Papa-Nnukwu wakes up before everyone else, and they have breakfast with him on the verandah as he tells them stories about his village. He takes his medicine, and Aunty Ifeoma looks relieved. She thinks he will get better soon and start asking to return to Abba. Father Amadi drives up to visit Papa-Nnukwu, and Kambili’s hands shake when she sees his car. He is wearing his priestly robes today, but he still seems comfortable and confident. Kambili runs inside and watches him from the window.
Kambili’s feelings towards Father Amadi are definitely romantic now, but she remains just as shy and silent as before and is afraid to speak to him, even actively hiding from him. Her instinct is still toward silence, toward non-independence. It also seems “unpriestly” to Kambili that a Catholic priest would come to check up on a heathen’s health.
Father Amadi is delighted to hear that Papa-Nnukwu is improving, and he says he will take Jaja and Obiora to the stadium that evening to play soccer. He asks about Kambili, and she feels grateful to hear him say her name. He drives off. Kambili goes into the living room, where Amaka is tending to Papa-Nnukwu, who compliments Amaka’s artistic skills. Amaka sits down and starts to paint him. They speak to each other occasionally, understanding each other without many words. Kambili watches and feels a longing for something she will “never have.”
Papa has basically denied Jaja and Kambili outside friendship and familial love, and so Kambili has never gotten to know her grandfather like Amaka has. Kambili finally starts to realize and regret this fact. Just as Kambili and Jaja share a language of the eyes, so Amaka and Papa-Nnukwu seem to understand each other without many words.
Kambili goes into the kitchen. Aunty Ifeoma notices that she is crying, but Kambili says that something must have flown into her eyes. Aunty Ifeoma shows Kambili how to prepare the coco-yams for her soup. Ifeoma praises Papa-Nnukwu’s health, saying that the Virgin Mary has helped to heal him. Kambili asks how the Virgin could intercede for a heathen. Ifeoma is quiet for a while. Then she says that Papa-Nnukwu is a traditionalist, not a heathen, and that he practices what is familiar to him, and that his ceremonies are similar to Catholic ones. Kambili hears Amaka and Papa-Nnukwu laughing in the next room, and wonders if they would stop if she entered.
Even as Kambili cries and longs for a close relationship with her grandfather, the only thing she can say out loud is to repeat Papa’s dogma. Aunty Ifeoma now clarifies her different approach to religion—she is still a Catholic, but she doesn’t force her beliefs on others or consider other beliefs to be without value. In her explanation of Papa-Nnukwu she also emphasizes the importance of cultural tradition, of valuing where you come from as a source of strength. Kambili is starting to see how her silence negatively impacts her ability to engage with the world, to have fun in it.
The next morning Aunty Ifeoma wakes Kambili up to watch Papa-Nnukwu perform his “declaration of innocence” rite. He is on the verandah, and Kambili observes him. Papa-Nnukwu sits next to a lamp and draws chalk lines on the floor as he thanks a god for his many blessings and declares his own innocence of crime. He prays for himself, for Ifeoma, and for Papa, asking that the “curse” on Papa be lifted. He prays for his grandchildren, and that good things come to all who do good. Then he stands up, totally naked, and Kambili does not look away. Papa-Nnukwu gets dressed, smiling. Kambili thinks that she and her family never smile after saying the rosary.
Ifeoma understands that Kambili has only Papa’s word that being non-Christian is evil, and so she makes Kambili see for herself. Papa-Nnukwu prays for Papa with a sincerity that Papa never returns in his own prayers. Papa-Nnukwu prays for Papa’s health and well-being, while Papa only prays that Papa-Nnukwu become a Catholic. Once again there is an aspect of joy and love in religion that is totally foreign to Kambili, and she starts to long for it.
Later that morning Amaka washes Papa-Nnukwu’s feet and then continues her painting of him. Aunty Ifeoma asks Kambili to help her with the cooking, and Kambili is again embarrassed at her own lack of knowledge. Ifeoma says that Amaka can do it instead, and Amaka angrily says that she shouldn’t have to just because rich people don’t know how to cook. Ifeoma looks at Kambili and tells her to talk back to her cousin. Kambili finally answers calmly, saying that Amaka can show her the right way. Amaka laughs and says “so your voice can be this loud.”
