Family And Society: A Case Study Of Things Fall Apart And Purple Hibiscus In Comparative Perspective 

FAMILY AND SOCIETY: A CASE STUDY OF THINGS FALL APART AND PURPLE HIBISCUS IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE


CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

  • Background of the study

Many societies have beliefs rooted deep in ancient religion. Some beliefs include polygamy, polytheism, and patriarchy, or rule by men. One such culture is that of Achebe's Things Fall Apart. Polytheism and polygamy are custom in the clan, and the role of each family member is much defined. The men are overly domineering. The women and children are treated poorly and often beaten. Life in Achebe's Umuofia would seem very different to someone living in modern day America (Wehrs, David, 2011: 10).

Although some cultural variance exists, the primary role of a family in society is to foster an environment where children learn skills, morals and values. Families provide initial socialization for children that shape their self-worth, attitudes, values and behaviors. Families create structure and stability in the lives of family members.Families provide individuals with an important support system, not just during childhood but throughout life, and they provide society with a structure for passing along a culture's values from one generation to the next. Both of these roles are crucial for a culture to maintain consistency as decades and centuries go by.One of the more tragic events in a child's life happens when parents fail to provide the structure of support. The role of the family in society is also significant, because the family is the transmitting unit of the values of a culture for the next generation. When people learn the right ways to behave and handle themselves at home, then they are more likely to contribute effectively to society and have a content, productive life. Families that do not transmit those values do a disservice to society (Weiss, Brian, 2010: 23).

However, family and its role in a community is being challenged and explored. This institution contains expanding ideals of structure and purpose according to experts and others. The family organization, like any other, has issues and consequences. These consequences can be positive and negative, large and small. Communities and nations are affected by contemporary families though moral and economic debates. In turn, the political community is also affected by families. Many subtopics found in politics such as marriage, abortion, violence, and economics are viewed as separate issues (Twyning, John. 2009: 13).

Portraying women in Nigerian family based the postcolonial literature and gender discrimination, ChimamandaNgoziAdichie’s debut novel Purple Hibiscus, the award-winning from highly-acclaimed collection. There are many works were authors hope to uncover whether the term “patriarchal society” means the absence of women’s rights and to what degree traditionalism on the one hand and the advent of modernity on the other hand has the impact on the position of Nigerian women today. Adichie focuses primarily on Igbo women since she is of Igbo descent and her novels as well as short stories are set mainly in the south-eastern part of Nigeria, where the Igbo ethnic group is predominant, and in the USA, where the author emigrated when she was nineteen years old. Throughout history, the position of women in Nigerian society has been changing, and depends largely on the specific historical period (Ozioko, 2012:17).

The depiction of women’s participation in politics and their representation in the public sphere are undoubtedly of great significance since gender equality is the natural foundation for any democratic society and both have an enormous impact on the private sphere as well. Regarding women, Adichie depicts primarily female characters that are, despite the negative portrayals of suppressed and submissive women in Western literature, educated, strong, emancipated and fighting for their rights whenever necessary. Thanks to writers like Chinua Achebe, Adichie’s inspiration, who is considered the father of Nigerian literature, she has discovered the power of telling stories about characters she can identify with – real Nigerians. Adichie is a literary descendant of Achebe’s storytelling tradition, but, unlike him, she pays great attention to women and gives them a chance to narrate from their own female perspectives. Adichie’s work represents an amalgam of tradition and modernity, which stands as a parallel to Igbo traditional values and colonial and postindependence modernity. The author observes how traditional and modern ways of living and thinking influence contemporary Nigerien women (Oyewumi, Oyeronke, 2013).

Both, Achebe’s Nwoye and Adichie’sJaja ultimately forsake their childhood and family identity by rebelling against their patriarchal and tyrannical fathers. Though, these two young men act in rebellion out of divergent motivations, and convey somewhat different results, the situations still strike similar in their theme and placement within the structure of each respective text. Furthermore, Nwoye and Jaja illustrate the negative repercussions of oppressive rule on individual development, family ties, and progressive futures. The conventions of masculinity in the form of fathers ultimately lead to social disintegration as the sons’ rebellion marks when things fall apart (Otagburuagu, 2014: 256).

Both Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart, and Eugene in Purple Hibiscus, represent a very rigid sense of masculinity in which traces of flexibility and weakness are not only frowned upon, but completely unaccepted. The two overbearing fathers eventually motivate Nwoye and Jaja to disregard their authority radically and, in a sense, turn away from their families and their roots in order for introspection and self-development.  The unsettling feelings and questioning Nwoye experienced as an adolescent later manifest into complete rebellion after the exposure of British missionaries. White missionaries had come to multiple Ibo villages, proclaiming the Gospel and God’s love and faith for his followers while attempting to debunk conventional Ibo superstition and pagan belief. Already wary of Ibo ways, Nwoye was captivated by the “poetry of the new religion” and the relief “poured into his parched soul” (Achebe 104).

