The Symbolism of Language Device Usage in Purple Hibiscus

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The Symbolism of Language Device Usage in Purple Hibiscus

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Adichie uses Kambilli’ s life as a microcosm of the tyrannical rule of Nigeria, to explore the effects of an oppressive rule on social ideologies. The genre, Bildungsroman creates a medium for Adichie to show a moral and psychological growth of Kambilli, while allowing the growth on the perspectives of readers. This allows the correction of media-influenced, stereotyped views on Nigeria. Similarly, It emphasizes the importance of women figures in the development of young women like Kambilli to break free from dictatorial and patriarchal governance and oppression on two levels, domestically under Eugene’s roof and on a larger scale, politically across Nigeria.

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There is a parallactic divergence between the character traits of Mama Beatrice and Aunty Ifeoma, which serves to educate readers on the factional state of society on the portrayal of women. Ifeoma represents a more modernized representation of women, with feminism roots while Beatrice represents the oppression of women in a patriarchal world. Unlike Beatrice who is supressed by a male figure, Ifeoma represents a fresh outlook on the patriarchal construct of Nigerian society. Having had lost her husband, she has been forced to overcompensate for the lack of fatherly presence her children have by taking over roles which are predominated by males. This has allowed her to serve as a character foil for Beatrice, who conforms to roles society expects of her, which allows Adichie to enlighten readers on alternative female representation in Africa.

Adichie uses character foils, to juxtapose the common favoured representation of African women, with a more modernistic take on womanism. Beatrice is associated with African ideals on women, which represents the consequences of being subjugated by a predominantly patriarchal society. Her stereotyped feminine traits are portrayed in the symbol of the ballerina figurines. The figures are described to be “beige, finger-size ceramic figurines of ballet dancers in various contorted postures”. They illustrate the need for conformity and perfection African women are faced with. Similarly, their body image juxtapose common traits of beauty African women are normally associated with, raising the question on whether African women like Beatrice are conforming to an African-warranted sense of beauty or one created by colonial roots. The act of papa Eugene destroying the figurines symbolized Eugene fracturing common ideals of women like Beatrice, which foreshadows Kambilli’s eventual transformation. This is contrasted with the symbol of the purple hibiscus, which signifies growth, which is associated with Ifeoma.

Adichie juxtaposes symbols to represent the separate forms of femininity Ifeoma and Beatrice embody, to illustrate the growth in Kambilli’s perspectives. Ifeoma is represented with the symbol of lipstick, while Beatrice with the symbol of her free “God is love shirt”. They are both influential figures for the female bildungsroman of Kambilli. Adichie uses the Purple Hibiscus as a platform to challenge the dehumanizing inclinations of men which is evident in the juxtaposing characterization of Beatrice and Ifeoma, where she unearths African ideals on women. The symbol of the lipstick represents modern feministic qualities, which is emanated in Ifeoma’s confidence. Contrastingly, the symbol of the “God is love shirt” represents Beatrice’s subjugation and lack of feminine qualities. The shirt is described as baggy, with lack of colour, which is contrasted with the vibrancy of Ifeoma’s red lipstick. The use of colour is Adichie’s way of contrasting Beatrice’s dull, submissive personality with Ifeoma’s spunk and spirit. This is to emphasize the effects of being under an authoritative male figure such as Eugene.These two simple symbols serve as to represent the physical attributes of both women to portray a diversified idea of beauty in African women. Adichie purposely uses contradicting symbols for both women to emphasize the importance of strong women figures in a young lady’s upbringing, which is further emphasizes in Kambilli’ s Bildungsroman. The direct opposition between Ifeoma and Beatrice serves to educate Kambilli on modern views of feminism which she was shielded from.

Throughout the book, the female embodiment of the Bildungsroman is Kambilli. Her visit to Ifeoma’s house is a phenomenal step in her personal empowerment. Kambilli begins to challenge her father’s oppressive patriarchal authority over her with simple acts such as becoming more interested in make-up and braiding her hair. Kambilli shifts her admiration from the paterfamilias, Papa Eugene, to characters such as Father Amadi and Amaka, who manifests qualities of acceptance. Adichie uses Bildungsroman as a means to explore the construction of gender under a authoritarian patriarchal framework. This is also seen in the use of Amaka as a character foil. Having been brought up by modern feministic ideas, Amaka represents the importance of strong female upbringing. Her confidence embodies Ifeoma’s modern views as seen by her dressing. Amaka serves as a character foil to allow audiences to appreciate the power female role models have on the upbringing of women. This juxtaposes the common African mentality, which emphasizes the importance of a male figure in one’s upbringing while leaving out the role women have to play.

In conclusion, Adichie uses language devices such as Bildungsroman, character foils and symbolism to depict the subjugation of African women, while subtly reinforcing her own personal, modern ideals on feminism, or as she would say, womanism. She challenges common African stereotypes on women as a means to raise awareness on the benefits of breaking out of the cycle of patriarchal rule.

Works cited

  1. Adichie, C. N. (2013). Purple Hibiscus. Algonquin Books.
  2. Alimi, A. (2015). Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Purple Hibiscus: A feminist study. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Research, 4(1), 1-9.
  3. Olasupo, M. O., & Fadipe, T. O. (2018). Feminist consciousness and identity in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun. Tydskrif vir Letterkunde, 55(1), 1-14.
  4. Edemariam, A. (2017). The complexity of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The Guardian. Retrieved from
  5. McKeon, C. (2011). Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Purple Hibiscus: A story of en-gendered resistance and agency. Journal of International Women's Studies, 12(4), 31-44.
  6. Ricks, D. A. (2011). "Not quite Nigerian enough": Adichie's Purple Hibiscus and the politics of representation. Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 47(5), 536-547.
  7. Okwany, A. (2018). Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Purple Hibiscus and the issue of child abuse. International Journal of Language and Literature, 6(1), 43-51.
  8. Ogunyemi, O. F. (2014). Fathers and daughters in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun. International Journal of African and African-American Studies, 3(2), 46-55.
  9. Hare, R. (2015). Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The danger of a single story. TED. Retrieved from
  10. Akunna, E. (2019). The politics of gender and nation in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Purple Hibiscus. African Identities, 17(4), 339-352.

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