Reclaiming Power Exploring the intersectional nature of injustice on women in Purple Hibiscus and their journey to freedom

“I don’t think of myself as a feminist activist… I think of myself fundamentally as a storyteller. I’m not a feminist activist; it’s not a label. I’m feminist, fiercely so. I will always be. I have always been.” ― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple Hibiscus

  • A post-colonial novel exploring the colonist regime in Nigeria
  • Told in the perspective of Kambili who comes from a strict Catholic household where her father, Eugene, dictates her families every move and enforces his ideologies through violence.
  • Kambili's mother, Beatrice, faces the wrath of Eugene's anger the most.
  • The novel explores Kambili and Beatrice's journey to freedom, despite the inter-sectional forces that oppress their family.

Religion enforcing control

  • Kimbili's father, Eugene, justifies violence with the need to teach his family the right way to act, away from sin
  • Religion is center from which patriarchy and abuse root from

Eugene uses religion to create fear in his children and makes sure Father Benedict lectures his children: "Pagan rituals are misinformed superstition and they are a gateway to hell"(Adichie 106).

"Feminism isn’t a cloak that I put on in the morning and take off at certain times. It’s who I am. I look at the world through eyes that are very alert to gender injustice, and I always will." ― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Social Power

  • Prestige system gives certain members of society more power over others
  • Male domination
  • Eugene is a respected member in the community
  • Eugene doesn't want his children talking to their grandfather because he is Pagan and a part of a traditional Igbo religion that is different from that of Eugene's.

Eugene is scandalized by women who do not adhere to the standards laid out for them: "Some [ women] draped see through black veils over their hair; others wore trousers, even jeans. Papa would be scandalized. A woman's hair must be covered in the house of God, and a woman must not wear a man's clothes, especially in the house of God" (Adichie 240).

"It’s not about individual women; it’s about a system." ― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Family Structure

  • Papa is in charge of every aspect of his family's life
  • Uses violence to enforce control of family
  • Violence is common in household
  • Kambili and her mother are afraid to stand against him

Papa is a figure that cannot do any wrong in the eyes of the family because otherwise Papa reacts with anger which is shown when Kambili states, " I meant to say I am sorry that Papa broke your figurines, but the words that came out were, "I'm sorry your figurines broke, Mama"(Adichie 10).

"Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same?" ― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Religion & Economics as a patriarchal crutch

  • Eugene's position in the church emboldens him to be abusive to the members of his household.
  • The money that Eugene donates to the church grants him a elite status within his parish causing members of the congregation to turn a blind eye to the blatant abuse that he inflicts on his family.

Eugene is highly respected: "During his sermons, Father Benedict usually referred to the pope, Papa and Jesus-in that order. He used Papa to illustrate the gospels"(Adichie 4).

“Being defiant can be a good thing sometimes," Aunty Ifeoma said. "Defiance is like marijuana - it is not a bad thing when it is used right.” ― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Aunty Ifeoma & Feminist Influence

  • Things begin to shift when Kambili and her brother stay with their Aunty Ifeoma for awhile
  • Opposition to the female stereotype
  • Outspoken, educated, and independent
  • Opposite of Beatrice (Mama)
  • Disrupts Kambili and her brother's ideologies

Aunty Ifeoma advises Mama: "When a house is on fire, you run out before the roof collapses on your head”(Adichie 213).

"I know I’m able to have empathy for men who have been assaulted, who’ve suffered. I don’t need to imagine that they’re my brother or my husband." ― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Reclaiming Power

  • The end of the novel is symbolic in the sense that Beatrice finally frees herself from Eugene's abuse.
  • She is able to regain power and autonomy over herself but it as the cost of her son's imprisonment.
  • Kambili also finds her voice and is able to communicate her thoughts.

Kambili expresses her feeling of her newfound freedom: Above, clouds like dyed cotton wool hung low, so low I feel I can reach out and squeeze the moisture from them. The new rains will come down soon"(Adichie 307).

The Interconnected Social Systems that Oppress Women

  • Often times, the complexity of prejudices women face come from their overlapping identites
  • Adichie's Purple Hibiscus explores the overlapping systems of family, religion, social power, and gender to bring a greater understanding of the interwoven injustices women face today.
  • Though this novel's characters were able to reclaim their power. Many women today are stuck in the overlapping system of oppression.
  • By understanding intersectionality, we can better combat and develop ways to help women reclaim their power.

Purple Hibiscus Info graphic by:

Crystal Munoz

Ana Angeles

Chika Okoro-Osademe