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To What Extent Religion is Demonstrated Throughout The Purple Hibiscus

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Chimamanda Adichie’s novel, Purple Hibiscus is about the protagonist Kambili, her brother, Jaja and their mother, Beatrice being subjected to a tumultuous environment at home at the hands of the patriarch – Eugene. He is a devout Catholic who shuns his father’s traditional beliefs and Pagan religion. Eugene – like many others in the past – only approves of Catholics and forces Christian values upon his family members, oppressing them. Religion is a theme often used to oppress members of society, and this idea of religion dictating Eugene’s actions is prevalent throughout the novel. Oppression is justified throughout the novel by Eugene’s hypocrisy, his want for ‘perfection’ from his children and by his duplicity of censorship at both home and at his workplace.

Eugene is a successful businessman who does not encourage speaking Igbo (the native language) in public. Kambili remarks “we had to sound civilized in public…we had to speak English.” Eugene looks down upon the language and is portrayed as an admirer of white colonialism. His sister, Aunty Ilfeoma calls him “too much of a colonial product” because he was educated by Catholic missionaries and he puts down his Pagan father for not being Catholic. Eugene is known by the villagers in his hometown as generous and a philanthropist. He aids the disabled and seems to care about the welfare of his editor’s wife when he dies. However, he ignores his father’s plight and never visits him simply because he is not a Catholic. He permits his children, rather begrudgingly, to visit their grandfather for “fifteen minutes” where they are “not allowed to touch or eat anything.” He convinces his children that their grandfather is a “heathen” and he burns Kambili – his daughter – with hot water for not telling him that she “shared the same room with their grandfather, a ‘heathen’.” She is told “that is what you do to yourself when you walk into sin. You burn your feet.” 

Eugene continually hurts his children for not being devout Catholics. At the beginning of the novel, Eugene flings his “heavy missal” at Jaja – his son – “across the room and br[eaks] the figurines.” Readers immediately realize that religion plays a huge role throughout the story. Kambili is taught by him that “heathens” are evil and vastly different from Catholics. However, she sees her grandfather praying for Eugene’s prosperity, and realizes the only difference between Catholics and Pagans, is their medium of worship. Papa-Nnukwu utters continuously in his prayers, “Bless my son, Eugene. Let the sun not set on his prosperity.” This observation shocks Kambili as Papa Nnukwu’s religion seems to please him and gives him a sense of fulfillment, while Papa’s religion seems suffocating to her. However, Eugene still ignores his father – who cares for him – and seems to prefer his late Father-In-law, an Albino and an English speaker. Moreover, Eugene tells his children that looking at one’s reflection in the mirror is a sin. He is radical in his views of Christianity and believes in his religion above everything else. He expects everyone to conform as well.

Eugene regularly finds faults with the pastors and priests at St. Agnes, just as he does with his family. He finds Father Amadi – when he visited their Church – loud and disapproves of his “singing in Igbo.” He refuses to view Christianity as a liberal, progressive religion. He sees it as a somber religion and does not let his children switch on the television or listen to any music at home. His children are expected to come first in school as “God expects perfection.” Kambili is punished by him when she once comes second in class. She never comes second again. It is also noticeable that both Jaja and Kambili attend Catholic schools to reinforce Eugene’s own beliefs. Furthermore, Eugene enforces Catholic principles upon his children and regularly beats them if they fail to adhere to them, as seen when he beats Jaja for missing two questions on his test for Communion.

Ade Coker, Eugene’s editor, once comments on how silent Jaja and Kambili are. He jokes and remarks to Eugene, “Imagine what the Standard would be if we were all quiet.” Eugene does not laugh at the joke, and neither do his children. This line exemplifies his despotic nature. Although Eugene promotes free speech, democracy and a liberal view in his newspaper The Standard, he continues to oppress his wife and children. He justifies his behavior by faulting their actions and their failure to follow the rules of Christianity. This despotic nature is evidenced by Eugene whipping Kambili with a belt for eating a small bowl of cereal in order to swallow a pill to reduce the pain of her period. He does so because he catches her eating ten minutes before Mass and whips her for not following his extremist Christian rules. 

Eugene coerces Christian values upon his family members and oppresses them throughout the novel. He has no regard for his father’s well-being and dislikes him because he does not convert to Christianity. Moreover, Eugene physically and mentally abuses his children and wife when they fail to follow his interpretation of the rules of Christianity. Kambili is even found to be thinking about how she deserves to be punished frequently. Her thoughts urge readers to think about the effects of abuse on the psyche. The influence of religion in the novel is enormous, and it leads to a number of internal conflicts in both Eugene and his children. 

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