings towards Fr.Amadi , she is drawn sexually towards his pastoral manliness. This, of course, can never be adequately reciprocated by Fr.Amadi. Fr. Amadi , is a Catholic priest who is abstained from marriage and sexual relationships. Fr.Amadi is an amazing person who is entirely different from Fr.Bendict  a priest at Enugu and he is appreciated greatly by papa .Father Bendict is a priest at St.Agnes who firmly hears Kambili’s confessions he is strict, white and a stereotypical priest. He stays blind-eye to papa’s vehemence towards his family because of his contributions to the church by cash and by being good. But father Amadi says Kambili ,that religion should not be of law and order but the way of life we practice .Purple Hibiscus questions the nature of love through suffering, ill-treatment ad imprisonment by religion and politics. She realizes that the faith of father Amadi is not only at spiritual places but also through nature and goodness.Kambili’s faith was unlike Papa’s but she remains to be a true devout.  

Religion turns out to be as repressive as politics that it creates room for misrepresenting the truth, intolerance and adamancy which has turned out to be a stress on the individual psyche in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel.Adichie tries to clear and analyze how Christianity makes an individual one’s faith to ignore certain beliefs and oppress the one close to them by sketching parallels between Christianity and traditional African faith. Eugene and Papa-Nnukwu whom he calls a heathen share conflicting ideologies and opinions. Although Eugene is known for his magnanimity and cared to work for the poor and for the people in need, Eugene’s care towards his father was not good, he neither visited him nor permitted him into his two locales; the rural and urban; because he refused to transform or change his beliefs towards Christianity . He sends his children to visit their grand-father’s house for just 15-minutes and instructed them not to touch or eat anything .Ifeoma keeps reminding him that he to “has to stop doing God’s job. God is big enough to do his job. If God will judge our father for choosing to follow the way of our fancestors, then let God do the judging.” (pp.95) However, Eugene’s fudametalism did not allow Eugene to be rational. He criticizes everyone around him, who worships loud with too much enjoyment and broadmindedness and compares them to “the mushroom Pentecostal.”(pp.5) He feels Christianity should not be of too much excitement and rejoicing but rather feels it should be very devouted and serious in faith .He expects Kambili, Jaja and Beatrice to be submissive and he hates them raising voices, the family is not allowed to watch TV or even listen to music. The Achike’s live a life through schedules in contrast to Aunt Ifeoma. Failure to cling on to the father’s instructions or  follow Catholic principles or coming second in anything at school is punishable. Eugene’s voice is an authority, and he appears to be larger than life. Through the use of the first person narrative voice, especially that of an innocent child like Kambili believes that laughing, smiling or looking at one’s reflection in the mirror is sin, Adichie makes the  reader to understand and tries to make the reader interpret his/her imaginary experience as a power to voice is kept to the background. Kambili recollects the brutal act of her father when her mother suffers two miscarriages and she feels pity about the mother at the hands of an unforgiving husband. Eugene expects his kids to come first in class and also punishes Kambili for eating before mass. She also reminds herself the incident when their legs were scalded because they didn’t tell papa that they shared the same room with their grandfather, she thinks how she got back her consciousness at the hospital and had to write her examinations at the hospital just because she wanted to protect the pieces of their grandfather’s painting shred by their father; and how the 17 year-Jaja has his finger incapacitated. She had been made to believe that pagans are different from Christians, but Kambili is taken aback by her grandfather’s prayer: “Chineke! I have killed no one, I have taken no one’s land, I have not committed adultery…Chineke! Bless my son, Eugene. Let the sun not set on his prosperity.”(pp.168) After he punishes her by pouring hot water on her feet,Eugene tells her : “That is what you do to yourself when you walk into sin. You burn your feet.”(pp.194). Eugene refuses to go to his father’s funeral or even mourn just because aunt Ifeoma rejects to bury him according to the catholic proceedings.Reluctantly he rends money to buy seven head of cattle for Papa-Nnukwu’s funeral, with a dissatisfaction saying “pagan funerals are expensive.”(pp.192).Eugene fights against the political conflicts through his newspaper, The Standard, but at the same time he doesn’t fight the oppression in his own family; psychologically, physically and emotionally. His editor Ade Coker says of his children: “Imagine what The Standard would be if we were all quiet.”(pp.58).Eugene doesn’t champion democracy as he is harbored to subjugation and silence causing suffering .Silence is used as a weapon against oppression leaving a trail of destruction .His tyrannical nature shows itself above his hypocritical philanthropy. He lambasts the military government through his editor Ade Coker, who dies at the brutal hand of The Head of State, is no worse than him. Kambili discovers herher voice, laughter and smile through the young priest .Father Amadi, a regular visitor at her aunt’s place; and because she has never been exposed to love and intimacy, her heart falls for him; but he does not encourage her, which pains her. Jaja also develops through exposure at Nsukka.

