Purple Hibiscus Summary

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Purple Hibiscus takes place in Enugu, a city in post-colonial Nigeria, and is narrated by the main character, Kambili Achike. Kambili lives with her older brother Jaja (Chukwuku Achike), a teenager who, like his sister, excels at school but is withdrawn and sullen. Kambili’s father, Papa (Eugene Achike) is a strict authoritarian whose strict adherence to Catholicism overshadows his paternal love. He punishes his wife, Mama (Beatrice Achike), and his children when they fail to live up to his impossibly high standards.

The novel begins on Palm Sunday. Jaja has refused to go to church and receive communion. Because Jaja has no reasonable excuse for missing church, Papa throws his missal at his son. The book hits a shelf containing his wife’s beloved figurines. This defiant act and resulting violence marks the beginning of the end of the Achike family. Kambili then explains the events leading up to Palm Sunday, detailing the seeds of rebellion that are planted in the children’s minds by their liberal Aunty Ifeoma, Papa’s sister.

Papa is a prominent figure in Enugu. He owns several factories and publishes the pro-democracy newspaper the Standard. He is praised by his priest, Father Benedict, and his editor, Ade Coker, for his many good works. Papa generously donates to his parish and his children’s schools. His newspaper publishes articles critical of the rampant government corruption. Since the Standard tells the truth, the staff is under constant pressure from the Head of State, the military leader who assumes the presidency following a coup. When Ade Coker is arrested, Papa’s bravery and position in the community help to free him.

Kambili is a quiet child. When she tries to speak, she often stutters or has a coughing fit. The rigid life that is shaped by her father renders her mute. Each day, she follows a schedule that allots only time to study, eat, sleep, pray and sit with her family. Kambili is a good student, rising to...
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