Describe an important relationship in the text and explain the effect of that relationship on characters, events and ideas in the book. An important relationship in the novel Purple Hibiscus by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie is the relationship between Kambili and her Aunty Ifeoma, and her family. It introduces Kambili into a less sheltered environment where she is not only free to speak her mind, she is encouraged to question things, and form her own opinions. She also looks up to and admires her cousin, Amaka, who influences Kambili to be more confident and free thinking, like she is. The relationship between Kambili and Aunt Ifeoma’s family also opens Kambili up to new relationships, such as her relationship with Papa-Nnukwu. She begins to learn to know him for who he is, rather than through her father’s perspective of him, and through this, realises that her father’s way of life, is not the only way of life she has the option to take.
Kambili also takes a lot of notice of her cousin, Amaka, who is the open minded, fearless individual that Kambili admires, and aspires to be. The development of their relationship challenges Kambili, and forces her to speak her mind and stand up for herself – something she has never done before. Another important aspect of this relationship is that Kambili is able to see the growth and changes in Jaja, from the beginning of the novel when they were so similar, sheltered and oppressed by their father, to the end when they are more independent and free thinking individuals. Throughout the novel it allows the reader to distinguish the changes in Jaja through comparing him to Kambili, who takes longer to adjust to their new environment, and the conditions within that environment (or lack of conditions).
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Kambili begins the story in her father, Eugene’s household, where she and her brother are almost completely oppressed by her his controlling, domineering, abusive figure so omnipresent in the household.
Her need to constantly please her father, and to make him proud, completely overwhelms all other aspects of her personality – her sole motivation at the beginning of the novel is to be accepted by him. As a result of this upbringing, they have been taught that anything their father disapproves of is wrong and off limits to them, and so have led an extremely sheltered life monitored by their father every moment. However, this lifestyle is completely contradicted by Aunty Ifeoma and her family. Aunt Ifeoma’s lifestyle is completely alien to Kambili; through this relationship Ifeoma constantly encourages Kambili to think for herself, to question and contest ideas, and to form her own opinions – she is the catalyst for the change Kambili experiences. She teaches Kambili to be free from her father’s oppression, that she does not need him to think for her because she has her own brain to do that herself. Ifeoma cares more for the personal well being of Kambili, Jaja, and Mama alike, rather than just how well they abide by Eugene’s perception of what it is to live the perfect Catholic life.
Towards the end of the novel, Aunty Ifeoma is the first one to notice the change of Kambili’s character. She had paid the most attention to, and put the most effort into helping Kambili’s character transform in this way, and understands it as a gift from God. “’Kambili is right,’ she [Ifeoma] said. ‘Something from God was happening there.’” The relationship between Kambili and Aunt Ifeoma and her family, also develops her relationship with Papa Nnukwu – Eugene’s non-Catholic father. All her life, she has been taught by her father that Papa-Nnukwu is an ungodly man who participates in ungodly traditions, and therefore he is not a man they should associate with. She has never been given a chance to truly get to know her biological grandfather, as all her time with him has been controlled by Eugene, and restricted to minutes only once a year. However through spending time with Aunty Ifeoma, and her family, she began spending more time with her Papa-Nnukwu, and was taught – by Ifeoma especially – that just because he practiced a different faith to Kambili, it was not necessarily wrong, and he should not have to be cut out of her life, or Eugene’s for that matter, just because of their contrasting beliefs.
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This broadens Kambili’s mind, to accept more than just what her father accepts in life. And to understand that there is more than just her father’s way, that she has the ability to make her own decisions, and form her own opinions, and that she is intelligent enough to do so sensibly. Kambili particularly admires her cousin, Amaka’s outspokenness, her confidence, and her ability to speak her mind with no restraints. The idea of laughing, speaking and acting so freely is such a strange concept to Kambili, whose emotions have been almost, ignored and oppressed her whole life, by her father, and so she has grown accustomed to not expressing them at all. But she takes inspiration from her cousin, and longs to be able to open up and be more like her – she almost uses Amaka as a model for her change, an example to learn by. For much of the novel, Kambili internalises her desire for Amaka to take a moment to get to know her, rather than the stereotype she thinks she knows, and to accept her for the person she really is – not the snobby rich girl who takes everything for granted, that Amaka thinks she is. “…If only we all had satellite so everybody could be bored with it.” [Amaka] “I wanted to say…that I did not want her to dislike us for not watching satellite.
I wanted to tell her that…Papa did not pencil in TV time on our schedules.” [Kambili – internalised] The internalisation of this situation shows how little confidence Kambili has to stand up for herself, even to her cousin, but also contrary to this, her desire to be accepted by Amaka. Because even despite this desire, Kambili still does not have the courage to stand up to her, which is a really interesting aspect of this relationship – it shows the extent of Kambili’s oppressed state towards the beginning of the novel, and how it not only impacted her life in terms of her attitude towards and around her father, but it has had such a strong impression that it has made her feel inferior and subjected her to the ideas and opinions of all those around her. This relationship challenges Kambili to take a stand for herself, in a relationship where she was not initially the dominant figure so to speak, and transformed and grew to a point of equilibrium where she and Amaka were on equal terms.
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Through the relationship with Ifeoma and her family, both Kambili and Jaja transform in their personalities – it acts as the catalyst for change for both of these characters. Through the use of Kambili as the narrator, we are also able to see Jaja’s transformation through her eyes, and how she feels about how he is changing – from a time at the start of the novel where they are so similar, and so close, we can see how Kambili perceives his change right throughout the novel. This also makes it easier for the reader to distinguish Jaja’s change which is an easy transition between lifestyles, like being with Ifeoma and her family is where he was always supposed to be, in comparison to Kambili, whose transition between life at home with her father whom she idolized and loved so much to all of a sudden being thrust in such a foreign environment as it was with Ifeoma and her family, and where she was not only expected but encouraged to speak her mind and be her own person, struggled more to make the change as she was so utterly dependent on her father.
The beginning of Jaja’s transformation is the Christmas holidays spent with Ifeoma, where he is exposed to a new way of life through the liberal beliefs of his aunt, and his grandfather’s traditional beliefs. He, as Kambili did with Amaka, looks to Obiora for guidance, and compares himself to what he thinks he should be, what his cousin Obiora is – such as his connection with his ancestors, and how well spoken, and mature he is for his age. Jaja takes all this in, and uses it to flourish amongst Ifeoma and her family, whereas Kambili is much more hesitant, and afraid to do so. Through the close sibling connection Kambili and Jaja have, the reader is able to establish these ideas very clearly, and follow both siblings on their journey of change and how the change of the two characters varies, despite how seemingly close, and similar they are at the start of the novel. The relationship between Kambili and Aunty Ifeoma and her family was an important relationship in Purple Hibiscus, as it catalysed the change in Kambili’s character, from a sheltered, oppressed, and victimised product of her father’s control, to a free thinking, independent, open minded and expressive individual.
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It also prompts Kambili to think beyond what her father had taught her, and showed her there is more to life than what her father believes. It teaches her, for example, that other beliefs are not wrong, just because they are different to her own – such as with her Papa Nnukwu and his traditionalist beliefs. The relationship also provides insight into change in other characters, such as Jaja. It enables the reader to compare the changes in Kambili and Jaja, and the struggles they both faced in the midst of those changes.
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