Purple Hibiscus is a coming of age story in the perspective of a 15-year-old girl from Nigeria who grew up in a family headed by a father who fanatically implemented western religion. It tells the narrative of change and transformation by breaking away from enforced traditions. Much of the father’s belief had come to life because of religion, which is an effect of colonialism in their region. The head of the family ironically refused to allow traditions by implementing his own version of it. He did it by being violent and controlling to his wife, son, and daughter while being viewed by society as a hero of some sort. Amidst the struggle is the presence of symbolism. The purple hibiscus depicts freedom through a new kind of awareness. Palm symbolizes victory over the oppressor. The mother’s broken figurines also depict freedom and breaking away. The religious fanaticism of the father shows the effect of colonialism while the presence of the purple hibiscus and other symbolic objects represent freedom, awareness, and victory over oppression and control.
Part One: Coming of Age and Identity
The story of Purple Hibiscus was told in the point of view of Kambili, a 15-year-old girl during the time of the story. It depicts her family, including her brother Jaja, mother Beatrice and father Eugene. For much of her life, Kambili was told to do things that society sees as the right thing to do. She had good grades at school and attended important religious activities as ordered by her fanatic father. She never really expressed herself much. All these changed when she went to live with her Aunty Ifeoma, wherein she met her cousins and Father Amadi. The presence of the purple hibiscus in the garden and her brother’s developed love for it symbolizes her and a new Jaja’s awakening and blossoming similar to the flowers as they discover a new life with their new surroundings. Father Amadi taught Kambili how to express herself more and how to love by accepting her identity.
Similar to the awakening mentioned above, the breaking of Beatrice’s figurines also symbolizes a breaking away and coming out to freedom. Kambili’s mother usually polishes it after experiencing a beating from the father. It is made of ceramic materials and was kept safe by Beatrice. The polishing of the figurines has actually become a euphemism for the physical abuse that the mother is experiencing at the hands of the father. This domestic violence faced a new turn of events when Eugene got angry to Jaja for his disobedience wherein he throws a missal that broke the figurines. This phenomenon symbolizes the beginning of freedom and the breaking of control that the father put over his family.
The palm is also an important symbolism regarding coming of age and identity. It represents victory. In the case of the father and his family, this symbolizes winning against the oppressor. While Eugene always exercised control and strict handling of the family, the oppressed mother and children were finally shown a foreshadowing of victory on a Palm Sunday. Beatrice finally had enough and decides to poison her husband. These all happened through the symbolism of the ash and the palm.
Part Two: Colonial Inheritance
One of the striking features in the novel is the religious fanatic representation of the father. While he was viewed by society as a hero of some sorts, his family depicts him as a violent man who exercised control over them by beating them up. The religion Roman Catholic was set up by colonizers in order to replace their existing traditions. The behavior of the father towards it represents the very way that was relayed to society. Through force, colonizers exercise control over the people. Although the religion in itself is something that is good and pure as viewed by the whole world, the way that the world’s superpowers spread it by using unnecessary violence. A lot of people who resisted actually shed blood. Ironically, they tried to discredit existing traditions. Such is the attitude of Eugene as well. He ironically calls his very own father a heathen just because he does not want to convert.
Part Three: Conclusion and Comparison
The symbolism of the purple hibiscus, the palm and the breaking of the mother’s figurines are all related to one another. They represent the coming of age and discovery of identity experienced by the main character Kambili. It shows how she was able to break free from the bonds of traditional oppression enforced by her very own father. With the aid of her cousins under Aunty Ifeoma and Father Amadi, she was able to know parts of herself that exist and was able to assert her freedom. The head of the family used religion to put Kambili, Beatrice and Jaja under control. This is similar to the way colonizers tried to spread Roman Catholic by trying to replace existing religious traditions. This western religion is represented in the novel as a dogma that everyone should follow. As everyone views it through its good and pure purpose, the enforcement that colonizers did was actually embedded in the violence in their invasions as they try to replace existing beliefs.
Part Four: Summary of Findings
An important part of this analysis is the presence of symbolism. Freedom and breaking free from oppression can be found in the purple hibiscus, the palm, and the broken figurines. On the other hand, religion symbolizes colonial inheritance while the father depicts how colonizers forced their way in through violence. It is also important to note the ironic hate of Eugene to his very own father due to failure to convert. This represents the sarcastic colonization of Nigeria by oppressing existing traditions.