Amaka is irritated not just by Kambili’s privilege but also by her meek submissiveness. Aunty Ifeoma again tries to draw Kambili out of her shell—when Amaka is rude to Kambili, Ifeoma rebukes Kambili for her silence more than Amaka for her rudeness. And this succeeds, as Kambili finally finds her voice and is able to speak without stuttering or whispering.
Amaka shows Kambili how to prepare the orah leaves for the soup. Father Amadi arrives later, and Kambili nervously shakes his hand. Amaka talks to him the most, but his attention lingers on Kambili. Father Amadi discusses his future trip as a missionary. Papa-Nnukwu has been listening, and he tells Father Amadi to not lie to whomever he is trying to convert, or teach them to “disregard their fathers.”
Papa-Nnukwu does not hate Christianity, but only the kind that Papa and his white missionary teachers practice—one that rejects everything about Nigerian culture as sinful and paganistic. Father Amadi, fortunately, believes in a more inclusive faith.
Obiora wonders aloud if there can ever be religion without oppression, or oppression without religion. Father Amadi banters with him and Amaka, but then points out Kambili, saying that she is quiet but there is a lot going on in her head. Kambili locks eyes with him and feels panicked. Father Amadi says that he will take her to the stadium today, just the two of them. Amaka remarks that Kambili looks terrified, but her voice sounds kinder than usual. Kambili looks around at everyone and wonders how they can all be so calm in Father Amadi’s presence.
Obiora, like Amaka, brings up real issues about colonialism and Eurocentrism in religion, although Ifeoma and Father Amadi never engage his arguments for real. Father Amadi has now joined Aunty Ifeoma in trying to get Kambili to open up, even if he has to practically force her. Kambili is very much infatuated with him by now, and is terrified by her foreign new feelings.
Father Amadi leaves, and Aunty Ifeoma tells Kambili to change into shorts before he comes back to pick her up. Kambili says she doesn’t own shorts, and Amaka lends her a pair without sneering or commenting. Kambili puts them on but avoids looking at herself in the mirror, wanting to avoid the sin of vanity. She puts on Amaka’s lipstick, but then wipes it off in a panic when Father Amadi arrives.
Amaka now starts to act more sympathetically towards Kambili, as if she realizes that the true source of Kambili’s meekness. Kambili had admired Amaka and Ifeoma’s lipstick at Christmas, and now she has a chance to wear it herself, but she still can’t rid herself of guilt about vanity.
Father Amadi picks up Kambili and as they drive she is overwhelmed by his presence. She randomly admits that she sleeps in the same room as Papa-Nnukwu, a heathen. Father Amadi asks why that is a sin, but Kambili can’t answer. Father Amadi says that Papa must have told her that. He says that Jaja has told him some about Papa. Kambili looks away, wondering why Jaja would do such a thing.
Kambili again finds herself only able to repeat Papa’s platitudes when she is nervous. She is still very confused by the new environment in Nsukka, and to her, Jaja breaking their silence and telling the truth about Papa is almost a betrayal.
They arrive at the stadium, and Father Amadi suggests they play before the boys arrive. Kambili admits that she doesn’t know any sports. Father Amadi stands up and tells Kambili to prove her love for Jesus by catching him. He sprints off, and Kambili runs after him. This happens four times, but Kambili can never catch up with him. They sit down on the grass, panting, and Father Amadi says that Kambili has “good legs for running.” Kambili is nervous to think of him looking at her legs.
Here Father Amadi tries to show Kambili the joy that he finds in Christianity—that it doesn’t always have to be about guilt and punishment, but can be about laughter and love. Kambili is confused by this idea, while also still confused by her feelings for Father Amadi. Yet she slowly starts emerging from her shell.
Father Amadi asks Kambili if she knows how to smile, and he reaches over and tugs at her lips. She tries to smile but cannot. He notices the stain on her hand where she wiped the lipstick off, and guesses what it is. Kambili feels embarrassed, but then starts to smile. Just then the boys arrive to play soccer. Father Amadi takes off his shirt and drops it on Kambili’s lap as he runs off to play. Kambili watches him and very slowly reaches out to touch the shirt. She holds on to it for the whole game.
