Purple Hibiscus

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.

Though the plot of Purple Hibiscus unfolds mostly on a personal level, its characters’ lives are also affected by a larger political background. Nigeria has a long history of English colonialism and oppression—it was a colony of the British for over a hundred and fifty years, and its disparate groups only brought together as a single nation because of British control—and it only became its own independent nation in 1960. Papa is described as a…

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Religion and belief are central to the novel, particularly in the contrasts between Papa, Papa-Nnukwu, and Aunty Ifeoma/Father Amadi. The plot begins with descriptions of Papa’s religious belief, which were molded by Catholic missionaries and are incredibly strict. He prefers that Igbo not be spoken (or sung) in church, and believes that priests should be very traditional. He befriends and admires the white, conservative Father Benedict. Papa imposes his…

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Purple Hibiscus takes place mostly on the familial level, dealing with the relations between Papa, Mama, Jaja, and Kambili, and then their relations with Papa-Nnukwu, Aunty Ifeoma, and her children. First we see the family dynamic of Kambili’s family, where they all live in silence and fear, following Papa’s strict rules and schedules. This quiet order is based around the terror of Papa’s sporadic violence for anything he sees…

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Related to the strictness of Papa’s beliefs and the corruption of the Nigerian government is an important theme of freedom, and its opposite, tyranny. Politically, Papa and Ade Coker represent a freedom of the press that protests against the censorship and corruption of the Head of State. Aunty Ifeoma, a university professor, also speaks her mind and criticizes those in power. The political tyranny in the Nigerian government responds to this assertion…

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Silence and speech are important motifs throughout the novel, to the point that the contrast between the two becomes a recurring theme on both the personal and political level. The titles of two of the novel’s sections deal with this theme as well: “Speaking with our Spirits” and “A Different Silence.” Silence is associated with the fear of Papa that Mama, Kambili, and Jaja experience at all times. Kambili, especially, rarely speaks, because…

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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…

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