At Aunty Ifeoma’s house there is always laughter, and brief arguments, and random Igbo praise songs. There is little meat in the food, and everyone takes a part in keeping the flat very clean. When plate washing one day, Amaka mocks Kambili’s way of washing dishes, and again brings up her “fancy schedule.” The two don’t speak again until later that day, when two of Amaka’s friends from school come over. They are dressed fashionably and laugh together over an American magazine. One of them asks Kambili about her hair, but she finds she cannot speak, and so she starts coughing and runs out.
After the overwhelming first day, Kambili can now assess all the differences between her family and Ifeoma’s. Her silence becomes even more powerful as she tries to overcome it. They are the same age and closely related, but Amaka’s life is incredibly different from Kambili’s. Amaka continues to see Kambili’s schedule not as a tool of Papa’s control, but as a luxury for the rich.
That evening as Kambili sets the table, she hears Amaka asking Aunty Ifeoma if Kambili and Jaja are “abnormal.” Ifeoma rebukes her and tells her to respect her cousins, but Amaka repeats that “something is not right with them.” Kambili looks over to see if Jaja heard, but he is watching TV with Obiora, now looking comfortable in this new environment. The next morning he also seems to fit right in as he helps Ifeoma in the garden.
Jaja starts adjusting better than Kambili, and he finds a source of joy in working in the garden. Thus the purple hibiscuses are especially symbolic of his journey towards freedom and independence. Kambili’s silence is now keeping her from even the most normal human interaction.
Aunty Ifeoma asks Kambili to join them in the garden, and she talks to Kambili about the beauty of the plants. Kambili is only able to answer “yes” without any enthusiasm. Some children from the flat upstairs try to talk to Kambili, but she can only stutter in response. Ifeoma says she can go inside if she wants, and she gives Kambili a book to read about the historical figure Olaudah Equiano.
Ifeoma has also noticed how “abnormal” Kambili and Jaja are because of their upbringing, but she isn’t rude about it like Amaka. Amaka, too, has things to learn about interacting with other people and being generous. Ifeoma tries to slowly draw Kambili out of her shell, but Kambili’s silence is still impenetrable.
Kambili sits on the veranda with the book and watches a little girl chase a butterfly. Obiora and Jaja are on the verandah as well, but on the other side of the shade. Obiora asks Jaja about his name, and Jaja says that “Jaja” is just a nickname that stuck—his real name is Chukwuka. Aunty Ifeoma says that Jaja might take after the “defiant” king Jaja of Opobo, who refused to let the British control his people’s trade, and so was exiled to the West Indies. Ifeoma looks at Jaja and says that defiance, like marijuana, is “not a bad thing when used right.” Kambili is struck by both her solemnity and her sacrilege.
Aunty Ifeoma praises the virtues of being defiant and resisting the British, hinting that this is what Jaja must do with Papa. By now Ifeoma knows that Papa has a tyrannical hold over his children, and so she starts to try and teach them to be independent. Jaja is a more willing student than Kambili. Kambili is still stuck on Papa’s rules and his idea of “sacrilege.”
Jaja makes a comment about the British losing many battles before their overall victory, and Kambili is amazed that he speaks so easily. She wonders why he doesn’t stutter and stay silent like she does. Jaja looks comfortable and alive, with a light in his eyes she has not seen before, but which appeared when he was in the garden of purple hibiscuses.
Adichie now fully portrays the purple hibiscuses as a symbol of freedom and awakening individuality. We cannot see Jaja’s point of view, as he starts to pull away from Kambili as he relishes his newfound freedom and she remains more under Papa’s control.
Chima notices that Jaja’s little finger is gnarled and deformed, and he asks him about it. Aunty Ifeoma quickly says that Jaja had an “accident,” and she sends Chima away. Kambili meets Ifeoma’s eyes and realizes that she knows what happened to Jaja’s finger. When he was ten, Jaja had not come in first in his First Holy Communion class. Papa locked himself in a room with Jaja and when they emerged he took Jaja to the hospital. Papa had purposefully avoided damaging Jaja’s writing hand.