Father Amadi is clearly flirting with Kambili and recognizes her feelings for him. He finally manages to draw a smile out of her. Sprinting after Father Amadi and this smile finally begin to break up the silence in Kambili. Her sexual feelings for Father Amadi continue to grow as well.
On the drive home Father Amadi plays a tape of Igbo worship songs. He says that enjoys playing with the boys, as he sees “Christ in their faces.” Kambili can only imagine the face of the blond Christ at St. Agnes. Father Amadi sings along with the tape and his voice is rich and melodious. Kambili feels like she is at home, or where she is meant to be.
Once again Father Amadi’s Catholicism is contrasted with Papa’s. Papa (and therefore Kambili) sees God as white, and Western culture as superior, while Father Amadi sees God as just as present in poor Nigerian boys as white Catholic priests.
Father Amadi points out that Kambili hasn’t asked a single question. He says she should have learned how from Amaka, and Kambili laughs. She feels strange and wonders if she has ever heard herself laugh. Suddenly she asks Father Amadi why he became a priest, but then she regrets asking. She knows the right answer: he would have been “called.” Kambili has imagined God calling her before, in a British-accented voice that pronounces her name wrong.
Kambili now laughs for the first time, possibly ever. We see just how tragically pervasive the silence has been all her life. She manages to ask a spontaneous question as well. Yet still she imagines God as white and British—so much so that God himself won’t be able to pronounce her name correctly.
Father Amadi gives a clichéd answer at first, but when Kambili accepts it he tells her he was joking. He says that he had many questions when growing up, and that “the priesthood came closest to answering them.” Kambili suddenly feels sad that Father Amadi’s handsome features will never be passed on to a child. Father Amadi says he is late for a meeting, so he must drop Kambili off and leave. He says he wants to do this again, and Kambili feels a lightness and sweetness in her chest.
Father Amadi’s approach to the priesthood is much more natural and heartfelt than Father Benedict’s, and so his faith seems that much more alive. Kambili is truly falling in love with Father Amadi by now. There also seems to be a suggestion that Father Amadi may have feelings for Kambili, which creates tension about the relationship through much of the rest of the novel.
When Kambili gets home, Aunty Ifeoma says that Papa called. He had learned from someone in Abba that Papa-Nnukwu was staying at the house. He was angry about a heathen living with his children, and he wants them to come home the day after tomorrow. Ifeoma sounds casual as she says this, but Kambili is terrified, knowing how angry Papa will be.
As usual, Papa has no concern for Papa-Nnukwu’s health or his children’s relationship with their grandfather, but only dwells on the fact that they have committed a sin. After Kambili’s moment of joy and freedom, Papa reasserts himself.
The next morning Amaka wakes up Kambili and they go to wake Papa-Nnukwu. They shake him but he doesn’t stir. Amaka panics and calls for her mother. Aunty Ifeoma runs in, confirms that Papa-Nnukwu is dead, and starts to wail, clutching at her father’s body. Obiora enters and pulls Ifeoma off. He says he will call Doctor Nduoma, and there is a new authority in his voice. Jaja covers Papa-Nnukwu’s body, and Kambili wants to help him but knows it will be sinful to touch a heathen’s body. She closes her eyes to avoid watching Jaja.
Adichie continues to juxtapose scenes poignantly—now Papa’s cold and angry call about Papa-Nnukwu’s “paganism” is contrasted with Ifeoma and her children’s’ intense and loving grief over his loss. Kambili has been so recently reminded of Papa’s anger and rules, and so she can’t help thinking of sinning even as she mourns her grandfather.
Obiora cries quietly to himself, knowing that he is now the “man of the house.” Kambili tries to go into the bathroom, but Amaka is locked inside, crying. Her crying is loud; Kambili notes that she hasn’t had to learn “the art of silent crying.” Kambili tells her cousin she needs the toilet, and Amaka comes out, waiting for Kambili to finish so she can go back in and sob.
