Exploring Hidden Feelings and Character Growth Through Symbolism in Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1251 |

Pages: 3|

7 min read

Published: Sep 1, 2020

Words: 1251|Pages: 3|7 min read

Published: Sep 1, 2020

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Symbolism of Beatrice's Figurines
  3. Symbolic Role of Hibiscuses
  4. Conclusion
  5. References


Growing up in a country plagued by the harsh realities of domestic violence, expressing one's true thoughts can often result in brutal consequences. "Purple Hibiscus," authored by Chimamanda Adichie, is a powerful illustration of this truth. In a society and household ruled by Eugene, an authoritarian male figure, the voice of the Achike family remains stifled. Consequently, their emotions and character development find expression through objects and the natural world surrounding them. Within the narrative, figurines and hibiscus flowers emerge as enigmatic symbols, offering deeper insights into concealed emotions and unforeseeable shifts in character, enriching our understanding of the novel's underlying themes.

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Symbolism of Beatrice's Figurines

The unfolding events in the story shed light on the symbolic significance of Mama's (Beatrice) cherished figurines, which serve as a reflection of her delicate struggle against her husband, Eugene. Beatrice's emotional attachment to these figurines becomes evident when Eugene shatters them early in the book, prompting her to shed tears. It is at this moment that Kambili realizes,

"things started to fall apart at home when her brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the étagère...immediately I watched Mama as her eyes filled up with water as the shattered pieces of the figurines hit the floor."

The fragility of the figurine's glass serves as a stark contrast to the heavy missal, symbolizing Eugene himself. This symbolism underscores the link between the figurines and Mama's gentle attempts to cope with her husband's violent nature.

Interestingly, Beatrice seeks solace with the figurines each time she endures Eugene's abuse, as if finding comfort in their fragility, which mirrors her own vulnerability. Moreover, her extraordinary attachment to the figurines becomes apparent when she lingers over the shattered pieces, holding them in her hands. As Beatrice sits in silence, clutching the broken figurine, Kambili reflects,

"'I meant to say, ‘I'm sorry your figurines broke, Mama,' but instead, the words that came out were, ‘I'm sorry Papa broke your figurines.' She nodded quickly, then shook her head to show that the figurines did not matter. They did, though. Years ago, before I understood, I used to wonder why she polished them each time… I would go down to see her standing by the étagère with a kitchen towel soaked in soapy water. She spent at least a quarter of an hour on each ballet-dancing figurine."

Beatrice's extraordinary care for these figurines serves as a reflection of her own heart and the self-compassion she yearns for. When Eugene shatters the figurines, he simultaneously shatters Beatrice's heart through his violent and neglectful actions. Moreover, Beatrice's transformation becomes apparent through her decision not to replace the broken sculptures, signifying that change is on the horizon. It is after her refusal that Kambili begins to grasp,

"maybe mama had realized that she would not need the figurines anymore; that when Papa threw the missal at Jaja, it was not just the figurines that came tumbling down, it was everything. Kambili was only now realizing it, things were about to change."

The irreparable damage inflicted on the figurines by the missal serves as a metaphor for the extent of Mama's suffering caused by Eugene's brutality. Her decision not to replace the sculptures signifies not only the loss of her cherished possessions but also a departure from her usual calm demeanor. The figurines symbolize that significant actions can precipitate profound transformations, and Beatrice evolves into a new character with her decision not to replace them. In essence, the figurines serve as a symbol representing Beatrice's hidden emotions and the dramatic shift in her character as she grapples with the brutality of her savage husband.

Symbolic Role of Hibiscuses

The utilization of hibiscuses serves as a symbolic representation of the various stages in Jaja's life as he undergoes a transformation from a life overshadowed by violence and oppression to becoming an independent individual in his struggle for freedom. The vibrant hues of the hibiscuses found within Jaja's residence mirror his oppressive existence under the rule of Eugene. Even with the introduction of serene purple hibiscuses in their garden, Jaja acknowledges that while "the purple plants had started to push out, most of the flowers were still on the red ones. They seemed to bloom so fast, these red hibiscuses." In Jaja's household, the cultivation of purple hibiscuses is an anomaly, as the garden is predominantly dominated by red ones. The vivid red color symbolizes the pain and anger that permeate Jaja's life, with the rapid blossoming of the red hibiscuses signifying Eugene's dominance. Furthermore, Jaja's newfound courage to defy his father can be traced back to his initial encounter with the purple hibiscus, which serves as a catalyst for his journey toward independence.