Jaja has opened up enough that he has even told Ifeoma about Papa’s abuse—something Jaja and Kambili never spoke of before, even amongst themselves. Jaja’s silence is less pervasive than Kambili’s, and he finds his voice sooner, which ultimately leads to the Palm Sunday scene.
The phone rings. Kambili answers, and it is Mama calling to say that soldiers found the offices of the Standard and destroyed the presses and furniture, locked the offices, and took the keys. Ade Coker had been arrested again. Mama says she is worried about Papa. After she talks to Mama, Aunty Ifeoma buys a newspaper even though she hardly ever does, and sees a tiny article about the closing of the Standard. That night Papa calls and says that everything is fine. He doesn’t mention the Standard. Ifeoma says that Jaja and Kambili are to stay a few extra days, and Jaja smiles joyfully.
Even as Jaja and Kambili try and escape the frightened silence of Papa’s control, the Nigerian Head of State tries to silence Papa and Ade Coker by physically shutting down their presses. As usual, Papa says nothing about his political or public life to his family, but the events allow Jaja and Kambili to stay in Nsukka longer. Now that the Standard is shut down, there is no newspaper willing to support free speech and criticize the government.
The phone rings early the next morning, and Kambili is worried that it is bad news about Papa being killed. Aunty Ifeoma answers, but she doesn’t say who it was. She is irritable and quiet for the rest of the day. Father Amadi stops by during dinner. He says he was playing soccer with some boys earlier, and that next time he will bring Jaja and Obiora along. Kambili is amazed at the thought of a priest playing soccer. Father Amadi invites Kambili along as well.
Kambili worries about Papa, but deep down she still considers him a kind of immortal, godlike presence. Father Amadi continues to act “unpriestly.” Like Aunty Ifeoma, he seeks out the joy in his religion instead of only dwelling on sin and punishment.
Father Amadi notices that Aunty Ifeoma is upset and he asks her about it. She says that she got news that Papa-Nnukwu is sick. She wants to bring him to Nsukka. Amaka is upset that her mother didn’t tell her earlier, but Obiora remains calm and collected. Kambili notices (as she has many times by now) that he seems older than Jaja. Ifeoma says she doesn’t have enough fuel to get to Abba. Father Amadi offers her some emergency fuel from the church.
Obiora is two years younger than Jaja, but Obiora seems to have a maturity beyond his years. He is the “man of the house” after his father died, and though Ifeoma is still very much in charge, Obiora takes on more responsibility than he would otherwise. Jaja, on the other hand, is still under Papa’s control even if he has begun to imagine what it might be like to not be.
That night prayers are more subdued, and Kambili wonders where Papa-Nnukwu will sleep when he arrives. She prays that Papa won’t find out if she has to share a room with a “heathen.” After the rosary Aunty Ifeoma prays for Papa-Nnukwu’s health. Kambili is surprised, as Papa only ever prays that Papa-Nnukwu be converted.
Ifeoma sees Papa-Nnukwu as her beloved father, a member of her family, and a valuable human, while Papa has learned to only see him as a “heathen” who needs to adopt Papa’s rules. Ifeoma’s prayers continue to surprise Kambili in their sincere joy and love.
The next morning Father Amadi arrives unshaven and wearing shorts, bringing the fuel to Aunty Ifeoma. Obiora offers to suck the fuel from the can to the car’s tank with the garden hose. He does it, and Father Amadi praises him, saying that it is a useful skill. Kambili admires Father Amadi’s smile. Aunty Ifeoma emerges wearing black. She thanks Father Amadi and then leaves for Abba with Obiora.
Kambili becomes more and more entranced by Father Amadi. She experiences her first sexual feelings at the same time as her first experience of independence, and so her growing affection for Father Amadi becomes closely linked to the freedom she finds in Nsukka.
Father Amadi leaves, Chima visits a neighbor, and Amaka goes into her room to listen to her “culturally conscious” musicians, which Kambili can recognize now. Jaja works in the garden. Kambili asks him, whispering, if he thinks that they’re “abnormal.” Jaja only says “What does abnormal mean?” and goes back to trimming the plants.
