It remains difficult for Kambili to read, even though her exams are approaching, as she keeps seeing Mama’s blood in the letters. One day she is studying in her room when Yewande Coker, the wife of Ade Coker (Papa’s editor at the Standard) comes to the door sobbing. She says that soldiers have taken Ade away. Papa comforts her, telling her to repeat a Bible verse. Kambili knows that Ade was arrested because the last Standard had printed a story claiming that the Head of State was drug trafficking, and questioning the earlier execution of the three men.
Even as Papa enforces a frightened silence within his own family, in his life outside the home he fights for freedom and justice. None of the other newspapers are willing to speak out against Nigeria’s new regime, as the Head of State uses violence to suppress and discourage free speech. And yet Papa and Ade Coker push on in telling the dangerous truth.
The next week Kambili takes her exams, and then is horrified to see that she has come second in her class, even though the teacher has written her a glowing review. Kambili knows that Papa will not be pleased, and will compare her to his own success, which he achieved despite his “Godless father” Papa-Nnukwu. Kambili feels “stained by failure.”
The teacher doesn’t realize the impossible standards that Papa has for his children. Papa-Nnukwu, Papa’s father who refused to convert to Christianity, appears for the first time—and for Papa, his father’s “Godlessness” was an obstacle Papa had to overcome to succeed.
Kambili gets home and goes to her room. She hears Papa come home and go into Jaja’s room. Jaja had come first in his class, so Kambili imagines Papa hugging him and praising him. Then Papa comes to Kambili’s room and she gives him the report card. He is silent, and then asks about the girl who came first. Kambili says it is Chinwe Jideze, the girl who came second last term when Kambili was first. Papa tells Kambili to come down for dinner.
Papa’s love and affection is inextricably connected to his expectations for his children. Kambili fears Papa’s violence when she does something less than perfect, but she fears losing his love and approval even more. She often seems to see Papa’s hug as a greater reward than Papa’s slap is a punishment.
Kambili is terrified to look at Papa as they eat, and she can hardly swallow her food. After dinner Papa tells her to follow him upstairs. She goes into Papa’s bedroom, where everything is cream-colored and soft looking. Papa starts to chide Kambili for her grades, but then the phone rings. Papa answers it and then motions for Kambili to leave. Papa seems to forget about Kambili’s punishment for a few days after that. He gets Ade Coker out of prison, but his family only finds out by reading it in the Standard. There Ade praises Papa as a brave “man of integrity.” Kambili feels a rush of pride as she reads this. Papa says that the paper will have to publish underground now.
Even Papa’s decorations and furniture fit the kind of order and Western-ness he values in life. For once, here, his political life intrudes enough to disrupt his control of his family. Papa says nothing about his outside life to his family, and they must read about it in the paper just as if he was a stranger to them. Kambili doesn’t find anything odd about this, and instead feels a surge of pride and love whenever Papa is praised by an outside source.
There is a two-week break from school, and on the last weekend Mama takes Jaja and Kambili to get new sandals and bags. Kambili notices the crowds of the poor at the market, and then sees a group of soldiers around a woman who is tearing her hair and crying in the dirt. Mama tries to shield the children from seeing. Kambili sees another woman spit on a soldier, and then sees the soldier whip her. Another soldier kicks down stalls selling fruits. As they drive home Kambili cannot stop thinking about the woman in the dirt.
We were first introduced to the isolated and wealthy world of the Achikes, but now Adichie starts to contrast their lives with those of most Nigerians. The corruption of the military regime means violence in everyday life for most people, but Kambili is still sheltered by her parents, and Papa’s wealth means he can afford to keep his family isolated.
On Monday Papa drives Kambili to school, instead of Kevin taking her as he usually does. They pass a beggar and Papa throws some money to him. Kambili’s school, the Daughters of the Immaculate Heart Secondary School, is surrounded by high walls with broken glass on top. Papa had decided on this school because he liked the walls, which enforced discipline.
Papa practices charity at all times, and uses his wealth to help others. But this virtue is then immediately contrasted with his idea of what makes a good school—a high, unscalable wall to keep the students disciplined, and of course the school must be private and Catholic.
They go into the school grounds and Papa asks Kambili to take him to her class. One of the white nuns sees him and starts talking excitedly. Papa affects a British accent when he speaks to her, just as he does with Father Benedict. Papa tells the sister that he is just there to see Kambili’s class. Papa and Kambili go on and come to the group of girls standing outside the door.
Adichie shows just how much of a “colonial product” Papa is—he sees white people as superior and more civilized, and so he flatters them and tries to prove his own civility by speaking English and affecting a British accent. Kambili, at this point, sees nothing wrong with this.
Papa asks Kambili to point out Chinwe Jideze for him. Papa says that Chinwe does not have any more heads than Kambili, so Kambili should not let her come in first. Papa then gives the lecture Kambili had expected, about his own hard childhood, how hard he worked, how he escaped his idol-worshiping father with the help of the Catholic missionaries. Then Papa leaves and tells Kambili that Kevin will pick her up.
Papa has most harshly abandoned Nigerian ways for British ones by cutting all ties with his father, just because Papa-Nnukwu refused to be converted by the missionaries. Papa is indeed an incredibly successful man, but he holds his children to even higher standards of perfection.
The class begins with a hymn, a prayer, and then the Nigerian national anthem. Then a student always recites the pledge. Today the sister chooses Kambili to say it. Kambili knows the words, but she cannot make herself speak. She starts sweating as everyone stares at her. Finally she stutters and starts the pledge.
Kambili’s silence affects her life even when Papa is not around. She stutters, speaks softly, and finds it nearly impossible to find the right words for a situation without reciting some platitude that might please Papa.
The students go into their classrooms and a girl named Ezinne asks Kambili about her holiday. She brings up the fact that Kambili came in second last term, but says that her parents must still be proud of her. Meanwhile Chinwe goes around the room asking for votes so that she will remain the class prefect. She noticeably skips Kambili. Chinwe comes from a rich family just like Kambili, but Chinwe is very popular and the other girls copy her style. Kambili, in contrast, spends all her free time studying.
Chinwe acts as a foil to Kambili, as she too has a wealthy and successful father, but she is sociable, confident, and unafraid of speaking her mind. Kambili, on the other hand, has trouble speaking and is afraid to spend her free time doing anything but studying, so as to always come in first and please Papa.
Ezinne tells Kambili that Chinwe started the rumor that Kambili is a “backyard snob” and that she thinks she is “too big” because she doesn’t ever talk to the other girls, or walk with them after school instead of running off. Kambili does this, though, because she knows that she must run to Kevin’s car and get home on time or else Papa will be angry. One time she was late and he slapped her face with both hands. Kambili doesn’t tell Ezinne this, though; she just says that she likes running.
Other than Ezinne, the only girl who is kind to Kambili, the other students interpret her silence and anti-social demeanor as snobbery. Amaka will later make this same mistake. We see that Kambili never mentions or even hints at Papa’s abuse, but always makes up her own excuses to explain her behavior.