According to Madelaine Hron, (2009) as the family of Kambili and Jaja succumbs to the colonial and religious insistence, they must come to terms with their own identity. The task finds its metaphorical parallel in the conflict of Nigeria to create an identity of the self in the modern society. As the children develop their identity in a postcolonial stage, the nation tries to reclaim an identity in globalization. Even though the children are Igbo, they are stripped off their cultural and ethnic identity due to the violence that rippled through the nation. The ability to integrate the personal characteristics and external social and cultural factors into developing a homogenous self is a skill present only in the adult brain whereas, children and adolescents are incapable on such an integration of identity. Similarly, Kambili and Jaja go through a lot of conflicts within themselves that are fragmentary affecting each other. For instance, Kambli says that “I would sit with my knees pressed together, next to Jaja, trying hard to keep my face blank, to keep the pride from showing, because Papa said modesty was essential.”(pp.5) Jaja says that “He hardly spoke Igbo, and although Jaja and I spoke it with Mama at home, he did not like us to speak it in public. We had to sound civilized in public, he told us; we had to speak English. Papa’s sister, Aunty Ifeoma, said once that Papa was too much of a colonial product” (pp.13)These incidences show that Papa takes pride in being like the English and expects even his kids to grow in his ways. Therefore his stereotyped ideologies affect the growth of an individual identity of self, body image.

Power is one crucial factor that plays a role throughout the novel. Eugene Achike is so much influenced by the colonial power, and he uses that power to voice out the freedom in the newspaper The Standard. It is also ironic that throughout the novel Eugene fights for his country though influenced so much by the colonial power. Even though, he makes significant donations to the church and is constantly trying to be a respected and approved name in the society, he remains a person with a lack of love within his house. Though he remains to be a brutal person, his wife and children are proud of his progress in society. Kambili takes every word he says to her heart and obeys him out of respect that he has in the society. Eugene’s love for his daughter is largely overshadowed by his desire for power and dominance. He is hurt even when he punishes Kambili for her mistakes. When he pours hot water over her feet as a punishment, tears stream down his eyes, out of his fatherly love. Beatrice, in a similar manner, remains loyal to him and supports him until she decides to make decisions for herself in an attempt to be recognized as an individual at which point she is beaten up so badly that she had to be hospitalized. The Achike’s family live a prison-like life, but remains grateful to Eugene. The children are raised in a rigorous manner but both Kambili and Jaja find it really hard out in the world. At school, and even with their cousins, Kambili walks around with her tongue-tied and she longs to speak and express her choices in life, but she finds herself tied to her father’s expectations. The physical and emotional abuse that haunts the family leads to two miscarriages for Beatrice.

Unlike Beatrice, aunt Ifeoma is portrayed to be more independent since she takes a hard stand against the power and leaves Nigeria for America. Her independence is evident through the fact that she has managed to take care of her three children single handedly while being employed as a professor. When Kambili and Jaja leave to aunt Ifeoma’s place, they realize that they have been living within boundaries of the father and his strict rules. Even when things fall apart, leaving Eugene dead and Jaja at jail, the novel ends with a sense of hope and freedom.

 

 

 

Conclusion

In order to discover selfhood, one has to break through all fragmented segments of their identities including political, cultural, and familial impacts, and the emanating Nigeria faces the same strenuous task.  Kambili and Jaja are engulfed by contradicting forces: Indigenous and colonial, pagan and Christian,  Nigerian and English, individual and familial loyalty. Therefore, for the children of Nigeria, it is nearly impossible to develop a cohesive sense of self. In order to reclaim or navigate a new sense of identity, it is inevitable to come to terms with the past and it holds true not just for an individual but also for a nation. For emerging nations like Nigeria, this includes acknowledging the roles that individual, ethnic and cultural groups play in prospering  identity and culture nationally. Taking individuals into consideration, this emphasizes on striving to make sense of situations that are beyond one’s grasp and assessing their experiences . In Purple Hibiscus, Papa-Nnukwu, as all of the Achikes, is ethnically Igbo and  portrays indigenous culture of Igboland. However, he is the only traditionalist who practices Igbo. It is this culture, united with the colonizing customs that has kindled the sibling futures of Nigeria, that Eugene and Ifeoma represent: autocracy and democracy.

Like ancient culture casting the face of a colonizer, he is a father that must let his progenies become their own individuals—intimated by, but not clones of, Papa-Nnukwu himself. Kambili and Jaja are left to grow up on their own with an inconsistent worldview, informed only by the restricted and somewhat tyrannical way of life depicted by their father; they lack comprehension of cultural heritage. Nigeria and its representatives, Kambili and Jaja, must habituate and change, finding their own distinctiveness in the new world since the ancient world, the world of their parents and grandparents, is no more.

Undiscerned potentials, unrealized demands, or rather unfulfilled options of identity always remains in every person’s life. It is this aspect of possibility, the fact that “all existing clothes are always too tight” ( p.37), partially makes a living well for human. Consequently, the language of the novel is the most appreciated form to express and shape this “un-fleshed-out human attributes” deep rooted in every identity construction.

Bakhtin’s narrative critique suggests a satirical view of human beings, as always making something of themselves, perhaps, rendering false conclusive version of their identity. His perspective paves way to a genre that offers an understanding of human nature being just this way. For in the novel, irrespective of the interpretations and elucidation of a character it comprises, “an unrealised surplus of humanness” is also left behind.

As a conclusion, the consideration of life narratives is not only merged to actual human lifeworld’s but also exhibits immense possibilities and chances to construct human identity. The concern of ethics, identity and peaceful coexistence are the various facets, and particularly the important questions posed for the twenty-first century: who we are and how we live with fellow beings abridges the intertwined nature of the problem. Postcolonial theorists who addressed these questions failed to look at the entire perspective since the questions have theological and religious implications.

References ;

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