Purple Hibiscus

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Purple Hibiscus Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It is three years later, and Kambili is familiar with the route to the prison, where she and Mama go to visit Jaja. They have a new driver now named Celestine, and he is taking them both today. Mama’s scarf slips off, and she looks distracted and unkempt. She has been different since Jaja’s arrest. She tried to claim responsibility for the crime but no one believed her. They thought it was just grief and denial.
Papa’s abuse created an atmosphere of silence, but now his murder and Jaja’s imprisonment have led to a “different silence,” as the section is titled. Mama has started to lose her sanity in the trauma of all that has happened.
Themes
Family Theme Icon
Freedom vs. Tyranny Theme Icon
Silence and Speech Theme Icon
The Head of State recently died, and pro-democracy groups have been calling for an investigation of Papa’s death, claiming that the old regime assassinated him. The family’s lawyers recently informed Kambili and Mama that Jaja will be released next week. Kambili and Mama don’t talk about it, but they each carry a new hope and peace with this news.
Many tragedies have occurred, but the novel closes at a time of tentative hope for both the Achikes and Nigeria. The corrupt Head of State has died, and so there is a chance for a renewed democracy, and now Jaja is about to be released, so the family will be reunited at last after three years.
Themes
Colonialism and Nigerian Politics Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Freedom vs. Tyranny Theme Icon
Silence and Speech Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Kambili and Mama don’t talk about anything anymore, including the bribes they’ve written on Jaja’s behalf, the distribution of Papa’s will, and the discovery that he had anonymously donated to many hospitals and charities. As they drive Kambili tells Celestine to put in a Fela tape. Kambili looks to see if Mama minds the music, but as usual Mama seems lost in her own world, not responding to anything.
The new silence that has enfolded the family means that Mama and Kambili hardly speak at all, and Jaja remains withdrawn and isolated in prison. There is more evidence of Papa’s great philanthropy, further complicating Papa’s character and the justice of Mama’s violent assertion of freedom.
Themes
Colonialism and Nigerian Politics Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Freedom vs. Tyranny Theme Icon
Silence and Speech Theme Icon
A month earlier, Kambili had gone to Nsukka, even though she doesn’t know anyone there anymore. She visited Aunty Ifeoma’s old flat, and the family living there offered her a glass of water. On the drive back Kambili had laughed and listened to Fela, feeling that Nsukka could still inspire a “freedom song” in her.
Kambili alone seems to have retained the sense of freedom and voice she discovered before Papa’s death, as she still sings and laughs easily. Adichie explicitly relates joyful speech and laughter with freedom here.
Themes
Freedom vs. Tyranny Theme Icon
Silence and Speech Theme Icon
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They reach the prison compound. Jaja is back in his old cell, in much worse conditions than a month before. He was recently whipped for some unknown infraction. Jaja has been in prison for almost three years now, still officially “Awaiting Trial.” Amaka has written letters to him from America, and letters to Nigerian government members about the justice system. Jaja doesn’t write her back, but Amaka says she understands.
Jaja escaped the tyranny of Papa’s rule only to find a new tyranny in a prison run by a corrupt government. Kambili now starts to update us on Ifeoma’s family. Amaka remains an idealist and activist. Jaja has withdrawn into silence once more, hardened by prison and weighed down with guilt.
Themes
Colonialism and Nigerian Politics Theme Icon
Freedom vs. Tyranny Theme Icon
Silence and Speech Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Aunty Ifeoma sends cassette tapes of her family’s voices to Jaja. Sometimes he plays them when Kambili visits. Ifeoma writes to Kambili and Mama, and talks about her two jobs at a community college and a pharmacy. She writes about the things she misses. She writes about Nigeria: how people think it cannot govern itself, but it has had so little time to learn compared to other, much older countries. Amaka writes to Kambili too, and says that they don’t have time to laugh anymore, because they are all so busy. Obiora writes about the private school he got a scholarship to.
It is telling that the only thing that seems to reach Jaja are the recordings of Ifeoma’s family’s voices—speech equals freedom in the world of the novel, and words from his Nsukka family mean memories of joy and independence for Jaja. Adichie speaks through Ifeoma in this final comment on the state of the Nigerian government. Meanwhile, as she expected, Ifeoma has found herself placed lower on the social ladder in America. Yet at the same time Obiora’s scholarship suggests that there is opportunity for the family in the United States in a way there might not have been in Nigeria. Ifeoma sacrificed her own position for the future of her children.
