The novel Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is a story of a young girl , who tries to find her own voice and speak out against her violent oppressive father. The novel is set in post-post-colonial Nigeria, in a time in which the government was run by a military dictatorship. There are a number of symbols used to help develop ideas in the text; the three most important ones being purple and red hibiscuses and Mama’s figurines. The red hibiscuses are symbolic of the violence in Kambili’s life while the purple hibiscuses symbolise freedom, defiance and the freedom to speak out. The figurines are symbolic of Mama’s quiet character and of the violence in her home. These symbols are there to show the idea of the main themes of freedom vs. oppression.
The colour red has associations that add to the symbolism of red hibiscuses in the text. Red, a colour which is often associated with anger, violence and bloodshed, is a often appearing motif in the novel. It is a colour that seems to haunt Kambili, since the episode in which she had to clean up her mother’s blood, after Papa abused her. For a long time afterward, Kambili cannot concentrate on anything but the red blood: “The black typed blurred, the letters swimming into one another, and then changed to a bright red, the red of fresh blood.”(35). The red hibiscuses that are planted in the garden of the family home in Enugu suggest the family’s oppression, as it is only through Papa’s violence that he keeps them under his control.
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Before Kambili and Jaja go to Nsukka, their aunt’s home, they have never seen purple hibiscuses, and know only of red ones in their garden. ” I did not know there are purple hibiscuses.”(128). This is extremely symbolic as it is only after Nsukka that they learn what true freedom is. At their aunt’s home they are freed from Papa’s schedules and punishments and allowed free time. They learn to sing and laugh and do chores. Before this, they had known only of Papa’s violence and his oppressive, dictator-like control. Purple is a colour that is often associated with royalty but also self-expression. This is important, as it is only through expressing oneself and speaking out against oppressors can freedom truly be achieved. When Kambili swas the three red roses at Aunty Ifemoa’s house, she t “Three long-stemmed roses, so piercingly red I wondered if they were plastic, were in the vase.”(114), the fact that Kambili questioned the authenticity of the three, really huge roses- wich would stand for problems and bloodshed- shows us that she do not even think about bloodshed in Nsukka.
The purple hibiscuses that grow at Aunty Ifeoma’s house in Nsukka are described as in the novel “rare, fragrant, with undertones of freedom”!!!!!. They are the most important symbols in the text (as can be seen from the novel’s title) as they represent acts of defiance and freedom to speak out The presence of these flowers!!!! “began to lift the silence” at home. Jaja’s hides the cuttings of the flowers from Nsukka in the fridge as he is afraid that Papa will confiscate them, therefore crushing his rebellion. The contrast between the purple and red hibiscuses symbolism is extremely effective in developing the theme of freedom vs. oppression. It is the love, warmth, laughter and free expression what they experience in Nsukka, home of the purple hibiscuses Raban von Spiegel
that inspire Kambili and Jaja to strive for freedom in their own home. Beforehand, in their home in Enugu, there had only been oppression (symbolised by red hibiscuses). They did not even know what real freedom was.
Mama’s figurines are another important symbol in Purple Hibiscus, as they symbolise her silence and submission towards Papa’s cruel actions. Her figurines are delicate and fragile, one of Mama’s few precious possessions. Whenever Kambili hears the loud, thumping noises “like something being banged against the door” c!!!!oming from Mama and Papa’s room (which is really Papa beating Mama) instead of talking about it with Kambili or Jaja, or even Papa, she goes downstairs and “polishes her figurines on the étagère”!!!. Polishing them seems to be a ritual coping mechanism after incidences of violence. However, when Papa throws the “heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines”(1), it is as though Mama’s fear seems to break as well.