December 2, 2016
The very first page of Adichie’s novel reads: “Things started to fall apart when my brother, Jaja, did not go to a communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the étagère,” (Adichie); this quote was inspired by Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe, most acknowledged for his best-selling novel, Things Fall Apart. Both Achebe and Adichie write about Nigerian life, and discuss the issue of domestic abuse and the dependence of women in society. Most analyzations focus on the men of Purple Hibiscus, however I will begin to analyze the women. Focusing on the women of Adichie’s novel is just as important as focusing on the men, if not more; the women of Nigeria are often overlooked by critics. Being a woman in postcolonial Nigeria is difficult; women are still being seen as dependents that need a man’s stable income, and being an only mother is looked down upon. However, the two wives in Purple Hibiscus exert very independent personalities and have iconic scenes that portray them as role models for their children. Religion and culture intertwine to create a steady theme throughout the novel; Kambili’s home is a strict Catholic household, but when she moves in with her Aunt Ifeoma, her world is turned upside down as she learns about the Igbo culture her father was raised with. She is given choices at the end of the novel: to marry a man, or to be a single independent; to stay a strict Catholic, or branch out and embrace the Igbo culture that draws her interest. Both Beatrice, Kambili’s mother, and her Aunt Ifeoma receive negative responses from their social circles throughout the novel, which is proof that feminism is fluctuating in the postcolonial time. With both of these women, they exert feminist actions and stances differently, but that is because of their religious and cultural restrictions. I will look at Beatrice, as well as Ifeoma, with a feminist approach to prove that these characters are strong feminists, yet still hold tight to their beliefs.
There are two main religious/cultural societies in Purple Hibiscus: Christian and Igbo; however, both are largely patriarchal. This is shown throughout the novel by Beatrice, Ifeoma, Eugene, and Father Amadi: Beatrice and Eugene are strict Christians, while Ifeoma and Father Amadi are firm in their Igbo culture. Although men have the upper hand in both cultures, Beatrice and Ifeoma find ways to stand out and stand up against the lack of independence among women. Although Ifeoma receives negative criticism from neighbors and others in her circle, she proudly raises her children by herself and receives a steady income without the help of a man. After Eugene dies, Beatrice does not remarry, and more importantly, she changes the way the house is run by firing everyone Eugene had working for them, replacing them with those she deemed good enough. These may seem like small efforts towards equality for women, but in Nigeria’s postcolonial time, these were monumental moments for the each character. At this time in Nigeria, the country just began allowing women in governmental positions. Through that, Adichie allowed Beatrice and Ifeoma to have somewhat of an upper hand as to relate Nigeria’s society and the society of her novel. Beatrice and Ifeoma are included in this when Ebohon states that “‘women of Nigeria have noticed with utter dismay the almost complete deterioration of our political and social values, born out of more than three decades of continued male-dominated and oriented misrule, and have concluded that enough is enough; the time for positive change has arrived.’” (23). Their cultures and religions in Nigeria have trouble shifting with the waves of feminism, therefore conflicting with each other over time: Can one be of Igbo culture and yet be a feminist? Is “feminist Christian” an oxymoron?
First, let us look at Beatrice: she has two children, a husband, and her religious views are Catholicism. In Purple Hibiscus, there is a scene where Beatrice has a miscarriage, and moreover, there is the assumption that this is not the first time. Beatrice worries Eugene will leave her for a woman that is able to give him children. Traditionally, men prefer women who are very fertile so their name can be passed down to their sons when the parents die. Therefore, the women must want to have children as well. Having a child was a no brainer; it was an unsaid agreement that they would procreate. That being said, once they had a baby, the assumed profession of the mother was now to stay at home and care for the child. If a wife did not want to have kids and the man did, it is not difficult to imagine if they had children; men were not stood up to about the situation, or any situation: “However, women remained the subordinates of men, their roles being that of mothers, housewives, and companions,” (Okeke).
