Essay on Motifs from Purple Hibiscus
In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Purple Hibiscus the narrative voice is a teenage girl who was physically and emotionally scarred by her father. To portray many of the changes that take place in Kambili throughout the novel the idea of nature is recurrently used. It is also used to convey the theme of defiance in Jaja. The motif of nature is also used to convey the physical abuse and pain her father caused her. She describes her and Jaja “always chose the whistling pine because the branches were malleable, not as painful as the stiffer branches” (Adichie 193).
The purple hibiscus flower is a representation of freedom and hope. Jaja is drawn to the atypical flower that was bred by Aunty Ifeoma’s “good friend Phillipa” (Adichie 128). The abnormal nature of the flower signifies how out of the ordinary the defiance of Jaja on Palm Sunday was. For Jaja, the flower is hope that something new can be produced. He longs to break free of his Papa’s rule this is portrayed when he takes the stalks of the purple hibiscus home with him, and “[gives] them to the gardener” (Adichie 196) to plant. The taking home of the plant symbolises him taking the insight from Nsukka home with him. Furthermore as the flower blossoms, so does Jaja’s rebellion. “See, the purple hibiscus are about to bloom” (Adichie 253) this is said the day before “Palm Sunday, the day Jaja did not go to communion, the day Papa threw his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines” (Adichie 253)
Kambili’s changing attitude towards nature portrays her stages of transformation. One of the first few times she showers in Nsukka, she finds an earthworm in the tub. Rather than leaving it in the tub, she removes it and puts it in the toilet. Additionally, when Father Amadi takes her to have her hair braided, she watches the determined snail repeatedly crawl out of a basket. “I wondered if it was the same snail, crawling out, being thrown back in, and then crawling out again. Determined. I wanted to buy the whole basket and set that one snail free.” (Adichie 238) She identifies with the snail as she too has tried to ‘crawl’ out of Enugu and her inevitable fate.
Later, when she is bathing with sky scented water, “there were earthworms in the bathtub, and [she] left them alone, watching the water carry them and send them down the drain” (Adichie 270). She acknowledges that God is omnipresent. In the opening of the book, Kambili daydreams while looking at the several fruit and flower trees in her garden. For example “the cashew tree” “the bell shaped yellow fruits hung lazily, drawing buzzing bees” (Adichie 8). She fixates on the beauty of the trees. Yet when she returns from Nsukka after her mother has miscarried, Kambili is sickened by the rotting fruit. The rot symbolises the sickness in their household but also that Kambili is seeing her home with ‘new’ eyes. And she says that she wanted to tell Mama “that our living room has too much empty space, too much wasted marble floor…ceilings were too high…clammy coldness…too lush to have any feeling” (Adichie 192).
The trees act as walls, trapping her in her terrible circumstance. The weather also plays a role in the novel. “It rained heavily the day Ade Coker died, a strange, furious rain” (Adichie 206). Furthermore after Palm Sunday, the “howling winds came with an angry rain uprooting frangipani trees in the front yard” also “the satellite dish on top of the garage came crashing down” (Adichie 257). The inclement weather represents the drama that has unfolded in their lives recently and how “things started to fall apart at home” (Adichie 3). Additionally, Mama tells Kambili that the mixture of rain and sun means that “God was undecided on what to send” (Adichie 217). As there can be rain and sun at the same time, there are good and evil intertwined. In nature Kambili comes to understand that there are no absolutes. This is reflected through the character of Papa, he is neither all good nor all bad. This is portrayed through the narrative voice, as it is first person we learn that due to Kambili’s naivety no characters are portrayed as having a definite trait or characteristic.
Similarly her faith isn’t wholly Catholic or wholly traditionalist. When she bathes with the earthworms “[she] sang as [she] bathed” (Adichie 270). As traditionalists revere in the beauty of nature she shows this as she is bathing in “a half bucket full of rainwater” (Adichie 269). In this passage she has found her voice and revels in the natural world. She begins to draw parallels between the Igbo God ‘Chukwu’ and the Catholic God. Both are believed to have created the world and to be omnipresent. Also se can challenge her parents while still remaining a ‘good child’. In conclusion, through the use of this motif we learn, through indirect characterisation, about Papa’s untraceable source of rage towards his family. Also we learn how Jaja come to defy his father and how Kambili’s character alters by living in Nsukka. Adichie’s use of the motif nature depicts very many key themes such as abuse or punishment, defiance and transformation.