After enduring a child-hood of unjustified domestic abuse and strict authoritative structures, Nwoye “was happy to leave his father” and join other Christians at the missionary school in Umuofia (Achebe 108). Without even bare understanding of Christian theology, and even the basics of salvation, Nwoye reversed every foundation of his life including traditional Ibo religion, his father’s authority, and socialized masculinity, to look for answers elsewhere in this new cultural religion. Nwoye’s conversion denoted a clear realization that things were falling apart as the domestic sphere of tradition and normality was split wide open leaving room for education, conversion, and a different kind of oppression.

Nwoye’s counterpart, Jaja, in Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, similarly grew up in a highly authoritative and strict household. Jaja along with his sister Kambili and mother experience the duality of their father’s character who represented a mentally and verbally abusive father privately who is bent on Christian fundamentalism and a public town-hero and political deviant who publishes a bold and freedom-seeking newspaper. Though Eugene expresses this duality in character, the “Papa” Jaja knows is differentiated by his extreme adherence to “Christian” rules, his intense abhorrence of any type of failure, and his horrific onslaught of domestic violence. Because Eugene expects and requires perfection, diligence, and Christian servitude among his wife and children, Jaja obediently seeks his approval at all times in hopes of gaining his favor, and more importantly gaining his love.Throughout their childhood, Jaja and his sister Kambili almost compete for their father’s approval and pride by responding with the correct educational knowledge of accurate Biblical reference. Jaja receives his father’s smile, the highest symbol of his affection and approval, after analytically commenting on the incorrect use of the term “president” in a non-Standard column and demonstrating not only his apt and groomed brain but also his passionate desire to say what pleases his authoritative father (Adichie 25).

Continually, Jaja creates great jealousy in his Kambili’s sentiment by often providing the “correct answers” and the words of Christian teaching that so readily gain Papa’s acceptance. But the quick obedience and compliance shown by Jaja, stems not only from his desire for his father’s affection and approval, but also from a consistent terror of the abuse so willingly administered. But this unquestioned deference was called into question after Jaja experienced a different domestic sphere at the home of his Aunty Ifeoma. Her household involved laughter, freedom, debate, visual forms of affection, and passion, but Jaja was most struck by the brilliant garden.

Previous to this first visit Jaja “didn’t [even] know there were purple hibiscuses” yet he discovered these beautiful and resilient hybrid plants as well as a new outlook on life and Christianity as demonstrated by his aunt (Adichie 128). Jaja was exposed to her heritage and stories of his forbidden grandfather, played and acted as a typical child, and grew close to an authoritative figure without succumbing to abuse and violence.Though Jaja’s old world and life fell apart like the purple hibiscus he began to formulate ideas about Christianity and family from the dual influences of his Father and Aunt (Osborn, Reuben, 2009:16).

As narrated, “things started to fall apart at home” when Jaja overtly questioned the social conventions he grew up with by refusing communion, a rebellious act which not only unleashed his father’s rage but also restructured the family dynamic (Adichie 3). As he debunks the traditional masculinity socialized by his father’s staunch Christian fundamentalism and domestic abuse, Jaja accordingly takes seemingly insignificant actions that comprise a social and theological rebellion. Jaja ultimately rebels against the tradition of communion, the family’s dinner time tradition of appraising Papa’s products, and finally takes the ultimate stand in socializing his sister as the dominant male figure. After ignoring his father’s oppressive commands, Kambili’s brother gave her a speech and look that made her “feel sorry for what [she] was not sure of” (Adichie 259).

Moreover, Jaja selflessly protects his mother by blaming himself for her crime claiming “he had used rat poison, that he put it in Papa’s tea” (Adichie 291). With this final action, Jaja truly overcame every oppression of his father, literally and figuratively filling his shoes not only providing moral instruction to Kambili but also, in a way, giving his aging mother life, by taking the blame for murdering his father despite the effects it has on his own life, future, and reputation. Though, both Nwoye and Jaja enact minor parts compared to other characters in these two Nigerian novels, the parts they do plan nonetheless remain indispensable and significant in consideration of the novels’ overarching themes. Nwoye rebels against his hyper-masculine and socially conscious father after comprehending the irrational injustices within the Ibo society and realizing other options, like Christianity, do indeed exist. Nwoye embraces the empowerment of education that is gained through Christian conversion, similarly symbolizing the positive aspects of a colonial power, especially when contrasted to the irrational and primitive traditions of the pagan culture of the colonized society (Orabueze, Florence, and 2004:7).

Comparatively, Jaja rather turns away from Christianity as it defines and essentially overcomes his abusive and oppressive father. Jaja takes influence from other aspects of his culture, like his good-natured Aunt and his pagan, yet loving, grandfather, to evolve into a personified purple hibiscus, illustrating the positives that can be bred from such an unlikely combination of variant cultures. Additionally, under a post-colonial mindset, Purple Hibiscus is often read as a chronicle of colonial and colonized forces struggling over identity and language. In light of this, Eugene symbolizes the oppression and domestic disintegration often caused by impervious colonial forces; but Jaja was eventually able to overcome these forces, symbolizing the empowerment of the native culture and the ultimate survival of some Nigerian traditions and languages. Together, Nwoye and Jaja represent the possibility and opportunity that can still be achieved within colonial rules or post-colonial societies. Through their acts of rebellion and achieved construction of self, these two young men signify strength and potential of the novels’ characters contending with various forms of oppression, colonization, and cultural identity that can be paralleled to the struggles defining colonial and post colonial rule (Onukaogu, Allwell and EzechiOnyerionwu, 2010: 35).

