Kambili Achike is the central character in Purple Hibiscus and also the narrator of the story. She is an intelligent, observant, religious young woman, aged fifteen for much of the novel. At the same time, Kambili is shy and inhibited, at least until she has spent an extended amount of time away from her family home at the house of Aunty Ifeoma and her family.
Kambili is the younger of Eugene and Beatrice Achike’s two children.
Eugene Achike is Kambili’s father. He is a wealthy businessman and very strict Catholic who dominates his family for much of the novel by imposing a harsh religious regime in the family home. Indeed, for much of Purple Hibiscus he controls almost every aspect of his family’s life, including imposing a schedule upon the lives of Kambili and her brother Jaja so that every minute of the day is mapped out for them.
While on the one hand Eugene is an important man in his society and donates considerable amounts of money to needy individuals and worthy causes, he is prone to outbreaks of violence within the family house, subjecting his wife Beatrice and the two children to severe physical punishment.
Beatrice, mother and wife in the Achike family, is a quiet, maternal figure for much of the work, presenting a softer, warmer presence in the home in contrast to the often tyrannical presence of Eugene. Passive is another term applicable to her, at least for a great deal of the book. In this context, Kambili says, “there was so much that she did not mind (p. 19).” Ultimately, however, Beatrice cannot cope with Eugene’s behaviour and poisons him. Her son, Jaja, takes the blame for the crime and she is a shattered wreck after this point. At the conclusion of the novel, however, with Jaja’s impending release from prison, there are some indications that her condition will improve.
Chukwuka “Jaja” Achike
Chukwuka Achike, nicknamed “Jaja” by his family, is an intelligent young man about two years his sister’s senior. For most of the novel, in the same way as the rest of his family, he is dominated by his father, although ultimately he displays more overt defiance than them, especially by not going to communion on Palm Sunday and causing a massive family scene as a consequence. He takes the blame for his mother’s crime and spends almost three years in prison before obtaining an amnesty. Through this time, his personality has hardened but not been broken.
Aunty Ifeoma is Eugene’s sister, a tall, striking, intelligent woman who works as a lecturer at the University of Nigeria. She is highly capable in many aspects of her life, displaying determination and resourcefulness in bringing up her children without a husband. Though financially struggling, she creates a much happier environment for her children than does her brother Eugene for his family.
Father Amadi is a young attractive priest in the circle of Aunty Ifeoma and her family. Being youthful, indigenous and well-versed in contemporary life, he could be described as a “new generation”
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