As Kevin drives them Kambili notices all the burned and broken cars on the side of the road. At the town of Opi they come to a police checkpoint. Kevin throws the policeman some money and he waves them on, saluting mockingly. Kambili knows that if Papa were in the car, Kevin would have let the officers painstakingly search the car and his papers. Papa won’t bribe anyone because, he says, “we cannot be a part of what we fight.”
We see the casual and pervasive corruption among the police and soldiers, where everyone takes bribes. Papa, who stands up against this kind of immorality in the government, refuses to bribe them, even though it wastes time for him and he has plenty of money to spare. Part of the tragedy of Papa is that in many ways he is an admirable character.
They reach Nsukka and drive down a road riddled with potholes. They come to the University of Nigeria, where Kevin asks for directions. Kambili and Jaja notice a statue of a lion on the university lawn, with the motto “To restore the dignity of man.” They drive into Aunty Ifeoma’s neighborhood and find her apartment, which is one of many in a large apartment building.
Ifeoma is a professor at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, where Adichie herself also first studied. Papa has two houses, while Aunty Ifeoma can only afford a small flat in an apartment building. The lion’s motto seems ironic after the casual bribery in the previous scene.
Aunty Ifeoma comes out and hugs Jaja and Kambili, and is delighted to see the food and gas cylinders, which she knows came because of Mama. She does a little dance and hugs Kambili again, and Kambili notices that she smells of nutmeg. Ifeoma leads them inside and Kambili is struck by how small and dense the flat is. The air smells like curry, nutmeg, and kerosene. The bookshelves are packed full of books. Ifeoma says that she sleeps in a room with Chima. Kambili will sleep in Amaka’s room, and Jaja will sleep with Obiora in the living room.
Their arrival at Ifeoma’s flat is overwhelming to Kambili and Jaja. They are used to silence, a huge house, and a servant to keep things clean. Ifeoma’s flat then seems especially loud and crowded. Kambili and Jaja only ever seem to read the Bible and their schoolbooks, while Ifeoma is very well-read. There aren’t even enough bedrooms for Ifeoma’s children, so everyone must share.
Kevin comes inside to say he is leaving. Kambili has a sudden urge to run after him and ask him to take her back, but she doesn’t. Aunty Ifeoma speaks casually, as if this visit were a usual occurrence. She is cooking in the kitchen, and talks and laughs as she chops and stirs. A few minutes later her children arrive—they had been visiting a family friend, a priest named Father Amadi. The cousins all hug, though Amaka hardly acknowledges Kambili. Obiora invites Jaja along with him to get soft drinks. Amaka goes into her room, and Ifeoma tells Kambili to go with her.
Kambili is excited to temporarily escape Papa and experience freedom, but she is also afraid of the unknown—Papa is violent but he is also familiar and protective. In Kambili’s family everyone is always quiet and polite, while Ifeoma’s family greets them familiarly. Kambili is immediately left alone with her cousin, though she is constantly afraid of Amaka’s confident scorn.
Amaka starts to change and talks to Kambili, who sits nervously on her bed. Amaka says that Nsukka is boring compared to Enugu, though Kambili has hardly ever been to the “happening places” in Enugu that Amaka names. Amaka asks Kambili why she speaks so quietly, but Kambili has no answer. Amaka takes off her dress and Kambili averts her eyes, panicked about sinning.
Again Amaka assumes that Kambili is being snobby and looking down on Nsukka, when actually Kambili is never allowed to do anything fun. Ifeoma and her children are more casual and confident with their bodies, as they don’t have the guilt Papa has instilled in his children.
Amaka turns on some music, saying that her sound system must be nothing compared to Kambili’s. Amaka says that she likes “culturally conscious” indigenous musicians like Fela, not American pop like most other teenagers. Kambili doesn’t say that she has no sound system and doesn’t know any pop music. Instead she asks about a painting on the wall: a Virgin and Child, with both Mary and Jesus as dark-skinned. Amaka says that she painted it.
Amaka is young but already considers herself an activist. Unlike Papa, she rejects the Eurocentric colonial mindset that whiteness is superior, and she wants to assert her pride as a Nigerian. She doesn’t listen to Western music, and even paints Jesus (whom Kambili has always imagined as being white) as dark-skinned.
Amaka and Kambili return to the kitchen and then they all sit down on the mismatched chairs at the peeling dining room table for lunch. Aunty Ifeoma says a brief prayer and then eats, joking that she doesn’t say Mass over every meal like Papa does. They eat, and Ifeoma’s children are excited about having both chicken and soft drinks at one meal.
Kambili’s first impressions often center around the fact that Ifeoma’s family is much poorer than her own. Nothing in the flat matches or is new, there isn’t enough room for everyone, and there is never extra food.
Everyone talks and laughs loudly as they eat, and Aunty Ifeoma jokes with her children. Kambili stays quiet and stares at her plate, confused by the foreign atmosphere of freedom. Aunty Ifeoma mostly sits back and watches her children banter and laugh, looking pleased with them. After lunch Kambili goes to the bathroom and is confused when there is no water to flush the toilet. She asks Ifeoma about it, and Ifeoma says that the water runs only in the morning.