 Statement of the problem

The problem of African literary artists especially the novelists have imbibed Achebe model which is the contemporary families and societies that has been modified to suit the African surroundings. They depended essentially on the manipulation of the cultural, social and linguistic background. However, it has been demonstrated that the texts selected by its thematic preoccupation and character delineation in previous studies show culture and tradition as strong factors in sex differentiation, creation of gender identities and power sharing. It also shows that socially constructed roles and identities contribute to domestic and social violence in patriarchal societies. The most studies examines the themes, metaphors and symbolic representation of characters through the feminist perspective and Max Weber‘s power theory. This is because the analyses of gender relations must take into cognizance theories of a person‘s biological sex and gender identity and how it affects power sharing and the role of tradition, laws and the dominant ideology in the perpetuation of gender-based violence. Adichie‘s writings portray a strong call against gender violence and the treatment of women as commodities.Gender-based unkindness is not a new problem in the Nigerian society or other societies of the world. Ferocity against an individual on the basis of his /her gender is common place and is becoming endemic. Various studies have been carried out on what fosters gender cruelty and what makes it thrive with a view to putting an end to the problem. This has opened up various arguments as to how the problem can best be tackled.

1.3     Aims and Objectives.

This study aims at studying Things Fall Apart and Purple Hibiscus in Comparative Perspective of Family and Society

Specifically, the study sought to

  1. examine Adichie's Purple Hibiscus and issues of ideology in the constitution of the Nigerian novel
  2. analyze the Purple Hibiscus regarding family and society
  3. analyze Things Fall Apart as its relates family and  society
  4. examine how Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart And ChimamandaNgoziAdichie’s Purple Hibiscus analagous works
  • Justification of the study

The current blossoming of fiction in contemporary Nigeria is, as many critics have pointed out, creating a ‘third generation’ of Nigerian literature. This study argues that ChimamandaNgoziAdichie's Purple Hibiscus (2005) a text in this new dispensation, begins a discourse on childhood as ‘a set of ideas’ that engages, through alternative memory and the father figure, with what can be described as postmodern identities. Adichie's contemporaries, children spawned by literary and literal fathers, struggle with these fathers as critical memories in an attempt to delimit and transcend the symbolic boundaries carved out by identification with the father figure. In Purple Hibiscus, childhood equivocates its relation with this figure and problematises it in a manner that gives this childhood power, agency to consume hybridity, third spaces and, as Madeline Hron (2008). Orana-azunwa: The Figure of the Child in Third-Generation Nigerian Novels. Research in African Literatures 39 2:29 puts it, ‘possibility and most importantly resistance’.

Many of these intersections have particular significance in the revisionary project undertaken by Adichie in “The Headstrong Historian”, and several of theseconvergences will feature in my analysis of her piece. However, it is probably the short story’s main difference with Things Fall Apart that conveys Adichie’s message most forcefully: the narrative is indeed largely recounted through the eyes of a female character, an alteration of perspective – technically known as “trans focalization” typical of appropriative gestures. Because the identity of the main source text or, to useGenette’s term, of the hypotext, of “The Headstrong Historian” is far more obvious than in the case of Purple Hibiscus, the significance of such a change in narrativeconsciousness cannot be doubted.

Yet its motivations are perhaps not asstraightforward as one might expect. Consider Adichie’s view on the representation of gender in Achebe’s first novel: It is impossible, especially for the contemporary reader, not to be struck by the portrayal of gender in Things Fall Apart, and the equating of weakness andinability with femaleness. More interesting, however, and perhaps more revealing,are the subtle ways in which Achebe interrogates this patriarchy: for example, Okonkwo denigrates women and yet the child he most respects is his daughter Ezinma, the only character who dares to answer back to him and who happens to be confident and forthright in a way that his male children are not.

1.5     Research Methodology

Materials for this research work were gotten from the library and internet which are the secondary source of data collection where related literature which are relevant to the topic under study treated. Among these sources were periodically articles, textbooks, and these that are related to the topic of research so as to gather information for the progress of the work and aided the researcher to further acquire knowledge on the topic under discourse.     The analysis of the text was based on the features which characterize how it is used to correct social vices or anomalies.

  • The Scope of study

In the light of above, the scope wasrestricted or constrained to the chosen text Things Fall Apart and Purple Hibiscus.

1.6     Definition of Terms

Family: Is the divine building block of societyconsisting of parents and their children, considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not as well as any group of persons closely related by blood, as parents, children, uncles, aunts, and cousins including all those persons considered as descendants of a common progenitor.

Contemporary: Is what take place in the present regarding writings being ironic and reflects the political, social and personal perspectives of a society.

Patriarchy: Is a way of society in which the father or eldest male is head of the family and descent is traced through the male line, men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.

Society:Is considered to be all persons forming a community of interdependent working for the benefit of civilization if social orders are followed.