Amaka and Kambili go to Mass at their local church. It is much plainer than St. Agnes. The women don’t always cover their hair “properly,” and sometimes they even wear jeans. Father Amadi delivers the Eucharist and breaks into an Igbo song after the Lord’s prayer. The congregation greets and hugs each other, and Kambili watches Father Amadi smile at her from the altar.
Earlier Kambili had always admired St. Agnes for its extravagance and beauty, and how proper everyone is. But now she can appreciate this more casual atmosphere, as it comes with a greater expression of joy and love. This is Adichie’s hopeful vision for Catholicism in Nigeria, a fusion of traditions rather than a domination of one over the other.
Father Amadi drives them home afterward, and he reminds Amaka that she needs to choose a confirmation name. The confirmation name has to be English, however, and Amaka says she doesn’t want an English name. They return home, where Aunty Ifeoma is telling a friend about the security agents ransacking her flat.
Amaka remains firmly Afrocentric in her ideals, and makes a valid decision to not choose an English name for confirmation—as that would imply that English names are better or more holy than Igbo names. Yet Amaka’s choice is also one of choosing Africa over her religion; it is a an equal and opposite response to Western domination.
When Aunty Ifeoma’s story is over, her friend, whose name is Chiaku, relays the news that a professor’s young son stole his father’s exam papers and was selling them to students. When the professor found out, he beat his son. Chiaku points out the hypocrisy of this, as the professor is one who won’t speak out about the corruption in the government and the university. She says that when you “sit back and do nothing about tyranny,” your children will learn from your example.
This is another lesson about the cycle of oppression and violence. It may start with tyranny at the top, but it works its way down to personal tragedies like Papa’s abuse or this boy stealing his father’s exams. The challenge then is to break the cycle at any level by speaking out against what is wrong, even when it might be dangerous.
Aunty Ifeoma tells Chiaku that she is thinking about moving to America, and she has sent her resume to a relative there. Chiaku is disappointed, and comments that Nigerians will always be “second-class citizens” in America. Chiaku laments that all the strong people are leaving Nigeria, while the weak stay behind to be ruled by tyrants. Obiora interrupts to say that that is “pep-rally nonsense.” Ifeoma sends him away, and she apologizes to Chiaku, but his insult lingers between them. When Chiaku leaves, Ifeoma yells at Obiora and slaps him for being disrespectful.
Chiaku comments on this cycle, where people flee or ignore tyranny instead of fighting against it, but Ifeoma has no choice if she wants to provide for her children. Ifeoma gets angry at Obiora not for disagreeing, but for disagreeing in such an insulting way. For the first time we see Ifeoma angrily disciplining her children. She prizes their independence; but she combines that with an insistence on basic respect.
Amaka tells Kambili about the times Aunty Ifeoma has slapped them for misbehaving. She says that afterwards Ifeoma always gives a long talk about what they did wrong and how to avoid it in the future. Amaka takes Kambili’s hand, and they both think about how different this is from how Papa treats Kambili and Jaja.
The two cousins are close friends now, as Amaka truly understands Kambili’s situation and no longer thinks she is snobbish. Once again Ifeoma’s family dynamic is portrayed as far superior to Papa’s.
Aunty Ifeoma cleans out the freezer, as meat has started to go bad because of all the power outages. Kambili and Amaka go through a bag of rice, picking out stones and dirt, and Kambili now feels an easy companionship with Amaka. A car drives up and they are all surprised to see that it is Mama, wearing her slippers and looking unkempt. Aunty Ifeoma helps her into the house.
Even though they are now dangerously low on food and money, Kambili enjoys spending time with her cousins more than living in frightened luxury at home. Mama’s arrival disrupts this peaceful moment with another reminder of Papa’s abuse.
Mama sits down and looks around distractedly. She says that she got back from the hospital today, and then took a taxi here. Papa had broken a small table over her belly. She had been pregnant again, and she lost the baby. Papa hadn’t known about the pregnancy. Mama slides onto the floor and starts to cry. She cries until she falls asleep.
Papa’s violence seems to be getting worse as he deals with more stress in his public life, to the point that even Mama is acknowledging it and fleeing him. After this second instance, we can now surmise the tragic reason behind Mama’s other miscarriages.
Papa calls that evening. Aunty Ifeoma answers, but doesn’t let Mama come to the phone. After she hangs up Mama gets the phone from a bedroom and calls Papa. When she emerges she says that she and the children are leaving tomorrow; Papa is coming to get them. Aunty Ifeoma is shocked and angry, and asks if Mama has gone crazy. Mama’s eyes seem glazed over, and she talks about how much stress Papa is under, and all the people he supports. Ifeoma counters that she and her late husband faced dire poverty, but he never once struck her.
After her moment of clarity, Mama seems to submit once more to Papa’s control. Later we will learn that she was taking her own violent stand for freedom all this while. She brings up the ironic contrast between Papa’s saintlike public life and his abusive domestic one. Ifeoma tries to convince Mama to speak out—not knowing what Mama is really up to.
Mama says that there is nowhere she could go if she left Papa’s house, and that he has so many other willing women to choose from. She then sits back down on the floor and says that Ifeoma has come with her “university talk” again. Kambili has never seen her mother say so much or so candidly.
Ifeoma’s talk of freedom and equality doesn’t seem helpful to Mama, who feels trapped by silence and respectability. Yet she is beginning her own disastrous fight against Papa’s tyranny.
After Mama and Aunty Ifeoma go to bed, Kambili plays cards with Amaka and Obiora. Amaka says that Papa isn’t a bad man, he just can’t handle stress. She is still grateful to him for paying for Papa-Nnukwu’s funeral. Obiora is silent on the subject.
Everything is out in the open now, and Papa’s control seems less powerful when it can be spoken about. Amaka too is confused by the complexity of Papa’s character.
Papa arrives the next day to pick up Mama, Jaja, and Kambili. He hugs them all, and Kambili notices that he has a strange rash on his face, but he says that it is an allergic reaction. Amaka hugs Kambili and calls her nwanne m nwanyi—“my sister.” As they drive Papa starts the rosary, but his voice sounds tired and different. Kambili wants to meet eyes with Jaja and tell him how much she wishes they had stayed in Nsukka, but Jaja stays turned towards the window.
Ifeoma’s family has always been about inclusivity, and now Jaja and Kambili are truly like their aunt’s children, and brother and sister to their cousins. This is Adichie’s vision of an ideal family—one that is flexible, nurturing, and joyful. Yet outside that world Jaja has cut himself off from Kambili and their language of the eyes.
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 to communion and Papa throws his missal, breaking Mama’s figurines.
The purple hibiscus from Nsukka are now about to bloom in Enugu, just as Jaja is about to finally break free from Papa and assert his independence.