Purple Hibiscus

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Themes and Colors
Colonialism and Nigerian Politics Theme Icon
Religion and Belief Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Freedom vs. Tyranny Theme Icon
Silence and Speech Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Purple Hibiscus, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Violence Theme Icon

The forces of tyranny, oppression, and silence all use violence as their tool throughout Purple Hibiscus. As with many of Adichie’s themes, the cycle of violence starts at the top and works its way down. The first violence was the oppression of British colonialism, which then led to corruption and violence in the Nigerian governments set up in its wake. The Head of State’s military regime uses violence as a tool for censorship and oppression, killing Ade Coker and the pro-democracy activist Nwanketi Ogechi, and ransacking Aunty Ifeoma’s apartment. Papa uses violence to enforce his own kind of oppression on his family, as he beats them, whips them, and pours boiling water on them. This violence then leads to more violence in the very attempt to escape it. Just as colonialism resulted in a corrupt independent government, so Papa’s violence compels Mama to poison and murder him. Thus Adichie shows that violence almost always begets more violence, as a method of oppression but also as a struggle for freedom.

Violence ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Violence appears in each chapter of Purple Hibiscus. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Violence Quotes in Purple Hibiscus

Below you will find the important quotes in Purple Hibiscus related to the theme of Violence.
Chapter 1 Quotes

I waited for him to ask Jaja and me to take a sip, as he always did. A love sip, he called it, because you shared the little things you loved with the people you loved. Have a love sip, he would say, and Jaja would go first. Then I would hold the cup with both hands and raise it to my lips. One sip. The tea was always too hot, always burned my tongue, and if lunch was something peppery, my raw tongue suffered. But it didn’t matter, because I knew that when the tea burned my tongue, it burned Papa’s love into me.

Related Characters: Kambili Achike (speaker), Jaja (Chukwuka Achike), Papa (Eugene Achike)
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

In this symbolically loaded passage, we witness Kambili, the heroine of the novel, waiting to sip a cup of her Papa's hot tea with her brother, Jaja. Kambili and Jaja are used to these "love sips," and in fact they look forward to them, as they seem to prove their Papa's love for them. The ritual is so much a part of Kambili's life that she associates her father's love itself with hot tea: they're both (supposedly) good for her, even if they hurt her in the short term.

We have yet to witness the full extent of Papa's violence to his family, but for now, the pain of hot tea foreshadows Papa's abusive behavior, and how closely connected this violence is with his children's persistent love for and worship of him. Perhaps subconsciously, he uses the hot tea ritual to teach his children that he beats them because he loves them.


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Chapter 8 Quotes

“I hear he’s very involved in the editorial decisions. The Standard is the only paper that dares to tell the truth these days.”
“Yes,” Aunty Ifeoma said. “And he has a brilliant editor, Ade Coker, although I wonder how much longer before they lock him up for good. Even Eugene’s money will not buy everything.”
“I was reading somewhere that Amnesty World is giving your brother an award,” Father Amadi said. He was nodding slowly, admiringly, and I felt myself go warm all over, with pride, with a desire to be associated with Papa.

Related Characters: Kambili Achike (speaker), Aunty Ifeoma (speaker), Father Amadi (speaker), Papa (Eugene Achike), Ade Coker
Page Number: 136-137
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Kambili meets Father Amadi, a young, handsome priest. Amadi is impressed to hear that Kambili's father is Eugene Achike, since he knows Eugene to be an important philanthropist and advocate for political freedom: Eugene is regarded as something of a hero among the Nigerian people. Amadi tells Kambili about some of her father's most impressive achievements: as a writer and journalist, he's one of the only figures in the country who dares to criticize the Nigerian leadership, a decision that might eventually lead him into prison (along with his editor, Ade Coker).

The passage is notable because it reminds us of the paradoxes of Papa's behavior. He's an incredibly generous and noble-spirited man, who donates his time and money to fighting for other people. And yet he's also a severe, brutal dictator in his own house: he sincerely believes that children should be beaten and punished harshly when they do anything wrong. While Papa's behavior might be hard for readers to understand, Adichie uses his contradictions to make him a deeply human and fascinating character, both admirable and reprehensible at once.

Chapter 10 Quotes

“Kambili, you are precious.” His voice quavered now, like someone speaking at a funeral, choked with emotion. “You should strive for perfection. You should not see sin and walk right into it.” He lowered the kettle into the tub, tilted it toward my feet. He poured the hot water on my feet, slowly, as if he were conducting an experiment and wanted to see what would happen. He was crying now, tears streaming down his face… I watched the water leave the kettle, flowing almost in slow motion in an arc to my feet. The pain of contact was so pure, so scalding, I felt nothing for a second. And then I screamed.
“That is what you do to yourself when you walk into sin. You burn your feet,” he said.

Related Characters: Kambili Achike (speaker), Papa (Eugene Achike) (speaker)
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chilling, emotional passage, Papa punishes Kambili for not telling him that she was spending time with her "heathen" grandfather, Papa-Nnukwu, and was even sharing a room with him. With tears in his eyes, Papa pours boiling water on Kambili's feet, telling her that she must avoid sin at all costs.

Papa is a tragic character--he seems to be motivated by his sincere love of religion, not just his sadistic need for control. Thus, he tells Kambili that she's precious and hurts her in the same instant: he's so concerned for her soul that he's willing to "condition" her to avoid sin (in the same way that he was conditioned, as we learn). One can recognize Papa's sincerity without agreeing with his methods: he's horribly violent, to the point where he's willing to torture his own family, thus undercutting the very religious ideals and freedom that he's otherwise trying to promote.