Even in her grief, Amaka still has the freedom to cry as loudly as she wants. Kambili, Mama, and Jaja have always had to cry in silence, to avoid stirring Papa’s anger up further. Obiora continues to take on more maturity and responsibility.
Two men come with Doctor Nduoma to carry Papa-Nnukwu’s body. They couldn’t get a stretcher because the administrative staff was on strike as well. The ambulance drives off with Papa-Nnukwu’s body and Kambili helps Aunty Ifeoma clean off his mattress. Ifeoma asks if Kambili saw her grandfather’s face in death, and Kambili shakes her head. Ifeoma says that Papa-Nnukwu was smiling.
The workers’ strikes are so ubiquitous that they can’t even find a stretcher for a dead body. Papa-Nnukwu took joy in his family and in his traditions, unlike Papa and his family, and Papa-Nnukwu’s joy followed him into death.
The rest of the day everyone is subdued. Amaka laments that she didn’t finish painting Papa-Nnukwu. He had said that they would finish today. Amaka angrily says that he would be alive now if everyone at the medical center was not on strike. Kambili wants to be angry and tearful with her, but she knows that Papa-Nnukwu was not close to her like he was to Amaka.
Amaka sees the corruption in Nigeria and their own lack of money as partly responsible for Papa-Nnukwu’s death, which may be true. Kambili wants to mourn loudly and angrily, but feels that she doesn’t deserve to. Part of her growing up will be to escape her sense of not being deserving.
Obiora then says that “Uncle Eugene” has just parked outside the flat. Kambili suddenly freezes. Papa comes inside and Kambili and Jaja greet him mechanically. Aunty Ifeoma says that he should not have come, but Papa says that he could not let his children stay any longer. He looks around for Papa-Nnukwu.
This scene of loving grief is once again juxtaposed with Papa’s cold anger and overwhelming presence. Even Jaja, who has been finding his voice and sense of freedom, immediately seems to slip back under Papa’s control.
Aunty Ifeoma tells Papa that Papa-Nnukwu has died. Papa sits down and puts his head in his hands. Then he asks if Ifeoma called a priest to give him “extreme unction” before he died. Ifeoma gets angry, asking why that is all Papa has to say about his own father’s death. Papa says he cannot participate in a pagan funeral, but he will help arrange a Catholic funeral. Ifeoma starts to shout, declaring that she will never allow Papa-Nnukwu to have a Catholic funeral. She snaps her fingers at Papa, cursing him and weeping.
Here Papa truly shows just how much he has sacrificed familial love and affection for the sake of his religion and Eurocentric worldview. He does not grieve over the death of Papa-Nnukwu the person, but only over the fact that Papa-Nnukwu never converted before he died. In her intense grief Ifeoma loses her usual calm and confidence and breaks down at Papa’s coldness.
Papa gathers Kambili and Jaja to him, kissing their heads, and he tells them to get their things. Aunty Ifeoma comes in as Kambili is packing. She gives Kambili back her schedule. Kambili asks her to tell Father Amadi goodbye for her. Ifeoma has wiped away her tears and looks fearless once more. She holds Kambili’s hand as they walk out of the house.
The time of blossoming freedom and joy is over for now, and Kambili and Jaja seem unable to escape Papa’s tyrannical world. But they have been changed by their experience in Nsukka, and Ifeoma now fully understands their plight.
Chima starts to cry as Kevin packs up the car. Aunty Ifeoma says that he will see Jaja soon, but Papa doesn’t confirm this. Instead he gives Ifeoma some money to buy Chima a present. Amaka presses something wrapped in black cellophane into Kambili’s hands, and Kambili sees that it is the unfinished painting of Papa-Nnukwu. She hides it in her bag and gets into the car.
Amaka’s scorn for Kambili seems to have dissolved, and she gives her this precious reminder of Papa-Nnukwu and her time in Nsukka. Papa, as usual, responds to problems by throwing money at them.
Mama answers the door when they arrive. She has a black eye and her face is swollen. Jaja delivers the news about Papa-Nnukwu when Papa doesn’t mention it. Papa says that his father has gone to face judgment, as Ifeoma didn’t call a priest to let him convert before he died. Jaja says “maybe he didn’t want to convert.” Papa stares at him in wonder and then tells him to go upstairs and get ready for dinner.
