How does Adichie present Papa’s relationships in Purple Hibiscus

 

Eugene Achike is presented as both a despotic tyrant and a vulnerable man desperately seeking the approval that he believes lies in the Catholic religion of “absolutist purity”[1], and leads him to perpetuate the same patriarchal abusive relationships on his own family as a result. Eugene is “her [Kambili’s] personal household god” and is “far from infallible”[2] as demonstrated in ‘Speaking with out Spirits’ as he has ultimate control over Kambili and Jaja’s schedule but is not presented as benevolent in his perceived divinity. Cheryl Stobie highlights how “Adichie links anxious masculinity, absolutist religion, [and] autocracy” through the characterisation of Eugene. This is prevalent in his religious reverence as well as dichotomously, his children’s unease and fear in his presence which acts as a suffocation of their voices and spirits rather than the benediction he believes he is bestowing. This juxtaposition of his character continues to his own language “he hardly spoke Igbo”[3]; himself as a “too much of a colonial product”[4] and the violence he meets out to his family as the distinctive depiction of him as a tyrant who is at odds with himself and that leads to his ‘dethroning’. In his character we witness Adichie’s underlying message of “the diabolical effects of fundamentalism [and] an absolutist purity.”

Initially Papa Eugene’s relationships are depicted as strained as a result of his piety and the emotional oppression with which this dominates his family. This is most poignant in the opening pages of the novel ‘Breaking Gods’ and the opening lines: “Things started to fall apart at home when my brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the étagère.”[1] By utilising the title of ‘Breaking Gods’ Adichie underscores the autocracy of Eugene within his household but also how this power leeches from him as the shift in Kambili’s viewpoint moves towards “endors[ing] values such as respect, tolerance, forgiveness and hybridity in terms of religion, spirituality, culture and gender roles.”[2] Much like the shattering of Mama’s delicate figurines, we see Eugene’s stranglehold on the family unit shattering in this display of violence and lack of control. Similarly, the use of “Gods” reinforces how Kambili views her father as powerful figurehead and yearns for his benevolent kindness: “I wanted to seem eager”[3]; “he reached out and held my hand, and I felt as though my mouth were full of melting sugar.”[4] She goes on to describe at various moments in the novel how she “wished [she] had said that” in an attempt to please, yet towards the end of the novel the “suffocating”[5] stillness becomes ‘A Different Silence’ as Papa Eugene’s oppression is overthrown. The interweaving of religious despotism and domestic abuse reveals the complexity of his characterisation but also of the relationships between the characters. This is heightened by the silence and the narrative shifts as the reader is exposed to morsels of truth, coloured by Kambili’s adoration, incrementally. The “heavy missal” is symbolic of his “patriarchal and religious absolutism”[6] which exemplifies the physical manifestation of his emotional control. This antagonistic relationship between the “unchecked use of patriarchal power”[7] and silence is apparent most starkly in these opening pages: “She [Mama] nodded quickly, then shook her head to show that the figurines did not matter. They did, though.”[8] These sharp sentences highlight the dawning of Kambili’s understanding, albeit slowly, and stepping away from the domestic tyranny of her father. Ultimately, Eugene’s zealotry and physical violence towards his family colour individual relationships he has with them.

Heralded as Chinua Achebe’s novelistic heir for the mirroring of his novel ‘Things Fall Apart’ in her opening lines, Chimimanda Adichie “chronicles the breakdown of the family unit under the pressures of politics and religion, weaving her story around the figure of a domineering father.”[9] He is viewed as “too much of a colonial product”[10] by Aunty Ifeoma.

[1] Ibid. p1

[2] Opcit. Cheryl Stobie p. 422

[3] Opcit. Chimimanda Adichie p12

[4] Ibid. p26

[5] Ibid. p7

[6] Opcit. Cheryl Stobie p422

[7] Ibid. p426

[8] Opcit. Chimimanda Adichie p10

[9] Finding Her Voice, Heather Hewett, Women’s Review of Books Vol. XXI No. 10-11 p307

[10] Opcit. Chimimanda Adichie p13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Dethroning the Infallible Father: Religion, Patriarchy and Politics in Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, Cheryl Stobie Literature & Theology Vol. 24 No. 4December 2010 p422

[2] Ibid. p423

[3] Purple Hibiscus, Chimimanda Adichie p13

[4] Ibid p13

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