Themes
Colonialism and Nigerian Politics Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Freedom vs. Tyranny Theme Icon
Silence and Speech Theme Icon
Celestine helps carry food from the car to the prison. They all enter, and the guard takes the bribe of money they’ve hidden in the bag of food. He leads Mama and Kambili inside and gives them an hour to visit. They sit and wait for Jaja, and Kambili thinks about her letters from Father Amadi, which she always carries with her. She and Father Amadi don’t talk about Papa, but he has told her to not always question why some things happen, as sometimes there is no why. Kambili still loves Father Amadi, but not in a sentimental or jealous way: she just loves him.
The Head of State is dead, but corruption and bribery are still rampant in institutions like the prison. Kambili’s love for Father Amadi has not diminished in the last three years. They still have a very close relationship, and nothing has been concluded about their future, though Kambili has clearly matured greatly.
Themes
Colonialism and Nigerian Politics Theme Icon
Religion and Belief Theme Icon
Freedom vs. Tyranny Theme Icon
Mama sets up a meal for Jaja, and then he comes into the room. They don’t hug Jaja because he doesn’t like them to. He greets them and starts to eat. Kambili tells him that he will be getting out next week. Jaja stares at her. His eyes are totally hard by now, and Kambili wonders if they ever really had a language of the eyes. Kambili knows that Jaja feels constantly guilty for not having done enough, but she wants him to know that she didn’t expect him to do more.
Jaja has withdrawn from the family he sacrificed himself for, and no longer even wants to hug them. His guilt about the past seems to have coalesced into a self-hatred that keeps him from connecting with Kambili or Mama, and has contributed to this new silence.
Themes
Family Theme Icon
Freedom vs. Tyranny Theme Icon
Silence and Speech Theme Icon
A silence hangs over them, but it is a “different kind of silence” now, and Kambili can breathe comfortably. She still has nightmares about the old silence of the house when Papa was alive. Kambili still prays for Papa every Sunday, but she has not told Mama or Jaja this. She still dreams about Papa, and wants to see him in her dreams. There is still a silence between her and Jaja, but she hopes that they will talk more in time.
Kambili has not yet let go of her devotion to Papa, as she still idolizes him as a saintlike figure, loves him as her father, and accepts that he was also a tyrannical and abusive force. This “different silence” is less oppressive than the last one—it is not one of fear, but of waiting. Kambili is hopeful that speech and laughter will someday return to fill it.
Themes
Religion and Belief Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Silence and Speech Theme Icon
Jaja points out that Mama’s scarf has come undone. Kambili is amazed, as usually he doesn’t notice anything about them. The guard comes in and says their time is up. Jaja is led away. Kambili walks out with Mama and feels like talking about the future. She wants to go to Nsukka when Jaja gets out. Mama suddenly stops and says “thank you,” one of the first times in the last three years she has spoken without first being spoken to. Kambili goes on: after Nsukka, she wants to visit Aunty Ifeoma in America. And then they will go back to Abba, and Jaja will plant purple hibiscus. Kambili laughs and puts her arm around Mama’s shoulder. Mama smiles. The clouds overhead mean that the new rains are coming soon.
The novel ends on this fragile note of hope, as Jaja briefly lets himself connect with Mama and Kambili even in the simplest observation, and Mama breaks her silence with a simple “thank you,” which seems to thank him both for his sacrifice in taking responsibility for Papa’s death and for not holding that sacrifice against Mama. For Kambili, these two small scenes signify hope for the future, and she thinks again of the purple hibiscus and the joy and freedom it once brought to Jaja. Kambili has not lost her ability to laugh, and she even draws a smile out of Mama. The final image of the rainclouds relates to the hibiscus and other flowers of the novel as well, as the new rains mean new plants have the potential to grow, just as the Achikes and Nigeria are given new potential for freedom.
Themes
Family Theme Icon
Freedom vs. Tyranny Theme Icon
Silence and Speech Theme Icon