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Purple Hibiscus and Things Fall Apart

Updated on June 14, 2014

Purple Hibiscus

It has been argued that in the novel's opening sentence, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie acknowledges the influence of Chinua Achebe. Compare and contrast the two novels. What do they have in common? What differences have you noticed so far?

The Purple Hibiscus and Things Fall Apart have many things in common, the most prominent being that both novels take place in Africa. Both books have characters that follow the Catholic religion and the Igbo’s polytheistic belief system. Both books show women as being less than equal to men. Both novels depict a culture where a man can have more than one wife and can beat her without intervention from the clan or church.

The Purple Hibiscus and Things Fall Apart have many differences too. The most important one being that the time period during which the Purple Hibiscus takes place is years after Things Fall Apart. This is shown in the level of technology and the level of Catholicism displayed. In the Purple Hibiscus the main characters are often shown riding in a car, while in Things Fall Apart the characters call a bicycle an “iron horse”. In the Purple Hibiscus the Catholics have converted the village to speaking mainly English and believing that their own native language is primitive. One example of the influence of Catholicism is that Eugene Achike has all but disowned his own father for not converting to Catholicism. In Things Fall Apart the opposite happens as Okonkwo disowns his son, Nwoye, for becoming a Catholic.

Why does Amaka ask her mother if her cousins are "abnormal"? Why does she think "something is not right with them"? Why does she compare Kambili to a sheep?

Amaka asks her mother if her cousins are abnormal because both Kambili and Jaja are so different from her and her siblings. Kambili and Jaja have both been raised to be quiet and to avoid frivolous activities. Amaka thinks something is wrong with her cousins because they do play and have fun with other children. Amaka’s opinion of Kambili is cemented after she introduces Kambili to her friends and when Kambili is asked about her hair she, “started to cough and then ran out and into the toilet” (141).

Amaka compares to Kambili to a sheep as Kambili does not, in Amaka’s mind, think for herself. Amaka first begins to see her cousin as a sheep when she learns that Kambili lives her life based on a schedule made by her father. Amaka then realizes that even though her mother tells Kambili and Jaja to ignore their schedules, Kambili still attempts to follow hers. Amaka sees Kambili as a sheep because she will not question her father; rather she complies with what he says without complaint.

What happens to Kambili when her father discovers the painting of her grandfather that she has kept? What is her response?

Eugene becomes livid when he discovers that Kambili has a painting of her grandfather. Eugene views Kambili’s act of keeping the painting an act of a heathen because Papa-Nnukwu was a pagan. Eugene then proceeded to tear the painting to pieces which caused Kambili to try to hold on to the pieces as it “represented something lost, something I had never had, would never have” (210). Eugene then starts kicking and beating Kambili until she loses consciousness.

When Kambili wakes up in the hospital her response is, “I did not want to be awake” (211). I believe that part of Kambili wishes that she had died when she was unconscious. The first request that Kambili makes upon regaining consciousness is to ask her mother to call her Aunt Ifeoma. Kambili’s overall response to the incident is get away from her father. This is further shown when Kambili pretends that the pain is as bad as it was when she first entered the hospital in an attempt to be able to stay longer and not return home with her father.

How should we judge Kambili's mother? Why does she keep returning to her husband? How does she justify his behavior? Why does she finally choose to take the action she does?

I feel we should judge Kambili’s mother as a women who was forced to rely on her husband for everything. I feel that she was overly passive in allowing her husband to beat her and her children. Beatrice kept returning to Eugene out of a misplaced sense of gratitude because he refused to take a second wife when she only had two children. I personally find her gratitude disgusting when it is Eugene who is preventing the family from growing. His beatings caused Beatrice to suffer miscarriages.

Beatrice justifies Eugene’s behavior by believing that he is actually a good person. She feels that with all he does to help people he cannot possibly be beating them simply because he chooses to. She instead decides to believe him when he says that he is beating them to punish them for their sins and to help them repent.

Beatrice finally decides to take action against her husband after he beats Kambili into unconsciousness and is forced to take Kambili to the hospital for her injuries. Beatrice finally sees Eugene for the monster that he is. She decides to poison her husband’s tea over the course of several days. Her poison leads to Eugene’s death and her son’s imprisonment.

No Sweetness Here

What is your reaction to this excerpt from No Sweetness Here? What do you make of this passage from Ama Ata Aidoo's short story collection? Did reading or listening to the NPR story help you understand the excerpt?

My reaction to Ama Ata Aidoo's No Sweetness Here is one of relief. There is finally a piece of African Literature that does not involve abuse. I enjoyed the excerpt from No Sweetness Here because it showed that not all African literature is about women and children being abused by their father/husband.

I found the passage had elements that made it similar to both Things Fall Apart and Purple Hibiscus. The span of time between No Sweetness Here and Purple Hibiscus seem to be shorter than the amount of time between No Sweetness Here and Things Fall Apart; both No Sweetness Here and Purple Hibiscus depict a more modern Africa. While Things Fall Apart and No Sweetness Here both illustrate more of the landscape and scenery.

The NPR story helped me to understand that No Sweetness Here is a more accurate interpretation of Africa than Things Fall Apart.