Now, from a feminist standpoint, this situation sounds unfair for women. It seems like a command to have children, and then on top of that, have the mother forced to care for them as a full time job. In Purple Hibiscus, Beatrice was a housewife and was 100% dependent on Eugene for money. After Eugene had abused her, Ifeoma tried to coax her to move herself and her children out of the house, but Beatrice could not do so. All of her wealth was tied to her husband. In some cases, the women do not have an education so they cannot even find a job to save up money to escape from an abusive relationship. Furthermore, if the wife does not want to have children, she should not have to bear them, or be looked down upon because she cannot bear at all. The feminist wave that was happening in postcolonial Nigeria was not necessarily concerned about the reproductive rights of females, but rather a more basic example of equality. Equality as basic and necessary as women bring allowed to work where men do, or at least work somewhere. Next we look at Ifeoma, Beatrice’s sister-in-law. She is university professor in Nigeria, already demolishing the frame of the typical woman. Ifeoma is quite different from her brother Eugene, and vastly different from Beatrice. Ifeoma is a strong-willed woman who knows what she deserves, and will take nothing less. It is just herself and her children living in a house and although they are not as rich as Eugene’s family, they are doing pretty well for their situation. Ifeoma is a single mother to three and has the same Igbo culture as her father. While the Igbo culture is large in Nigeria, Ifeoma has a desire to leave and travel to America; uprooting oneself from their home to travel elsewhere and begin anew takes a lot of strength and as much determination as one can muster. This is what makes Ifeoma such a bold character, and a feminist character at that. She also has a concern for her father, and takes him into her own home to help him live out the rest of his life, even though they were already running out of room in their house to begin with.
Ifeoma is a feminist in postcolonial Nigeria who represents the women that are rising up to set a new quality of societal views on the female gender; and as Okeke writes: “Nigerian women must deal with a myriad of oppressive practices which reinforce their position as subordinates to men in virtually all social contexts,” Ifeoma, in society’s response, receives unnecessarily tough trials and negative backlashes in doing so. Yes, both Ifeoma and Beatrice are feminists in their own ways that their religion and culture allow, yet still stand tall in their beliefs. They are suppressed on multiple accounts by their societies, yet still have the strength to rise again and ignore those who do not see the world the way they do. Looking at both women through a feminist lens, it is clear to see that she is the opposite of Beatrice: Ifeoma stands up for herself while Beatrice is naturally subordinate to men. Is this because of their beliefs and practices? Perhaps. Or is it because of their relationships and encounters with men? Beatrice is in an abusive marriage, while Ifeoma’s husband died years ago, which forced Ifeoma to either remarry or become an independent. Likely, this is because of the social construct in postcolonial Nigeria mixed with the wives’ home lives. Okeke states that it is the “oppressive factors that define their social status,” and it is still true today in many places.
Although both Beatrice and Ifeoma differ in their feministic standpoints, they do share one thing together with Nigerian society in the fact that in some cases, Nigerian women are accused of killing their husbands because they feel that is the only way out of the abusive or dangerous relationship. One similarity they share is that they are both tied to their husband’s deaths; Ifeoma is accused of killing her husband and Beatrice admitted to poisoning Eugene. In depth, Purple Hibiscus’ Beatrice admits to gradually poisoning her husband as revenge for how he treated her: “As we can see, emotional form of IPV was the highest reported…” (Wusu), due to Eugene’s emotional abuse, Beatrice felt the need to get revenge and more importantly, escape from the grasp of an abusive husband.
Nigerian women are looked at differently in postcolonial times as opposed to any other period, strictly because of the feminist wave that was happening. Adichie represents both the radical feminists as well as the conservative feminists in Purple Hibiscus; both are encountered with difficult situations dealing with their societies and beliefs. Although the majority of critics who analyze Purple Hibiscus focus on the men of society rather than the women, it is still important for both genders to be represented. Focusing on the wives of the novel is important because Adichie relates the wives to the majority of the women in Nigeria during postcolonial times. Observing them through a feminist lens makes the most sense because they both strive to change the way society looks at women in different positions.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: McDowell, Obolensky, 1959.
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Purple Hibiscus. Algonquin Paperbacks, 2003.
Dawson, Emma, and Pierre Larrivee. “Attitudes To Language In Literary Sources: Beyond Post-Colonialism In Nigerian Literature.” English Studies 91.8 (2010): 920-932. Academic Search Premier. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.
Ebohon, Sylvanus I. “Feminizing Development: The Political Sociology Of Female Tokenism In The Nigerian Project.” African & Asian Studies 11.4 (2012): 410-443. Academic Search Premier. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.
Okeke, Phil E. “Reconfiguring Tradition: Women’s Rights And Social Status In Contemporary Nigeria.” Africa Today 47.1 (2000): 48. Academic Search Premier. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.
Wusu, Onipede. “Predictors And Implications Of Intimate Partner Violence Against Married Female Youths In Nigeria.” Journal Of Family Violence 30.1 (2015): 63-74. Academic Search Premier. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.