As Jaja tries to pull away from Papa he also pulls away from Kambili. It may be that he sees her as part of the toxic home environment, or just that he gets carried away with his new rebelliousness, but the siblings’ relationship only becomes less close from now on.
Aunty Ifeoma returns that afternoon with Papa-Nnukwu. He seems tired and greets Kambili weakly. Amaka and Obiora help Papa-Nnukwu into the flat and into Amaka’s room. They offer him the bed but he says he prefers the floor. He lies down and immediately falls asleep. Kambili notices how tall he is when he is stretched out on the floor. Amaka offers to cook his favorite meal, but Ifeoma says he has hardly been eating or drinking.
Ifeoma and her family don’t even think about whether Papa-Nnukwu is a “heathen” or not—he is just a member of their family who needs help. When Papa-Nnukwu is actually present and looking so old and frail, it suddenly seems monstrous that Papa would cut all ties with him just because of his religion.
Aunty Ifeoma says that the doctors at the medical center are on strike, but that she knows a doctor, Doctor Nduoma, who will visit that evening. He has been running his own small clinic since the strike. Later the doctor arrives and examines Papa-Nnukwu. Jaja and Kambili sit on the verandah. Jaja is concerned with Papa-Nnukwu’s health, while Kambili is concerned with Papa finding out that they are sharing a house with him.
For someone poor like Aunty Ifeoma, the corruption and strikes throughout the country can have a devastating effect, as now she cannot find proper medical care for her father. Kambili continues to cling to her guilt at breaking Papa’s rules, while Jaja has begun to move past them and see Papa-Nnukwu as a person.
Kambili is surprised at Jaja’s tone, as if he doesn’t care whether Papa finds out or not. She asks him if he told Aunty Ifeoma about his finger, and he says that he did. Kambili wonders if he has forgotten that “we never told, that there was so much that we never told.” Jaja gets up and says he wants to clean off Ifeoma’s car. As he walks off Kambili notices how much older and more broad-shouldered he seems than a week ago.
Jaja seems to actively avoid Kambili now, as he tries to escape the silence she is still clinging to. In naming Papa’s violence and talking about it to Aunty Ifeoma, Jaja helps rob it of its oppressive power. With his newfound freedom Jaja seems to reach a new maturity.
Doctor Nduoma leaves, and Aunty Ifeoma thanks Jaja for cleaning her car, calling him by the same title she uses for her sons. She says that she will take Papa-Nnukwu to get tests done, as at least the labs at the medical center are still open. The next day she takes him in, but returns and says that the lab staff are now on strike as well. She will have to find a private lab in town, which will be more expensive. She looks worried as she goes to get Papa-Nnukwu’s medicine.
Jaja now prefers Ifeoma’s family to his own, and starts to open up to Aunty Ifeoma as if she were his own mother. Ifeoma doesn’t have the extra money to work around the medical center strikes and still find proper care for Papa-Nnukwu. Papa-Nnukwu’s life is in danger, but Papa won’t use his money to help him.
That night Papa-Nnukwu eats, and everyone is relieved. He takes his pills and jokes with the children. Amaka seems happy even when she complains. Suddenly the power goes off. Obiora asks Papa-Nnukwu to tell them a folk story. Papa-Nnukwu tells the story of why the tortoise has a cracked shell.
Ifeoma’s children are close with Papa-Nnukwu, and they get along well. Jaja and Kambili, on the other hand, only see him for 15 minutes a year. They have never heard him tell a story before.
In Papa-Nnukwu’s story, there was a famine and all the animals were starving except for the dog. The tortoise discovered that the dog was being taken up into the sky by his mother and getting food there. He blackmails the dog into inviting him along as well. One day the tortoise pretends to be the dog and calls for the dog’s mother, wanting all the food for himself. He is halfway to the sky when the dog finds out, and the tortoise falls down, cracking his shell. Everyone laughs except for Kambili.
Kambili has heard all about the evils of Papa-Nnukwu’s “paganism” but doesn’t actually know anything about it. Papa-Nnukwu simply tells an old story to entertain his grandchildren and pass on a tradition—there is nothing frightening or wicked about, and so Kambili is confused about why it is so sinful. And yet she still can’t bring herself to enjoy it.