Jaja does still carry the rebellious sense of freedom and new voice he found in Nsukka, and he talks back once to Papa, though he immediately falls silent afterward. Papa’s violence towards Mama has not abated in the children’s’ absence.
At dinner Papa prays longer than usual, asking God to forgive his children for their “sin of omission” of not telling him about Papa-Nnukwu. As they eat Kambili notices how much meat they all have compared to at Aunty Ifeoma’s house. Jaja asks Papa for the key to his room, as he wants some privacy—Papa always keeps the keys to both his children’s rooms. Papa asks if he wants to masturbate, and Jaja says no. Papa laments aloud how living with a heathen has corrupted his children.
Now that she is back at home, Kambili once again notices the differences between her family and Aunty Ifeoma’s, notably the wealthy abundance and the lack of joy. Jaja tries to press on and assert his individuality, pushing against Papa for the first time. Papa, of course, blames this new independence on Papa-Nnukwu’s unGodly influence.
Everyone is silent for the rest of dinner, and afterward Jaja follows Papa upstairs. Mama looks through fabric samples for the new curtains, which they have changed every year. Papa makes the final decision, but he usually chooses Mama’s favorite shade of beige. Kambili comments that Mama has polished the figurines on the étagère. Mama says that she did it yesterday, and Kambili looks closer at her swollen eye.
For Kambili, however, the silence of life returns. In this almost comic example of the curtains we see just how much control Papa keeps over his family. Kambili and Mama still never speak of Papa’s violence, but only of the figurines, the symbol of Mama’s quiet submissiveness.
Papa calls for Kambili to come upstairs. She hesitates, but Mama tells her to go. Papa is in the bathroom, and he tells Kambili to climb into the tub. She looks around for a stick, confused about what he will hurt her with. Then she sees a tea kettle on the floor. Papa asks her if she knew that Papa-Nnukwu was coming to Nsukka, and that she would be sharing a room with a heathen, and if she purposefully didn’t tell him on the phone. She affirms it all. Papa starts to cry and says that Kambili is precious, and so she should not “walk into sin.”
This horrifying scene is Papa’s worst punishment yet. He still cries and calls Kambili “precious,” and actually thinks that the violent punishment is good for her and will help save her soul from hell. Kambili is still helpless against Papa, and doesn’t deny any of the supposed sins she has committed.
Papa starts to pour boiling water on Kambili’s feet. Kambili screams, and Papa tells her that when she walks into sin, she burns her feet. When the water is gone Papa makes to lift Kamili out of the tub, but Mama comes into the bathroom, also crying. She puts wet salt on Kambili’s feet and then gently carries her to her room and gives her Panadol. She nods when Kambili asks if she had to go to Jaja’s room as well. Mama assures her that her feet will be healed in time to go to school tomorrow.
Mama helps her children and tends to them, but does not try to stop Papa even as he hurts them so terribly. This punishment is not Papa lashing out in anger, but premeditating a punishment that seems to him to fit the crime his children have committed. Even the newly outspoken Jaja submitted to Papa’s punishment.
After Mama leaves, Kambili thinks about Father Amadi and her family in Nsukka. She takes Amaka’s painting of Papa-Nnukwu out of her bag, but is still afraid to unwrap it. Just as she puts it away Papa enters the room. Kambili feels a new “flavor” of fear as she worries that Papa knows about the painting. Papa sits on the bed and reminds Kambili that everything he does is for her own good. He said that once he “sinned against his own body” while at missionary school. A priest there made him soak his hands in boiling water, and Papa never committed that sin again. Kambili has never imagined Papa committing any sins.
We now learn some of the backstory behind Papa’s violence. He was punished in similar ways by the missionary priests at his school, and he saw this punishment as ultimately saving him from sin and hell, and so he wants to “help” his children by teaching them in the same way. Kambili still idolizes Papa so much that even when he brutally hurts her she still cannot imagine him as ever doing anything wrong.
The next day Kambili tells Jaja about the painting. Neither of them mention their feet. Jaja says that he 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 gardener to plant. His eyes shine when he talks about the hibiscuses.
