Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Sex and Sexuality in the Works of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Sex and Sexuality in the Works of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Article excerpt

Sex and Freedom in Purple Hibiscus

Purple Hibiscus is a novel about growth, and thus, a story of maturation. It chronicles the transition from self-ignorance to self-discovery and self-awareness. Most critical readings however focus on Kambili's discovery of her "voice", emphasising the psychological independence she achieves and de-emphasising the very vital part of her person that finds expression later in a sexual metamorphoses. The regime under her father had not only prevented her from speaking her mind but also from feeling her own body. As a teenage girl, this is perhaps the most heinous abuse the father could have doled out to her. Teenage years are particularly unforgettable for many people because they represent their transition from childhood to adulthood. The sexual hormones at this time work overtime, and it is the sole privilege of the teenager to feel the rush of these hormones and deal with them. Success or failure in this very fundamental issue goes a long way in determining the sexual and/or mental health of an individual later in life. What Papa Eugene thus denied Kambili is a chance to recognise her sexuality, a chance to realise that she is female and at some point or the other may have an interest in a male.

It might seem to the casual reader that Papa Eugene's sole reason for being so callous to his own children stems from a purely religious desire to keep them away from sin. But it becomes evident that his callousness emanates from a desire not let the children experience the bodily pleasure he was denied by the priests while growing up. He therefore assumes that any opportunity or little freedom given to his children would be spent in pursuance of such pleasures. He then does not only lock up their minds, but he also locks up their bodies. A case in point is the episode where Jaja asks for the key to his room after he had just returned from Aunt Ifeoma's place, pleading for a need to have some privacy. The reaction of the father to this request is noteworthy. He automatically assumes that Jaja is only seeking an opportunity to indulge in sexual pleasure with himself: "What? What do you want privacy for? To commit a sin against your own body? Is that what you want to do, masturbate?" (198). It is amazing that he thinks that a child he had taken such care to give "sound" religious upbringing would not think of anything else to do in privacy but to masturbate. This is most likely because it is what he would have done at that age and with such opportunity. Thus, he wasn't imprisoning the children because he wanted them to be holy, but instead because he feared that they were too much like him. For example, after he had poured hot water on Kambili and Jaja's feet for staying in the same house with his father (whom he considered a heathen), he explains to Kambili that:

   "I committed a sin against my own body once," he said. "And the
   good father, the one I lived with while I went to St. Gregory's,
   came in and saw me. He asked me to boil water for tea. He poured
   the water in a bowl and soaked my hand in it ... I never sinned
   against my own body again. The good father did that for my own
   good," he said. (203)

Hence, Eugene attempts to justify his abuse because his fear is that one level of freedom would only lead to another, and would allow the children to discover a pleasure that had been denied to him. It can also be seen that his arrested self-discovery is at the root of his psychological imbalance. He perhaps would have been a more responsible father if he had been allowed to encounter and deal with the torrent of teenage passion on his own. And if for nothing else, he would have known how to guide his children through the rites of passage of teenage years. Here, it is also not unlikely that his abuse of his family is a vengeful act for what the priest had done to him when he was young and dependent. But now that he had become older and richer and able to wield control in his family, his demons are released to punish the innocent for the sins of others. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.