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Hardship: The Road To Individuality
Living in paradise embodies the idea of a perfect life: one away from conflict, agony, and affliction. There would be no reason to worry, no sorrow, and no hardships to overcome. But life is not that simple. Alternatively, it is a continuous fight to become better, find purpose, and evolve as an individual. Moreover, this message is conveyed through works of literature like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. In their novels, the authors trace the protagonists’ journeys and uncover how their personal encounters reflect a common idea regarding individuality. In Purple Hibiscus, Kambili Achike, a teenager dictated by her father, realizes the confinements she lives under and begins to develop her own character. Similarly, Janie Crawford, from Their Eyes Were Watching God, matures throughout the novel as the experiences she encounters help fuel the creation of a new Janie, one independent from others’ opinions. With both novels, the protagonists face unbearable challenges; however, these challenges are the reasons for their growth into courageous women and represent illuminating episodes. These casements showcase the characters’ imperfections and reveal the overall theme that life’s difficulties influence the development of individuality.
In Purple Hibiscus, Papa rips apart Kambili’s treasured painting of Papa Nnukwu and torments her for protecting it. Though this physical pain is not new to Kambili, this event illustrates her growth into a stronger woman after years of continuous abuse and represents the earliest moment Kambili begins to express her individuality. Protecting the painting of Papa Nnukwu is Kambili’s first act of independence because of the hatred her father holds for Papa Nnukwu. A devout Catholic, Papa views Papa Nnukwu, a pagan, with disgust as he cannot fathom why Papa Nnukwu will not convert to Catholicism. Seeing a painting of someone he broke ties with provokes Papa, and he immediately questions Kambili and Jaja before he “snatched the painting” and rips it apart until “the painting was gone” (Adichie 210). Representing the death of Papa Nnukwu, the destruction of the painting also metaphorizes Kambili’s realization that she is worth more than Papa’s anger. Confidently, Kambili can protest against her father’s commands as her reflections on previous experiences of abuse elicit the courage needed to redefine herself. Moreover, during the period when Kambili stays with Aunt Ifeoma and her family, she is exposed to a new type of religion by Papa Nnukwu. Exposure to a new religion leads to Kambili’s acceptance of other religions while being a Catholic, an idea her close-minded father cannot accept. As a result, Kambili feels attached to the painting as it represents a part of herself and Papa Nnukwu. Accordingly, she instinctively “dashed to the pieces on the floor as if to save them” (Adichie 210). Desperately, Kambili is trying to save herself. Yet the more Kambili wants to protect the painting, the more obligated Papa feels to beat her until she becomes unconscious: “Kicking. Kicking. Kicking… More stings. More slaps” (Adichie 211). From this illuminating encasement where Kambili finds the courage to stand up against Papa’s power, Adichie traces Kambili’s recovery as a symbol of her redeveloping with new, stronger skin. A “broken rib” and “internal bleeding” takes time to regrow and heal, yet when it does, it becomes stronger and sturdier (Adichie 212). Similarly, Kambili is regrowing character-wise. With her previous personality, she allows Papa’s constant pressures to hinder her; however, as her new “bones” redevelop, she strives to become her own individual person, dictated only by herself. Without past difficulties, Kambili would not have had this epiphany of who her father truly is and who she wants to become. She would have lived her life in an attempt to embody a perfect daughter. Therefore, Adichie’s inclusion of Kambili’s struggles in her novel delineates how challenges ignite one’s pursuit of individuality.
Though it is not physical torture Janie experiences in Their Eyes Were Watching God, it is mental torture that sparks her development of individuality. When Janie kills Tea Cake, it illuminates how, finally, after multiple marriages, she has the strength to stand by herself and act independently. Bravely, Janie can prepare herself immediately after she “was beginning to feel fear of this strange thing in Tea Cake’s body” (Hurston 207). Speculating the actions Tea Cake might make in his inhumane state, Janie prepares for the worst of each situation:
Even if he did draw the gun on her it would snap three times before it would fire. She would at least have a warning. She could either run or try to take it away before it was too late. (Hurston 207)
Hurston suggests the importance of the number three as Janie only takes out three of the six bullets. Removing only three bullets, Janie exemplifies her need to forget her previous three husbands in order to live the rest of her life. If she had held onto those marriages and memories, Janie would have died instantly at Tea Cake’s first shot since “even in his delirium he took good aim” (Hurston 208-209). In contrast, keeping the marriages behind her is the reason for her survival, giving her three warnings before she knows she has to end Tea Cake’s life. Going against her heart and love for Tea Cake, Janie kills him as Hurston writes, “the pistol and the rifle rang out almost together” (Hurston 209). Ultimately, Tea Cake’s death not only physically killed Tea Cake, but also killed a part of Janie’s past self that was restrained by her former husbands. Death not only symbolizes the end of life, but it is a motif for the start of a new life, as well. At the end of the novel, after killing Tea Cake and setting her past marriages behind her, Janie finds peace and begins to act completely on her own. She is able to find her true self without the being linked with men. By obtaining closure from her previous marriages, which created both happy and painful memories, Janie possesses an individualistic personality developed through her life’s difficulties and agony.
Both Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God allude to the development of individuality through mental and physical pain. Emphasizing the implicit meaning of the destruction of Kambili’s painting and Papa’s physical abuse upon her, Adichie projects a significant moment where Kambili transforms into a stronger, independent lady. Likewise, with Janie’s need to kill Tea Cake, Hurston highlights how she is no longer constrained and is now self-reliant. Serving as illuminating incidents, the scenes reveal how only through hardship did the protagonists have the opportunity to reflect on their past experiences and withhold their own individualistic characters. The authors illustrate the overall theme that finding your true self can only be obtained through hardships, and paradisiacal lifestyles, though desirable, do not hold any value when growing as a person. Through painful life experiences, Adichie and Hurston manifest that the road to individuality is fulfilling, yet an excruciating process.
- Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Purple Hibiscus. Algonquin Books, 2003.
- Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. J. B. Lippincott, 1937.
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