Jaja and Kambili still remain silent about Papa’s violence, but they can at least speak about their reminders of Nsukka’s freedom. The purple hibiscus follows Jaja home, as he carries his new freedom and individuality back to Enugu.
At lunch that day Papa complains about the cost of pagan funerals. He says that he has given Ifeoma money for Papa-Nnukwu’s funeral. Just then, Ade Coker arrives with another man and Papa leaves the table. Jaja and Kambili try to hear what they are talking about. Ade says that the head of state (whom Ade calls “Big Oga”) has decided to give him an exclusive interview, as long as Ade won’t run a story about Nwankiti Ogechi, a pro-democracy advocate who has gone missing. The man with Ade suggests that they hold the story about Nwankiti, but Ade angrily refuses. They go into Papa’s study. That evening the government agents come to try and bribe Papa.
Papa seemed unmoved by Papa-Nnukwu’s death, but he does at least pay for a lavish “heathen” funeral, perhaps feeling guilty and so breaking his own strict rules, but also perhaps realizing that not showing generosity toward his dead father would affect his public image. The political world intrudes into the family’s sphere now. Ade and Papa want to publish a story accusing the government of murdering an activist, and the Head of State is trying to distract them with an interview, or bribe them with money (perhaps similar to how Papa whitewashes his lack of care for his father with the funeral). These are the first methods of censorship, and if they fail they will use violence.
The next issue of the Standard has Nwankiti Ogechi on the cover. The story claims that soldiers shot him and then poured acid on his body. During “family time” that day they hear on the radio that Nigeria has been suspended from the Commonwealth Nations because of the murder, and that Canada and Holland are withdrawing their ambassadors from the country. Men from the “Democratic Coalition” come to visit Papa that night and the next few nights. They all warn him to be careful, and remind him of other assassinated activists.
Papa doesn’t discuss any of this with his family, but it is now obvious that he has put himself in danger by publishing the story about Nwankiti Ogechi’s alleged murder. It has embarrassed the Head of State on an international scale, and so Papa’s allies fear that the government will respond with violence to silence Papa just as they did Nwankiti Ogechi.
At dinner the next few days Papa’s hands seem to be shaking. Kambili wants to talk about the many people coming to the house, but Jaja looks away when she brings it up with her eyes, and changes the subject when she mentions it. One day Aunty Ifeoma calls to ask about Papa. Jaja talks to 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 Amadi her greetings. Ifeoma says that Father Amadi asks about her and Jaja “all the time.”
Jaja continues to pull away from Kambili, as if she were part of Papa’s toxic control. Jaja instead draws closer to Aunty Ifeoma, speaking with her in a way that he has never spoken to Kambili. Ifeoma seems to understand the symbolism of the purple hibiscus, and so Jaja’s news means that he is trying to assert his new independence at home.
Amaka comes to the phone and talks to Kambili, sounding friendlier than usual. Kambili thanks her for the painting, and Amaka talks about Papa-Nnukwu’s upcoming funeral. Amaka says that she hopes Kambili and Jaja can come for Easter, so they can be there for her confirmation and maybe see the apparitions at Aokpe. Kambili remembers her own confirmation the year before, and her confirmation name, which Papa had chosen: Ruth.
Amaka’s scorn and coldness has dissolved, and she now treats Kambili as a friend. Kambili likes this new familial love, but is surprised by it. In the Catholic tradition in Nigeria at this time, children had to choose English names to be confirmed as officially Catholic. Papa, of course, chose Kambili’s name for her.
When she is back in her room, Kambili thinks about Father Amadi and wonders if he really had been asking about her. She doodles the name “Father Amadi” over and over on a piece of paper, but rips it up when she hears Papa come home. She keeps thinking more and more about Father Amadi in the following weeks, even after school starts up again. She decides to play volleyball with the other girls, even though they make fun of her, as she remembers Father Amadi saying that she has “good legs for running.”
Kambili tentatively reaches for her own kind of freedom after her experience at Nsukka. She doesn’t rebel against Papa, but she does overcome her own shyness and play sports with the other girls, and embraces her strong feelings for Father Amadi, not worrying about whether they might be “sinful” or not.