Kambili is confused by how different this family dynamic is. Instead of politeness and frightened silence, Ifeoma’s children laugh and say whatever comes into their heads, and Ifeoma looks on approvingly. She teaches her children by giving them freedom, while Papa teaches his by giving them rules.
The phone rings, and it is Papa. Kambili speaks to him, and he says that the house feels empty without them, and he reminds them to study and pray. That evening at dinner Kambili imagines Papa and Mama eating alone, and the full crates of soft drinks always in their house. Aunty Ifeoma and her children watch TV as they eat, and they invite Jaja and Kambili to join. They are forbidden to watch TV, but they don’t decline the offer.
The two most obvious contrasts between the families are that Kambili’s is much wealthier, but Ifeoma’s is much happier. Papa checks in, reminding his children of his controlling presence even when they are away. Kambili and Jaja loosen up very slightly in agreeing to watch TV.
Aunty Ifeoma says that Jaja and Kambili can stay up as long as they want watching TV. Jaja pulls out his schedule and says that Papa wants them to study in the evenings. Ifeoma looks at the schedule and then starts laughing. She tells them to give her their schedules. Jaja protests, but Ifeoma says that Papa won’t know if they don’t tell him. She says it is her house, so she will make the rules. Ifeoma goes to her room with the schedules, and Kambili feels shocked.
Ifeoma does not yet know just how controlling and violent Papa is, and how deeply this has affected Jaja and Kambili. The idea of scheduled activities is indeed laughable for her, as she values independence and self-education over strict rules. Kambili is shocked over and over by this more flexible family dynamic.
Amaka asks if Jaja and Kambili have schedules at home as well. When they say yes, she says it’s interesting that rich people are so bored that they need schedules to tell them what to do. Aunty Ifeoma emerges with a rosary and crucifix, and they all kneel and start to recite the rosary. Soon Amaka starts singing a song in Igbo, and Ifeoma and Obiora join in. Jaja and Kambili look at each other and decide not to sing, because it’s “not right.”
Amaka has chosen to see Kambili and Jaja as spoiled and apathetic, and so she continues feeding her own perceptions. We now start to see Ifeoma’s brand of Catholicism, one that is much less rigid, more joyful, and doesn’t deny Igbo culture. Jaja and Kambili enforce Papa’s silence on themselves.
Afterwards Aunty Ifeoma goes to bed and the cousins keep watching TV. Kambili feels like her “real self” is still studying in Enugu, while her “shadow” is here in Nsukka. Kambili remembers what time her schedule said for bed, and so she goes to sleep. She dreams about Amaka flushing her down the toilet.
The sudden change in atmosphere feels unreal to Kambili, and part of her longs for the strict order and silence of home. She clings to Papa’s schedule even without the physical paper.
The next morning Amaka wakes up Kambili to fill up their containers of water while the water is still running. Jaja is there too, and he tells Kambili about his night sleeping in the living room. He seems surprised and happy. After getting water the family recites some prayers and sings more Igbo songs. Aunty Ifeoma prays for the university, for Nigeria, and that they might find “peace and laughter today.” Kambili is mystified by this last request.
Jaja opens up more quickly than Kambili does, and he almost immediately starts embracing the sense of freedom and independence he finds in Nsukka. Papa’s Catholicism has no place for joy or laughter, so Ifeoma’s prayer is confusing to Kambili. Religion is not a source of joy for her, but of fear.
They each take turns bathing and then Aunty Ifeoma makes a breakfast that seems paltry compared to Kambili’s usual one. Ifeoma wants to show Jaja and Kambili the university and be back for dinner, as she has invited Father Amadi to eat with them. Ifeoma hopes that she will 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. Jaja touches a petal and seems entranced.
Money is a constant concern for Ifeoma, and many of her decisions are based around frugality, something that is foreign to Kambili. The purple hibiscus, which gives the novel its title, finally appears. It is a unique flower, a result of experimentation, intellectual freedom, and friendship. It will come to symbolize the freedom and independence Jaja and Kambili find in Nsukka.
Jaja lingers by the purple hibiscus, but then they all get in the car. To save fuel, Aunty Ifeoma switches off the ignition when going downhill. She shows them the different university buildings, and suggests that Kambili might go there one day. Kambili realizes that she has never thought about university, and she knows Papa will decide when the time comes.
Jaja is most entranced by the purple hibiscuses, just as he is the first to seek his independence from Papa after the experiences in Nsukka. The flowers also inspire a love for gardening in him, and the joy Jaja finds in working in the garden adds to his strength and ability to assert his individuality.