Chapter 11 Quotes

Ade Coker was at breakfast with his family when a courier delivered a package to him. His daughter, in her primary school uniform, was sitting across the table from him. The baby was nearby, in a high chair. His wife was spooning Cerelac into the baby’s mouth. Ade Coker was blown up when he opened the package—a package everybody would have known was from the Head of State even if his wife Yewande had not said that Ade Coker looked at the envelope and said “It has the State House seal” before he opened it.

Related Characters: Kambili Achike (speaker), Ade Coker, Yewande Coker, The Head of State (“Big Oga”)
Page Number: 206
Explanation and Analysis:

Ade Coker, whose character was inspired by real-life Nigerian journalist Dele Giwa, is assassinated in his own home (just as Giwa was). Ade is a courageous editor and journalist who uses his influence to criticize the Nigerian leadership, like Papa himself. Here, the Nigerian Head of State (never named, but probably based on real-life dictator Ibrahim Babangida) sends Ade a package, marked with his official seal. Ade opens the package, not thinking that the head of state would try to murder him with so little subterfuge. But the package turns out to be a bomb, which ends Ade's life. The scene reminds us that the Head of State has almost unlimited power in his own country: he doesn't have to hide his assassination plots--instead, he can simply send a bomb in the mail, bearing his official seal. This assassination is also a major turning point in the plot, as it is a sign that Papa's political activities have real, deadly consequences, and it is also a symbol of "silencing" on a political level--Ade is literally killed for speaking out against tyranny.

Chapter 15 Quotes

“It’s your father. They called me from the factory, they found him lying dead on his desk.” Mama sounded like a recording…
Jaja grabbed the phone. Aunty Ifeoma led me to the bed. I sat down and stared at the bag of rice that leaned against the bedroom wall… I had never considered the possibility that Papa would die, that Papa could die. He was different from Ade Coker, from all the other people they had killed. He had seemed immortal.

Related Characters: Kambili Achike (speaker), Mama (Beatrice Achike) (speaker), Jaja (Chukwuka Achike), Papa (Eugene Achike), Aunty Ifeoma, Ade Coker
Page Number: 287
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Kambili receives word that her father has been found dead at his desk. Kambili is shocked by the news of her father's death: he'd always seemed like an immortal to her--a harsh, tyrannical god, but still a god.

It's not yet clear why Kambili's father has died so suddenly. And yet his death is a crucial turning-point in the novel. Kambili has been moving further and further from her father's worldview throughout the last couple chapters--as if to reflect Kambili's growing independence, Papa dies, so that he can no longer control what Kambili does or thinks. Papa is a complex character, at once contemptible, admirable, and tragic: he's a brutal bully, but he also seems to love his children sincerely, and has undoubtedly done much good in the world outside his own home.

Chapter 16 Quotes

“I should have taken care of Mama. Look how Obiora balances Aunty Ifeoma’s family on his head, and I am older that he is. I should have taken care of Mama.”
“God knows best,” I said. “God works in mysterious ways.” And I thought how Papa would be proud that I had said that, how he would approve of my saying that.
Jaja laughed. It sounded like a series of snorts strung together. “Of course God does. Look what He did to his faithful servant Job, even to His own son. But have you ever wondered why? Why did He have to murder his own son so we would be saved? Why didn’t He just go ahead and save us?”

Related Characters: Kambili Achike (speaker), Jaja (Chukwuka Achike) (speaker), Papa (Eugene Achike), Mama (Beatrice Achike), Obiora
Page Number: 289
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Kambili and Jaja are still recovering from their father's sudden death. Kambili notes that with Papa dead, they'll have to take care of their mother more closely--indeed, they both feel guilty for not doing so sooner. Jaja in particular feels guilty that he didn't protect his mother from Papa's beatings--he could have saved her many times before, and he contrasts his own submissiveness to his cousin Obiora's maturity. Kambili offers up a cliched truism--God works in mysterious ways--showing that she continues to subconsciously worship her father and imitate his style of religious fervor. (He's dead, of course, but she still immediately thinks of how he would be proud of her for saying this.)

Jaja, by contrast, has entirely rejected Catholicism along with his father's authority. Instead, Jaja now believes that Christianity is just a system of domination, used to justify people's pain and suffering: there's no reason, for instance, why God had to punish Job (or even Christ himself) so harshly. Perhaps God, just like Papa, is a bully, hurting people for no particular reason. In all, the passage shows the divide between Kambili and Jaja. Both have now been freed from Papa's literal control, but they react to this freedom in different ways.

“I started putting the poison in his tea before I came to Nsukka. Sisi got it for me; her uncle is a powerful witch doctor.”
For a long, silent moment I could think of nothing… Then I thought of taking sips of Papa’s tea, love sips, the scalding liquid that burned his love onto my tongue. “Why did you put it in his tea?” I asked Mama, rising. My voice was loud. I was almost screaming. “Why in his tea?”

Related Characters: Kambili Achike (speaker), Mama (Beatrice Achike) (speaker), Papa (Eugene Achike), Sisi
Page Number: 290
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel, it's revealed that Kambili's meek, submissive mother was the one who murdered Papa: she put poison in his tea, so that eventually he'd die. Kambili, who is by now deeply conflicted regarding her father--she still can't help loving and worshipping him, but she also recognizes how tyrannical and sadistic he was--is especially distraught by the fact that Papa was killed by his tea. In this moment of revelation, Adichie poignantly reminds us how Papa used to share his hot tea with his children, giving them "love sips"--and this same "love," which was both painful and alluring, is the method by which Papa himself was silently killed.

Mama's murder shows that tyranny and bullying have consequences. We can't entirely forgive Mama for her actions--any more than we can forgive Papa for his--and yet we can understand where she's coming from. After years of being beaten, she couldn't take it anymore. She never spoke out against Papa, but she did rebel against his tyranny in her own desperate way.