Thing Fall Apart

What are Okonkwo’s main characteristics as he is depicted in the first few chapters? How does he achieve greatness as defined by his culture? What are his virtues and his faults? In what ways is Okonkwo influenced by his father? In what ways is he presented as unusual for his culture? What is his attitude toward women? Why does he dislike his son Nwoye so much?

Okonkwo is depicted as being a successful man and a strong warrior. His main characteristics would be his driving need to be successful, his lack of compassion, and abhorrence of weakness. Okonkwo achieved greatness when he “threw the Cat” in a wrestling match and later when he managed to have a successful household while holding many titles. Okonkwo’s main virtue was his ability to support his family and start a farm while getting himself out of his father’s debt. His other virtues include being strong, honest, and determined. His main fault is his temper, once Okonkwo gets angry he no longer listens to reason. One example of this is when he refused to stop beating his second wife even though it was the week of peace. His other faults include his lack of compassion, his hatred towards the weak and lazy, and his abuse of his wives. Okonkwo’s father’s weakness influenced Okonkwo to become stronger and more successful than his father. Okonkwo is unusual for his culture in that he became successful without the aid of an inheritance from his father and that he treats people that he considers weaker than himself with distain. Okonkwo views on woman depend on who they are. His view on his wives is evident with how he beats them over trivial offenses. On the other hand, he treats the priestesses and oracles with respect. He dislikes Nwoye because he reminds him of his own father who he viewed as lazy and unsuccessful.

How has Nwoye begun to "act like a man"? What values does Okonkwo associate with manliness? How does Nwoye relate to these values? Why does Nwoye like the tales of his mother better than those of his father? Consider Okonkwo's relationship to his daughter, Ezinma, and how he regards her compared to how he regards Nwoye.

Okonkwo believes that Nwoye has begun to act like a man because he hears him “grumbling about women and their troubles” (52). Nwoye further shows his transition from boy to man in his enjoyment of being sent to perform masculine tasks, like pounding food or splitting wood. Okonkwo associates blood, fighting, hard work, and having control over “women-folk” as being manly. Nwoye enjoys hard work like pounding food and chopping wood, but does not like blood or fighting.

Nwoye pretends to enjoy his father’s stories about blood and fighting, but truly prefers his mother’s stories. Nwoye prefers his mother’s stories because they are about compassion, pity, mercy, and use the use of words instead of violence. His father’s stories are centered on violence, bloodshed, and killing. Okonkwo sums up his feelings towards Ezinma when he says, “She should have been a boy” (64). He likewise sums up how he regards his son when he says, “I have done my best to make Nwoye grow into a man, but there is too much of his mother in him” (66). Okonkwo wishes that Ezinma was a boy and could replace Nwoye. While Okonkwo says that Nwoye has too much of his mother in him the truth is that Nwoye reminds Okonkwo of his own father whom he hated.

How does the story of the destruction of Abame summarize the experience of colonization? What does an "iron horse" mean in Achebe's book? Did the people of Abame act too rashly, or do they understand the significance of the whites' arrival?

The story of the destruction of Abame summarizes colonization in Africa. The colonization in Africa resulted in many deaths due to many misunderstandings. For example Abame was destroyed because their oracle told them that “the strange man would break their clan and spread destruction among them” (138).This caused the clan to kill the white man because they were afraid of him. This in turn caused the white men to destroy the clan out of anger. The colonization of Africa was a vicious circle of fear, death, and retaliation.

In Achebe’s book an “iron horse” means a bicycle. I believe that the people of Abame were too rash in their decision to kill the white man. They should have at least determined why he was in Abame before deciding to kill him. They immediately killed him after hearing their oracle’s prediction, without knowing exactly what the prediction meant. The prediction could have meant that the white man’s death would “spread destruction among them” (138).

Why do you think Okonkwo kills himself? How does his suicide represent a break in the traditional Igbo culture? What is your reaction to the final paragraph of the book? Analyze it.

I believe that Okonkwo killed himself because he had become a disgrace like his father. Okonkwo had killed one of the messengers from the White men believing that his clan would back him up and kill the other messenger. Instead his clan’s response to his action was questioning him, “Why did he do it” (205). At this moment Okonkwo saw that his clan’s values had changed and they were no longer the warriors that they used to be. Okonkwo, instead of the hero he would have been seven years ago, was a disgrace to his clan.

Okonkwo suicide is a break from the traditional Igbo culture. In Okonkwo’s culture suicide is considered an abomination; “an offense against the Earth” (207). When Okonkwo committed suicide his clan decided that his body was so evil that only a stranger could remove and bury it. The clan even had to make sacrifices to cleanse the land.

My reaction to the final paragraph of the book is that it is somewhat ironic that Achebe ends his book by having the Commissioner decide to write a book about the events of the book. The last paragraph tells me about a good deal about how the Commissioner views Africa. I believe that the Commissioner sees himself as an ambassador to the native people and a student of their customs. At the same time it is obvious that he believes that the Africans are less than equal to the white people. He decides to use his time in Africa as a topic for his book The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger. The title of his book proves that he believes the Africans to be an interesting but, primitive people.

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