Purple Hibiscus

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The Purple Hibiscus Symbol Analysis

The Purple Hibiscus Symbol Icon
The purple hibiscus, the symbol that gives the novel its title, is a flower growing in Aunty Ifeoma’s garden. It was created by her botanist friend, as hibiscuses aren’t usually purple. Jaja is struck by the appearance of the flower, and through them he discovers his love of gardening, which becomes a crucial part of his experience of opening up and finding his independence in Nsukka. He then takes some stalks of purple hibiscus back to Enugu and plants them there. Because of its role in Jaja and Kambili’s mental awakening, the purple hibiscus comes to represent freedom and individuality—things they lack under Papa’s rule, but find in Nsukka with Aunty Ifeoma. At the end of the novel, Kambili hopes that Jaja will plant purple hibiscus when he gets out of prison, showing her hope that freedom will blossom anew even after so much tragedy.

The Purple Hibiscus Quotes in Purple Hibiscus

The Purple Hibiscus quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Purple Hibiscus. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Colonialism and Nigerian Politics Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Algonquin Books edition of Purple Hibiscus published in 2012.
Chapter 1 Quotes

I lay in bed after Mama left and let my mind rake through the past, through the years when Jaja and Mama and I spoke more with our spirits than with our lips. Until Nsukka. Nsukka started it all; Aunty Ifeoma’s little garden next to the verandah of her flat in Nsukka began to lift the silence. Jaja’s defiance seemed to me now like Aunty Ifeoma’s experimental purple hibiscus: rare, fragrant with the undertones of freedom, a different kind of freedom from the one the crowds waving green leaves chanted at Government Square after the coup. A freedom to be, to do.

Related Characters: Kambili Achike (speaker), Jaja (Chukwuka Achike), Mama (Beatrice Achike), Aunty Ifeoma
Related Symbols: The Purple Hibiscus
Page Number: 15-16
Explanation and Analysis:

As the first chapter draws to a close, we're introduced to the basic structure of the novel, as well as its dominant motif. The novel will be narrated in flashback, so that by the end, we'll fully understand why Papa broke Mama's figurines, and how their family came to be so divided. Furthermore, Adichie introduces us to the purple hibiscus that will come to stand for the characters' sense of freedom and creativity--a freedom that can't be destroyed by repressive parents or governors, try as they might.

The purple hibiscus, Kambili tells us, is free and "experimental"--a sure sign of its symbolic meaning. It's worth noting that although Kambili is seemingly under her father's thumb--living in his house, ex.--in her mind she's now free of his influence.  By the same token, the hibiscus seems to be powerless and domestic, when in reality it's secretly wild and free.

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The Purple Hibiscus Symbol Timeline in Purple Hibiscus

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Purple Hibiscus appears in Purple Hibiscus. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Colonialism and Nigerian Politics Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Freedom vs. Tyranny Theme Icon
Silence and Speech Theme Icon
...true changes began when they visited Aunty Ifeoma in Nsukka. Kambili remembers Ifeoma’s garden of purple hibiscus , and the scent of freedom they seemed to give off. This was a different... (full context)
Chapter 8
Freedom vs. Tyranny Theme Icon
...have enough fuel to drive around the university. As they walk out Jaja admires Ifeoma’s purple hibiscuses . Ifeoma says that a botanist friend of hers created them. Hibiscuses aren’t usually purple.... (full context)
Freedom vs. Tyranny Theme Icon
Jaja lingers by the purple hibiscus , but then they all get in the car. To save fuel, Aunty Ifeoma switches... (full context)
Chapter 9
Colonialism and Nigerian Politics Theme Icon
Freedom vs. Tyranny Theme Icon
Silence and Speech Theme Icon
...she has not seen before, but which appeared when he was in the garden of purple hibiscuses . (full context)
Chapter 10
Freedom vs. Tyranny Theme Icon
Silence and Speech Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
...also has a secret present from Nsukka. In the refrigerator he has some stalks of purple hibiscus , wrapped in black cellophane like the painting. Jaja plans to give them to the... (full context)
Colonialism and Nigerian Politics Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Freedom vs. Tyranny Theme Icon
Silence and Speech Theme Icon
...her about Papa in a way he won’t with Kambili. He tells Ifeoma that the purple hibiscus stalks have been planted. He gives Kambili the phone, and she asks to give Father... (full context)
Chapter 13
Religion and Belief Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Freedom vs. Tyranny Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
When they reach their home, Jaja comments that the purple hibiscuses are about to bloom. The next day is Palm Sunday, when Jaja refuses to go... (full context)
Chapter 17
Family Theme Icon
Freedom vs. Tyranny Theme Icon
Silence and Speech Theme Icon
...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... (full context)