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Themes in Purple Hibiscus. Main Themes / Issues . From oppression to freedom Growing up/Search for Identity The Post-colonial legacy Domestic Violence and its effects Religion Also: disintegration, language, silence. Today’s music: Fela Kuti. Born in Nigeria 1938
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Main Themes / Issues • From oppression to freedom • Growing up/Search for Identity • The Post-colonial legacy • Domestic Violence and its effects • Religion Also: disintegration, language, silence.
Today’s music: Fela Kuti • Born in Nigeria 1938 • Studied music in London • Played jazz music / high-life music in Nigeria • During Biafran war went to LA • Introduced to the ideas of Malcolm X and Black Panthers. • Created ‘Afro-beat’ music • Songs criticise the military regimes for crimes • Dreamed of Alternative society. Built a fence around house and declared it ‘Kalakuta republic’
Fela Kuti 2 • His act of defiance was punished. Arrests, imprisonment and beatings. • Became more and more outspoken and record sales went up • 70s – song ‘Zombie’ – satire of military. At one concert, riots broke out and group was arrested. • Married 27 girls • Formed own political party “Movement of the People” • ran for president in 1979 but was refused • Imprisoned in 1984 on trumped up charges • Critic of colonialism, became spokesperson for Africa • Died in 1997. 1 million people attended his funeral.
Theme 1: From Oppression to Freedom • Oppression Freedom • Military dictatorship Activism • Domestic violence Loving family • Silence Speaking out • Colonialism Post colonialism reclaim culture
1. From Oppression to Freedom Oppression in national context: Nigeria is oppressed by a military dictator Big Oga. Human rights abuses: e.g. • disappearance + murder of pro-democracy activist Nwankiti Ogechi • Ade Coker’s death by letter bomb • No freedom of speech
Historical context:Oppression in Nigeria • Novel is based on the time under the Abacha and Babangida juntas. • Country ruled by tyrants: Gen Sani Abacha took power and dissolved all democratic political institutions. • After a strike in the oil industry, he closed down media • Only after his death in 1998 did things change
Nigeria’s history • 1960s: Igbo people struggled for an independent state of Biafra and engaged in civil war to separate from Nigeria • War lasted 2 ½ years and claimed over 1 million deaths from “military action, disease and starvation.” • This is the time period that Eugene and Beatrice would have experienced as young adults • Following this, a historian writes that Nigeria created a “blanket of silence” about Biafra.
Oppression in family context Papa oppresses Mama, Jaja and Kambili by imposing his will in every aspect of their lives, e.g. • overly cruel punishments when they fail to live up to his high expectations • Regularly beats Mama • Children’s schedules limit their freedom • Discourages independence of thought or action
How did Eugene become an oppressor? • He is a “colonial product” became self-loathing (Igbo language, culture) • His inferiority complexrejects traditional Igbo ways and his own father • He was oppressed as a child. His experience of humiliation and punishment by priests as a boy began a cycle of guilt and cruel forms of penance
Reader’s response to oppression • We are forced to examine our reactions to oppression • Scenes of abuse are compelling • Eugene as a tyrant is fascinating • We can’t stop reading – we are attracted/repelled at same time: “We..condone Papa’s sadistic brutalisation of his family through the simple act of continuing to read. Like Kambili we are forced to juxtapose Papa’s evil side to his loving alter ego.” (T.S. da Silva)
Message 1: Oppression will continue when people are silent • In the family, Kambili, Jaja and Mama tend to remain silent, not even acknowledging Papa’s violence – a form of self-censorship. E.g. “I’m sorry your figurines broke, Mama.” • This is a classic behaviour of the victim-family in a domestic abuse situation. • Eugene is proud of his childrens’ quiet obedience, but Ade Coker rightly asks, “Imagine what the Standard would be if we were all quiet.” P. 57
Message 2: Language is connected to freedom • The novel connects Freedom to Speak v. Silence of the oppressed. • In contrast to K and J: Ifeoma’s children Obiora and Amaka show their relative freedom in their loud laughter “throaty, cackling sounds pushed out with enthusiasm” (78) • The Standard is one of the few weapons left in a time of a military regime
Ade Coker • After Ade Coker returns after his arrest by soldiers he writes about the value of freedom: “how his pen would not, could not, stop writing the truth.” p. 42: • Government agents had tried to bribe Papa with a “truckful of dollars” (200) but he asks them to leave the house. They also break off the hibiscus flowers.
How the Govt destroyed their Freedom of Speech • Soldiers destroy of the office of The Standard : “The soldiers took every copy of the entire print run, smashed furniture and printers, locked the offices, took the keys and boarded up the doors and windows.” P. 146 • This destruction is reminiscent of Eugene’s violence (smashing figurines) following Jaja exercising his freedom of speech. • The govt also do not allow the university to elect their own sole administrator. This leads to protests. P. 223
The irony within Eugene • Eugene supports political freedom yet limits the freedom of his family so harshly • Ade acknowledges his publisher Eugene, as a “man of integrity, the bravest man I know.” • He agrees to publish on Nwankiti Ogechi rather than run the story on Big Oga.
