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The “beautiful and harrowing” Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s critically acclaimed debut novel, uncovers issues of religious tensions and political conflict through the microcosm of a rapidly deteriorating family unit. The novel’s first person narrator and protagonist Kambili experiences first hand the damning effects of corruption in post-colonial, post-war Nigeria, presenting a setting rife with political unrest. Meanwhile, Arthur Miller’s “tale of social tyranny”: The Crucible, set in 1962 Salem, Massachusetts, is a dramatisation of the Salem witch hunts and is seen as a chilling parallel to the McCarthyism that gripped 1950’s America. Exploring the abuse of power gained through religion, both writers highlight the widespread corruption of society and how oppression and religion can contribute to the dominance of these corrupt figures.
Both writers demonstrate how the totalitarian dominance of a community can lead to the abuse of power and widespread corruption. In The Crucible such moral negligence is emanated through Judge Danforth, the deputy governor of Massachusetts and his rigid and deluded authority within the court. Danforth’s intimidating question “Mr Hale, you surely do not doubt my justice.” exemplifies his power-hungry desires that lead to the corruption and moral mishaps in the court. Miller also employs unconventional punctuation by utilising a full stop opposed to the grammatically standard question mark. This strengthens the authority of his interrogative, portraying his dominance over the court and giving Hale no option but to oblige with his questionable opinions. Furthermore, the repeated use of exclamation marks throughout the court scene portrays the mania and aggression Danforth exercises in order to maintain complete control despite Abigails efforts to manipulate the scene. The 20th Century Fox interpretation of the play emulates Danforth’s control by removing lines from other characters allowing Danforth to dominate the speech, highlighting the control he has in inducing mass hysteria. Alternatively, the Old Vic production of the play starring Richard Armitage is far more chaotic as Abigail arguably has more control and manipulates Danforth by evoking chaos as the girls scream lines in unison, dominating the stage. However, Miller uncovers Danforth’s true cowardly nature as he “seems unsteady” and eventually descends into hysterical madness, controlled by Abigail. His revealed weakness is arguably Miller’s denunciation of such characters both in the play and though similar powerful and corrupt figures in history. Danforth is arguably seen as a parallel to Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy, the forerunner in the McCarthyism that gripped 1950’s America. This intense anti-communist suspicion led to McCarthy being viewed as highly corrupt and immoral by his peers and historians throughout time. McCarthy wrongly accused over 200 members of the State Department of communism, inciting severe anxiety within the community, this mirrors Danforth’s flipping of morality in his upholding and support of baseless accusations of witchcraft in Salem.
As with Danforth’s corrupt rulings, Purple Hibiscus highlights the nefarious political acts in Nigeria, both on a local and national scale. Political corruption is highly prevalent throughout post-colonial Nigeria. The 2019 corruption index ranked Nigeria as the 34th most corrupt country with a score of just 27 out of 100, explaining Adiche’s apparent disdain for the “Big Man” in charge of the increasingly corrupt and scandalous political climate. The underlying theme affects Kambili’s family, in particular her father, Eugene, who despite his own morally inept ways is threatened and denied his own freedom by the “Big Man”. Water and power outages along with police bribes affect the lives of Adiche’s characters. Despite utilising a young person’s point of view, Adiche presents a political novel through the murder of journalist Ade Coker. Coker’s character is largely inspired by real-life journalist and critic of the Nigerian government Dele Giwa, who (like Coker) is murdered via a letter bomb. This epitomises the tragic personal outcome that generations of colonialism and corruption can bear. Moreover, the use of the appellative “Big Man” instead of a standard proper noun enhances the idea that the leaders are an ever present collective, detested throughout the vulnerable Nigerian communities. One critic, Preston Berstein, views Adiche’s novel as an allegory for Nigerian socio-political unrest and argues that through her critical views on the countries leaders she is not condemning it but “seeking someone to save it”. Alternatively, some may interpret the political corruption displayed as a way of telling an alternate story of Nigeria, to avoid some stereotypes. Adichie’s TedTalk on the danger of a single story stresses the importance of ensuring the stereotypical Western view is not the only story and through Purple Hibiscus Adichie presents a beautiful and complicated landscape unbeknownst to many readers, helping the reader discover new stories and attitudes. Ultimately, through their writing, both Adiche and Miller form an effective allegory to demonstrate the damaging and corrupting effects total power can have.
Furthermore, in both The Crucible and Purple Hibiscus the writers portray individuals who seemingly have inept morals which inevitably lead to a detrimental effect on the society’s they live in. In Miller’s play, the primary antagonist Abigail makes farcical and hysterical accusations of supernatural activity. A prominent factor in Abigail’s corrupt morals and beliefs is her consistent manipulation of those around her; Miller’s stage directions in the first act of the play perfectly capture her deceptive and manipulative nature “(Abigail) a strikingly beautiful girl, an orphan, with an endless capacity for deceiving.” This provides a striking contrast between the beautiful and innocent young girl that Proctor was so drawn towards and the evil and destructive woman she develops into throughout the course of the play. Owing to his deployment of effective stage directions, Miller provides guidance for the actress playing Abigail to understand the duplicitous nature of the character, Winona Ryder stars as Abigail in the 20th Century Fox film adaptation in which it’s clear the sense of betrayal is heightened through her innocent and childish tone while maintaining a lucid sense of her conniving disposition. Contextually, Abigail’s status and position within the rigid patriarchy of Salem was low, a young unmarried orphan like her employs a most unfavourable position on the immobile social ladder. Thus, it is feasible that the primary motive and driving force behind her manipulation is to gain status and heighten her reputation. Abigail’s actions, when shown on stage, can be seen at first as a playful game with ‘the girls’ but in reality, her accusations lead to solemn repercussions. Through this process; Miller serves this as a warning against the corrupting essence that power can hold as is seen through Abigail’s power over the girls lending towards the executions of innocent people.
