CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE
I have been toying with the idea of reviewing purple hibiscus, for a very long time now. I did not actually intend to review it now but I feel compelled to do so because of a certain research paper I came across while browsing the net a few weeks ago. According to that analysis, Chimamanda, the author of the book was described as a radical feminist. The paper said that, most of what the author does to salvage the womenfolk in her fiction is radical. It is not that I want to nullify that observation but rather I want to try and see if I can get a common ground for both the perspectives. A common ground for us.
A summary of the novel.
The novel is told through the eyes of 15 year old Kambili. It is through her eyes that we see the events which she both observes and judges. Kambili has an older brother called Jaja and he is 17years old. This two children belong to an affluent family with their father, Eugene being a wealthy business man and a fanatical or perhaps staunch catholic convert.
As the novel develops, we get to learn about the private life of these characters and their attitude towards their father whom they constantly call 'papa'. Through their mother Beatrice, we understand that Eugene is brutal and excessively domineering. It comes as a surprise to learn of him mistreating his wife; something that earns her several miscarriages. For most of the development of the novel, Beatrice is a resilient and obedient character. At school, Jaja and Kambili are expected to be the best.
Events in the novel begin to take a different turn when Jaja, Kambili together with their parents travel to Abba one December holiday to celebrate Christmas. There, they meet aunty Ifeoma together with their cousins, Amaka, Obiora and Chima. Aunty Ifeoma, a strong-willed women breaks most of the irrelevant rules his brother Eugene has imposed on his children and it is through this that the two (Jaja and Kambili) begin to see the world with new eyes. When the two eventually visit aunty Ifeoma's house in Nsukka, they discover that their is more to living than affluence. They discover who they really are and even Kambili says that, her laughter sounded strange to her ears.
Eugene is poisoned towards the end of the novel by his wife Beatrice who had suffered for long. Jaja surrenders to the police claiming that he is the one who killed his father.
The novel ends three years later. Jaja who is about to be released from prison is twenty years old and much tougher than he was. Kambili, now a young woman of 18 is the constant companion of her seemingly insane mother. They go to see Jaja in prison together on some occasions.The novel ends with a rare optimism. Kambili knows his brother is going to be released from prison and she already has plans for him.
"Above, clouds like dyed cotton wool hang low, so low I feel I can reach out and squeeze the moisture out of them. The new rains will come down soon." pg 307.
The feminist aspects in the novel.
I do not dispute the fact that a closer reading of the book will reveal very many feminist ideologies. But first, I wish to make something clear; there is a big difference between using the female voice to pass a message or write a story and the feminist writing. Using a female voice to narrate a certain story or getting it from the female perspective does not necessarily represent the authors affiliations. Just the same way using the voice of a convicted bank robber does not make you one. In regards to feminist writing, I would like to state categorically that, feminist writing is not negative writing and can never be negative writing. What people in the new age should appreciate is the fact that, the literary world had for a long time been 'littered' with men and we became accustomed to their stands. That is why for instance, when we read Ngugi's story about a man smiling widely during his traditional marriage to his third wife we see no problem, it's almost what we expected. But there appears to be an issue when Chimamanda or Petina do the same story highlighting how a woman feels about being a second or third wife and such things. I sometimes imagine that there is nothing as feminism in the literary world, it is simply getting the two sides of a coin we are used to seeing only one side.
Well, back to Chimamanda's Purple Hibiscus. One of the reasons why various reviewers insist that the writer is a radical feminist is the means through which Beatrice liberates herself(poisoning her husband). But in Beatrice's shoes what would anyone do? If you read the story closely, you will discover that no one was going to listen to Beatrice's story and she would thus suffer to her grave. Well, I am not trying to justify her actions. But before labeling the writer a radical feminist, there is something I want to bring to attention. In as much as Chimamanda creates the worst possible father figure, we have to realise that, apart from him, most of the other male figures in the book are positive characters; and it is these characters that Chimamanda used to make us see the ills of Eugene.
What Purple Hibiscus illustrates is the fact that, men can correct the ills of their fellow men. And at this point, I would like to officially point out that, Chimamanda is a pioneer reformist feminist in the writers' scene. Other perfect male characters in the book illustrate the fact that the author was not biased in her presentation of characters.
ONE LOVE, Chimamanda! Purple Hibiscus is one unique book, very rare to find. Keep writing sweetness.
ps. My love for Chimamanda has nothing to do with my view of the book.