One side of Eugene: the man of integrity • He cared about his staff and understood the importance of them publishing the truth so much he made The Standard publish from a secret location. • Government agents: “men in black who yanked hibiscuses off as they left” …had tried to ”bribe Papa with a truckful of dollars” (200) but he asks them to leave the house.
Message 3: Breaking the cycle of violence • Hilary Mantel writes: • “If a victim of child abuse is to break the cycle and avoid handing on the pattern of violence to the next generation, she needs a witness in her like…someone who recognises what is happening and represents some assurance that there are other values…who assures the victim that she is lovable and has potential for good.”
Aunty Ifeoma – the witness HOW DOES SHE HELP TO ‘FREE’ KAMBILI AND JAJA FROM THEIR FATHER’S OPPRESSION? • She destroys the children’s schedule • They see her children are independent and live without fear • She teaches them their grandfather is not a heathen but a “traditionalist” and allows them to get to know him • She is a role model who speaks freely and tells the truth • She represents a “proud ancient forebear” for Kambili as she ‘Speak[s] to her Spirits]’.
Nsukka – the place where the cycle is broken • Nsukka is associated with the purple hibiscus, the symbol of new growth and freedom. • End of book: Kambili returns to Nsukka to visit the new family in Ifeoma’s flat and laughs loudly on the way back : “Because Nsukka could free something deep inside your belly that would rise up to your throat and come out as a freedom song. As laughter.”299
Nsukka – how do Kambili & Jaja transform while here? • At Nsukka Jaja and Kambili are empowered to break their silence and embrace defiance • Jaja confides in Aunty Ifeoma about finger • Jaja’s “shoulders seemed broader” within a week (p. 154) • It allows them to reclaim their Igbo roots (learn Igbo traditions, know Papa Nnukwu)
Message 4: Breaking Silence with Defiance “Defiance is like marijuana – it is not a bad thing when it is used right” Ifeoma tells Jaja, p.14. [Defiance = refusal to obey authority] • Jaja’s open defiance of Papa on Palm Sunday is the turning point of the novel (He refuses to take communion and says Father Benedict makes him feel nauseous) • Kambili learns to defy Papa after Nsukka (Portrait of Papa Nnukwu) • Mama’s defiance is more stealthy. She poisons his tea.
Other characters who are defiant • Ade Coker – speaks the truth. • Father Amadi – rejects the rigid Colonial style Catholicism and its materialism. He reclaims the Igbo language and does not judge non believers. • Aunty Ifeoma is not afraid to defy university authorities. She also defies Eugene and insists on an Igbo burial for Papa Nnukwu.
Message 5: The risks of defianceThe death of Nwankiti Ogechi • Nwankiti Ogechi is a pro-democracy activist who died a martyr in the attempt to bring greater freedom to Nigeria • He is possibly based on activist Ken Saro-Wiwa • In the family context, Jaja is his equivalent, as he sacrifices himself. • Big Oga’s regime kill Nwankiti Ogechi by shooting him and pouring acid on him. • This parallels Eugene’s punishment of pouring hot water on K and J’s feet – a carefully calculated form of cruelty. Not just emotion.
Risks of Defiance 2 • DANGER. Democratic coalition come to warn Papa to be careful: “Don’t go to public places. Remember the bomb blast in the airport… Lock your doors.” p 201 • FURTHER OPPRESSION– After govt interferes and restricting freedoms of Uni staff. Ifeoma is defiant & students chant and sing “Sole administrator must go” university is closed down p. 228 • INTIMIDATION: A special security unit turns up to “search” Ifeoma’s house – to scare her p231
However, the novel shows us that defiance to oppression is necessary • Mama’s actions seem justified after enduring years of abuse • Jaja’s action of accepting punishment for murder of Papa shows his yearning to be free from the shadow of his father. • Ade Coker is shown to be a hero • Aunty Ifeoma and Amaka are symbols of hope / strength of Nigerian women.
Healing and hope • Jaja says to Kambili about Ade Coker’s daughter “She will never heal. She may have started talking now, but she will never heal.” p.259 • However, it is implied the future is more hopeful for Kambili: “The new rains will come down soon.”
Message 6: Love can grow in Freedom • ‘Love thrives where freedom blossoms.’ (Anthony.C Ola) • Kambili and Jaja never experience real love until Aunty Ifeoma’s home • Jaja falls in love with the purple hibiscus and the stability of the family • Kambili falls in love with Father Amadi • They learn to love their cousins and grandfather
What to do next? • Dilemma of what to do during a time of oppression – Obiora favours leaving, moving to America; but Amaka says that running away is not the answer p.232 • Chiaku says: (in response to Ifeoma’s plan to go to USA) - “The educated ones leave, the ones with the potential to right the wrongs. They leave the weak behind. The tyrants continue to reign because the weak cannot resist. …Who will break that cycle?” p. 245
References • Da Silva T. S., ‘Family Life in Shades of Purple.’ • Mabura, Lily. ‘Breaking Gods – an African Postcolonial Gothic reading of Purple Hibiscus’. • Mantel, Hilary. ‘Purple Hibiscus review’. • Whitechurch, E. ‘Purple Hibiscus review’.
ESSAY QUESTION • Consider how you would answer: • Analyse how a text you have studied strengthened or changed your opinion of a topic or issue.