Meanwhile, Adiche’s Purple Hibiscus Kambili’s father Eugene is an assertive authoritative presence in both the family and in the wider community. Like Abigail, Eugene regards status and reputation with the utmost sincerity, yet he utilises his power for corruption through repeated abusive behaviour, leaving his family in physical agony and emotional turmoil. Eugene’s domestic abuse is representative of Nigerian culture, with the widespread belief supporting the righteousness of hitting women as a disciplinary action. In a nationwide study forefronted by Unicef, it was found one in three women reported experiencing domestic violence and 25% of respondents experienced sexual abuse in some form. Furthermore, the problem, it seems, is deeply ingrained into the Nigerian Culture with 43% of women believing a husband is justified in their abuse of their wife. A further study in the nation’s capital, Abuja found the highest number of hospitalised cases were premature labour, as Kambili’s mother experiences on two separate occasions. One critic, Onyemaechi Ugumukwu proclaims the novel is a “paradigm for demystifying forms of patriarchal violence” this almost reflects a tyrannical nature that is also explored within The Crucible. Eugene’s domestic violence is demonstrated through the scalding hot water and his ‘love sips’. The ironically named ‘love burns’ is oxymoronic and reinforces both Eugene and Kambili’s ingrained views that this violent and immoral act is valid and right. As is reinforced by Kambili’s long-lasting attachment to her father even after the liberating trip to Aunty Ifeoma’s. Through Kambili’s first-person narration of the events, the reader’s sense of pity is heightened due to this inseparable and virulent bond. This offers an alternative viewpoint on the effects a corrupt and powerful leader can have. Eugene is idolised by his daughter and community despite his horrendous actions. Both Miller and Adiche portray different ways in which individuals who hold a corrupt and unreasonable power interact and hurt those they have this power over.
Not only is corruption presented through individuals, each text also sets out ways in which the corruption of the community as a whole can lead to alienation and intolerance to those at the bottom of the social hierarchy, outcasting them from society and treating them as inferior and as though their otherness is wrong. In The Crucible, Reverend Parris’ Barbadian slave Tituba is alienated and persecuted due to her heritage, being the only black character mentioned in the play. Tituba’s otherness is signified by her alternate dialect, skin colour and her singular name. Consistently blamed for any misfortunes, Tituba occupies up the lowest rung of Salem society. This makes her an easy target to frame as the orchestrator of the witchcraft besetting the community. Set in the epoch of slavery, 1692 Salem was undeniably dominated by the western idea of black inferiority, thus making Abigail’ allegations believed unequivocally through the community. The devil was often perceived throughout the western culture as a black man due to the “stereotyping and the encoding of dark and black, particularly of African descent, as negative in American popular culture.” Tituba herself describes the satan figure she submitted to as “black dark” playing into the racist mindset of those she was trying to escape from. Furthermore, Tituba’s language and dialect is referred to as “gibberish” further presenting her otherness and demonstrating the lack of understanding around separate cultures. While 1950s America is not faced with the worldwide dominant slave trade, the strong underlying yet everpresent issue of racism was still highly prevalent. A 1950’s case study on a small town in Pennsylvania highlighted the segregation and racial divisions present, as well as laws and terrorist organisations that aimed to restrict the rights of African American’s in the 1950s. Miller’s commentary on the corruption and wrongdoings of the white community towards other races is still highly relevant today. Even today, black people in America are 2.5 times more likely to be shot and killed than white people. Racism still holds a strong grasp on a national scale, ranging from politics to policing or education. Miller’s message of unjust intolerance due to one’s otherness leading to corrupt and immoral treatment is still highly relevant in today’s climate.
As with Salem’s intolerance of Tituba, Eugene strives towards a rejection of Igbo traditions and culture, of which his father Papa-Nnukwu practices. He instead adopts British practices, learnt from the century-long British colonial rule of Nigeria between 1861 and 1960. Through colonialism, an intolerance of the traditional Nigerian ways was born, with western education and practices being enforced throughout Nigeria. Eugene supports these processes, reaffirming the traditional British ways of practising religion even after Nigerian independence was granted in 1960. Papa-Nnukwu however, partakes in Igbo practices, opposed to the strict insularity of Eugene’s Christian views, thus outcasting his father and forbidding his children’s visits to the home of a “heathen” without his permission. The belittling use of “heathen” implies a passionate hatred of Papa-Nnukwu due to his internal corruption leading to the alienation of his own father. Critic Brenda Cooper argues “the novel distances itself from Papa’s rejection of Igbo beliefs and customs as ‘devilish folklore’” this post-colonial interpretation implies Adiche’s message through the novel is to assert the tragic consequences of the colonialism of Nigeria and demonstrate the conflict caused as a result of the rejection of the often liberating Igbo traditions, unjustly painting Papa-Nnukwu as a ‘heathen’ despite his honest and loving ways. Aunty Ifeoma’s declaration that “sometimes different was just as good” shines a light on Adiche’s own opinions presented through the Novel, teaching tolerance and acceptance of all. Through demonstrating the negative effects of colonialism, Adiche is mirroring Miller’s acknowledgement of how intolerances and alienation corrupt us and leads to unnecessary segregation.
Ultimately, both Miller and Adiche are commenting on the corruption of society and those at the top of it. Each writer provides a plethora of corrupting influences leading to our separation and exhibits how those with the most power are often morally corrupt resulting in the mistreatment of the society we operate in. Both stories are still unquestionably relevant today, in a time of uncertainty within a precarious political and social climate dominated by corruption from those in power.
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