In the novel Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie uses setting to underline the character development Kambili experiences as she faces a significant shift in behavior and attitude. The two main settings, Enugu and Nsukka, implement the themes of freedom, silence, and oppression.
Containing materialistic items and a copious amount of space, Enugu shapes Kambili into a blindly obedient person who strives to live up to her abusive father’s expectations while enduring his harrowing treatment. Adichie uses Kambili’s fear of Papa to establish her nonresistance and to fulfill his wishes as she doesn’t want to be deemed as ungrateful. She “needs him to smile at [her], in that way that lit up his face that warmed something inside [her]. But she had come second and was stained by failure” implying that Kambili yearns for Papa’s approval to feel that she has succeeded in reaching his dreadfully high standards and this causes her to speak only when she knows that “Papa would be proud that [she] has said that”(Adichie, 39, 289). Kambili is incapable of speaking her mind and feels isolated despite the fact that Papa supplies her with an ample amount of wealth to live a comfortable life. Her house has “too much empty space, our ceilings were too high. Our furniture was lifeless… the Persian rugs were too lush to have any feeling” supporting the fact that Kambili’s home in Enugu takes away her freedom and she has to “speak more with [her] spirits rather than with [her] lips”(192,16).
While Kambili feels helpless in her house in Enugu, Aunty Ifeoma’s vibrant home in Nsukka lifts the restrictions in her life and she is exposed to a different set of ideals that shape her into a more confident person. In Aunty Ifeoma’s house, “laughter always rang out and no matter where it came from, it bounced around all the walls” supporting the idea that the spontaneity of their house allows Kambili to feel more connected with her cousins whereas in Enugu, “the high ceilings gave rooms an airy stillness”(140, 113). Adichie utilizes Aunty Ifeoma’s house in Nsukka to signify the effect of place on Kambili’s character. As Kambili spends more time in Nsukka, she is able to speak her mind and have her own opinions. She adapts to the “Igbo songs that usually called for hand-clapping” and the “morning and night prayers that were always peppered with songs” implying that the practices that were once deemed as “sinful” are now seen in a more positive light(140). Not only is Kambili’s perspective changing, she reevaluates her relationship with God by participating in the Igbo songs and following Father Amadi’s version of religion where, instead of focusing on the fear, he finds the joy in the religion.
Adichie effectively develops Kambili’s journey of self-discovery through the juxtaposition of the two settings. As Kambili matures, she does not feel happiness in the wealth provided by Papa but the family unity implemented by Aunty Ifeoma’s house. The different microcosms established by the families’ mirrors post-colonial Nigeria because of the tyrannical government undergoing a significant change just as Kambili’s self-realization and independence arises against Papa’s oppression.
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