After Jaja's refusal to partake in communion, Kambili recognizes that "Nsukka started it all...Jaja's defiance seemed to me now like Aunty Ifeoma's experimental purple hibiscus: rare, fragrant with the undertones of freedom that were about to blossom." Jaja's audacious act reflects his growing maturity, with his rebelliousness symbolizing his newfound courage. The parallel between Jaja's transformation and the purple hibiscus is drawn due to their rarity and association with freedom. The budding purple hibiscus mirrors Jaja's emerging freedom as he begins to question Eugene's authority and engage in acts of defiance. Moreover, the correlation between Jaja's evolving character and the blossoming of the purple hibiscuses becomes more pronounced as Jaja continues to disobey Eugene's orders, establishing himself as a maverick within the narrative.

As Jaja progresses from merely refusing communion to boldly slamming doors in Eugene's face and courageously declining dinner invitations, Kambili observes that,

"the purple hibiscuses are beginning to bloom and change color...I could see the sleepy, oval-shaped buds in the front yard as they swayed in the evening breeze unencumbered by any constraints...just as we were too."

Jaja's pursuit of autonomy aligns with the growth of the purple hibiscus in their garden. The transformation of the hibiscuses into a shade of purple symbolizes the changes within Jaja as he evolves into a fearless character who challenges Eugene's authority. Just as the purple hibiscuses sway freely in their unrestrictive environment, they serve as a symbol of Jaja, who has fully blossomed as an individual unburdened by Eugene's tyranny.

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In Chimamanda Adichie's novel, "Purple Hibiscus," the clever use of symbolism through figurines and hibiscuses deepens the understanding of the family's emotions and unforeseen character development, which would otherwise remain concealed beneath Eugene's oppressive rule. While the characters outwardly maintain their silence, the figurines and hibiscuses symbolize the autonomous evolution of the Achike family and their complex emotions in the face of oppression. Although the novel is a work of fiction, its metaphorical representation of Eugene as a despotic figure mirrors authoritarian regimes that oppress the lives of countless powerless citizens. Adichie's adept use of symbolism illuminates the concealed emotions and individual character development as the Achike family emancipates themselves from Eugene's oppressive grasp.


  1. Adichie, C. N. (2003). Purple Hibiscus. Algonquin Books.
  2. McKinney, A. L. (2010). Exile and voice in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Purple Hibiscus. African Identities, 8(1), 37-50.
  3. Mwakikagile, G. (2010). Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The African writer and the world. New Africa Press.
  4. Zevallos, Z. A. (2007). Purple Hibiscus and Things Fall Apart: A comparative study of female oppression. Tydskrif vir Letterkunde, 44(2), 163-176.
  5. Vogel, E. (2008). Precarious spaces: The domestic and public in Purple Hibiscus. Matatu: Journal for African Culture and Society, 35(1), 245-257.
  6. Ajayi, A. (2013). Chimamanda Adichie and the Ethics of Narrative: The Shadows of Betrayal in Purple Hibiscus. Neohelicon, 40(2), 533-548.
  7. Onyeka, N. N. (2014). Adichie's Purple Hibiscus: Reconstructing the Domestic and Engendering the Diaspora. Callaloo, 37(1), 205-217.
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Exploring Hidden Feelings And Character Growth Through Symbolism In Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus. (2020, September 01). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 4, 2024, from
“Exploring Hidden Feelings And Character Growth Through Symbolism In Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus.” GradesFixer, 01 Sept. 2020,
Exploring Hidden Feelings And Character Growth Through Symbolism In Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 4 Mar. 2024].
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