They drive past a hill and Aunty Ifeoma says that from the top you can see how God laid out the hills of Nsukka. Kambili imagines God laying out the hills with his white hands, which look like Father Benedict’s. Aunty Ifeoma points out the vice chancellor’s compound, which was vandalized by students rioting over the lack of electricity and water one month. Amaka and Obiora debate about the justification for the riots, and Aunty Ifeoma laughs in her “proud-coach-watching-the-team way.”
Kambili’s idea of God is totally dependent on Papa’s pro-Western beliefs—she basically imagines God as white and looking like Father Benedict. The corruption in the government has led to a lack of utilities and money, which has led to many strikes. Kambili was unaffected by this at home, but it is a major part of Ifeoma’s life. Ifeoma is pleased to hear her children disagree and form their own opinions, such a contrast to Papa.
Outside the university gates the car seems to run out of fuel. The car behind her stops and a woman gets out. She sympathizes with Aunty Ifeoma about the lack of fuel. Obiora wants to push the car, but Ifeoma turns the key again and it starts. On the way home they stop by a hawker selling fruits. Ifeoma gives Amaka some money and Amaka bargains for the fruits she wants. Kambili watches her, wondering what it would feel like to do such a thing.
Kambili longs for the kind of freedom that Ifeoma’s children have always known—the freedom just to choose the thing they want, even if it is something as simple as a fruit. Papa has always made every decision for his family, from the color of the curtains to the schools that Jaja and Kambili attend.
Back at home Jaja and Obiora go off to play soccer, and Kambili stays with Aunty Ifeoma and Amaka to cook. Kambili offers to the peel the yam slices, but soon Amaka stops her, exasperated, saying that she is wasting too much yam. Father Amadi arrives later, and Ifeoma and her family greet him warmly. Kambili feels strange calling him “father,” as he is young and dressed only in a t-shirt and jeans. Father Amadi asks what Jaja and Kambili think of Nsukka, and Amaka immediately says that they hate it.
Kambili continues to show her privileged lifestyle in her inability to live as frugally as Ifeoma and her children. Father Amadi now appears as a very important character. He is a direct contrast to Father Benedict—he is young, Nigerian, liberal, openminded, and fun to be around. He doesn’t fit Kambili’s idea of a priest at all.
At dinner Kambili is entranced by Father Amadi’s melodious voice. He seems totally at home in Aunty Ifeoma’s house, and her children talk familiarly and joke with him. He asks Jaja and Kambili questions about themselves, and Kambili is grateful that Jaja gives all the answers. When he hears that they attend St. Agnes church, Father Amadi says that he said Mass there once. Kambili then realizes that the visiting priest whom Papa had disparaged was actually Father Amadi.
Kambili’s silence becomes even more noticeable in the company of Ifeoma’s family, and Jaja seems better able to find his voice. Kambili also feels nervous in Father Amadi’s presence, though she doesn’t yet understand why. Just like Papa-Nnukwu, Father Amadi can now become a real, friendly presence instead of just Papa’s idea of sinfulness.
Aunty Ifeoma tells Father Amadi that her brother almost single-handedly finances St. Agnes, and Father Amadi is shocked to hear that her brother is Eugene Achike. He compliments the Standard for telling the truth, and says that he heard that Amnesty World is giving Eugene an award. Kambili feels a rush of pride, and wants Father Amadi (“this handsome priest”) to associate her with Papa.
Aunty Ifeoma says that she hadn’t even heard of the award, but she isn’t surprised she didn’t know anything about it as her brother never calls her. She says that she had to use the pilgrimage to Aokpe to convince him to let Kambili and Jaja visit. She says she hadn’t planned on going to Aokpe, but that she might as well now. Obiora and Amaka argue about the validity of the Virgin sightings at Aokpe, and Amaka says “it’s about time Our Lady came to Africa.” Father Amadi neither confirms nor denies the apparition, saying that we don’t need to go anywhere to find the Virgin and her Son.
Ifeoma reveals that she had to basically lie to Papa to get him to allow Jaja and Kambili to visit. This kind of debate about spiritual things would never occur at Papa’s table or be approved by Father Benedict. Father Amadi takes a more openminded approach to his faith—one that is more about love and joy and less about rules and dogma. Amaka continues to push against Eurocentrism.
Amaka half-jokingly asks Father Amadi about the “doubting Thomas” inside everyone as well, but in response Father Amadi only makes a face and Amaka laughs. After dinner they say the rosary, and Father Amadi sings an Igbo praise song. Kambili wants to sing along, but she determinedly keeps her mouth shut. Afterward they watch TV, and Kambili notices Father Amadi watching her. He remarks that she hasn’t smiled or laughed all day. Kambili wants to apologize, but no words will come. She gets up and goes to the bedroom, and hears Father Amadi’s voice as she falls asleep.
Amaka’s questions and criticisms are actually very perceptive, but Father Amadi and Aunty Ifeoma rarely actually debate with her. Kambili’s silence becomes almost a palpable thing, and the more she admires Ifeoma’s family and Father Amadi, the more the words seem stuck in her throat. She must force herself to be silent during the singing, but then cannot speak or laugh when spoken to.