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The Imagery of Power of Religion in Purple Hibiscus

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Religion. For most people, religion is like a puzzle piece to life. It carries a level of importance like no other and helps people live life with discipline, direction, and love. But, religion, if implemented incorrectly, can also criminalize people. It can make you close-minded, harsh, violent, and more. Such is the story of Papa, in Purple Hibiscus. The incomparable influence of religion on Papa pushes him to be violent and insensitive towards his family. In the novel Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Papa’s firm belief in Christianity and it’s unjustified implementation in daily life brings out change through Aunty Ifeoma’s persevering resistance and the family’s changing views on Papa.

Aunty Ifeoma speaks against Eugene, both directly and indirectly, and it is this resistance against his values and beliefs that inaugurates change. To begin, Aunty Infeoma puts forward the fact that sometimes, leaving your life partner marks the beginning of a successful and happy life. When talking to Mama (Papa’s wife), Aunty Ifeoma says, “Nyunye m, sometimes life begins when marriage ends” (Adichie 75). Aunty Ifeoma, losing her own husband to an accident and being a professor, has experience and knowledge. She gives Mama the example of her university students, specifically girls, who after obtaining their degrees and getting married, enter a world of inequitable control by their husbands. This also implies the event nearing the end of the book where in order for Mama to rebel against Papa and escape his atrocities, Mama may have to “end” her marriage as well. Papa would consider this as something against his values and beliefs, but Aunty Ifeoma doesn’t care; she speaks her voice out. In the same conversation with Mama, Aunty Ifeoma demonstrates oppression and resistance by turning down an irresistible offer by Eugene. She recalls, Have you forgotten that Eugene offered to buy me a car… but first, he wanted us to join the Knights of St. John, … send Amaka to a convent school. He even wanted me to stop wearing makeup! I want a new car, nyunye m, and I want to use my gas cooker again and I want a new freezer and I want money so that I will not have to unravel the seams of Chima’s trousers when he outgrows them. (95)

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It is seen that Aunty Ifeoma was offered a good life only if she abided by the rules of Papa. She had to be a faithful devotee of Christianity, but her own values, morals and beliefs prevented her from doing so. She even goes as far as declaring that, “I will not ask my brother to bend over so that I can lick his buttocks to get these things” (95). It is also seen that Aunty Ifeoma isn’t afraid to talk up to and against Papa directly, although this scares Kambili to death. When Papa and Aunty Ifeoma interact for the first time in the novel, Kambili’s heart stopped, then started in a hurry. It was the flippant tine; she did not seem to recognize that it was Papa, that he was different, special. (77)

Kambili looks towards Papa as an ultimate figure, and that meant no one could talk against him in any way, shape or form. Neither Jaja, Mama or Kambili have the authority to go against Papa, but Aunty Ifeoma, partly unaware of the position Papa holds in their life, talks according to her own upbringing and personality. This very personality will slowly trickle down to Kambili and Jaja once they start spending more time in Nsukka with Aunty Ifeoma and her children.

Papa’s atrocious behaviour towards his family, heavily influenced by Christian traditions and beliefs, changes their opinion of him for the worse. To begin, Papa punishes Kambili for consuming food before going to Mass and punished the whole family for it. When Papa finds out, he screams, “Has the devil asked you all to go on errands for him? … Has the devil built a tent in my house? … [and] you sit there and watch her desecrate the Eucharistic Fast, maka nnidi?” (102). Kambili’s menstrual cycle begins and she consumes Papadol, a drug to relieve the pain, but Papa strongly disapproves of the breaking of the Eucharistic Fast. This is an instance of insensitivity, where Papa, rather than attempting to relieve Kambili’s pain, violently punishes her, alongside the family, because it does not follow Papa’s strict rules. This is one of the very first examples in the novel where we see violence in the family, and the continuation of it is the beginning of the end of Papa. Next, a horrific beating of Kambili is seen because she had a painting of Papa-Nnukwu, Papa’s father and so-called “heathen”. Kambili describes the experience and says in the novel, “The stinging was raw now, even more like bites, because the metal landed on open skin to my side, my back, my legs” (211). This is a big moment in the novel, when Kambili realises that for Papa, religious purity is more important than caring for a daughter. While she is in the intensive care unit, a new side to her view of Papa emerges, as when Mama tries to defend Papa, she “[found it] hard to turn, but [she] did it and looked away” (212). Kambili’s transition from a positive and loving view into a negative one has initiated change but Mama, still unaware of the tragic reality of the situation, stays put on Papa’s side. Finally, we see Mama, who was portrayed as a modest and compliant character, finally took her own “revenge” on Papa, after all that she faced with him. Kambili recalls, When she spoke, her voice was just as calm and slow. ‘I started putting the poison in his tea before I came to Nsukka. Sisi go it for me; her uncle is a very powerful witch doctor.’ (290)

Like Jaja, Mama decides to escape from Papa’s reigns and control, but her method of doing so was different. She fought violence with violence, and she is forced to ultimately do so as a result of Papa’s violence and control. Unexpectedly, we see that it is Mama’s opinion which has changed drastically, as she continued to defend Papa after Kambili thought otherwise.

The all-prevailing motif of religion in Purple Hibiscus greatly influenced the train of events that led to Papa’s demise. Through the resistance of Aunty Ifeoma and Papa’s monstrous demeanour towards his own family, Mama, Jaja and Kambili are able to comprehend the truth, albeit late, and take vengeance in their own styles. It is quite ironic; the very basis of his life and his actions in life were the causative factors of his own death.

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