Essay Questions Purple Hibiscus Characters

Kambili Achike

The novel’s narrator, a fifteen-year-old girl who is quiet and withdrawn, but an excellent student. She idolizes her father, Papa, even as she fears his violent punishments, and her worldview is based on his… (read full character analysis)

Papa (Eugene Achike)

Kambili’s father, a wealthy factory owner and devout Catholic. Papa uses his vast wealth to support his friends and relatives, many charities, and his church, St. Agnes. He also publishes the newspaper the Standard… (read full character analysis)

Mama (Beatrice Achike)

Kambili’s mother, a quiet, submissive woman who takes care of her children but does not speak out against Papa’s violence. After Kambili’s birth she suffers several miscarriages because of Papa’s beatings. Mama… (read full character analysis)

Aunty Ifeoma

Papa’s sister, a tall, outspoken woman who is a professor at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka. Ifeoma is not afraid to criticize her brother, the university, or the Nigerian government. She is a… (read full character analysis)


The father of Papa and Aunty Ifeoma. He still lives in Abba and remains a traditionalist, following the beliefs of his ancestors. Papa-Nnukwu is close with Ifeoma and her children, but Papa cuts ties… (read full character analysis)

Father Amadi

A young, handsome Nigerian priest who is friends with Aunty Ifeoma and her children. He is a Catholic who also respects his Nigerian roots, incorporating Igbo songs into his prayers and blending the old ways… (read full character analysis)

Minor Characters


Aunty Ifeoma’s oldest child, a fifteen-year-old artist who wants to be an activist. She is very outspoken, close with Papa-Nnukwu, and criticizes Kambili for her wealth and meekness. Ultimately the two cousins grow close and understand each other better.


Aunty Ifeoma’s second child, a fourteen-year-old who seems mature beyond his years. Obiora questions everything and assumes the role of “man of the house” after his father’s death. He seems older than Jaja, despite being three years his junior, and inspires Jaja to take control of his life.


Aunty Ifeoma’s youngest child, a seven-year-old boy.

Ade Coker

Papa’s friend and the editor of the Standard, a round and kindly man who writes dangerous stories criticizing the government. He is assassinated with a package bomb.

Father Benedict

The white, British, conservative Catholic priest at St. Agnes. Father Benedict sees Catholicism as a rigid set of rules, like Papa does.

Yewande Coker

Ade Coker’s wife, who is distraught by his death. Papa helps her and her daughter by funding their care and buying them a new house after the explosion.


The quiet servant in Papa’s house. She provides the poison Mama uses to kill Papa.

Chinwe Jideze

A wealthy and popular girl in Kambili’s class. She takes the top spot from Kambili one term and is somewhat antagonistic toward Kambili, though eventually she becomes friendlier.


The only girl in Kambili’s class who treats her like a friend.


Papa’s family driver, who takes them everywhere.


The new driver who replaces Kevin after Papa’s death.


Aunty Ifeoma’s professor friend, who criticizes her move to America.

The Head of State (“Big Oga”)

A corrupt leader who takes over the Nigerian government through a military coup. Probably a stand-in for the real-life Nigerian ruler Ibrahim Babangida.


Mama’s father, a light-skinned Nigerian who was a devout Catholic.


An old man who tries to enter Papa’s compound in Abba, despite being a non-Christian.

The Igwe

A local ruler in Abba who visits Papa.


Aunty Ifeoma’s late husband.

Doctor Nduoma

A doctor in Nsukka who treats Papa-Nnukwu.

Nwankiti Ogechi

A pro-democracy activist who is murdered by the government.

Mama Joe

A woman in Nsukka who plaits Kambili’s hair.

Cosby, Matt. "Purple Hibiscus Characters." LitCharts. LitCharts LLC, 17 Jun 2015. Web. 10 Mar 2018.

Cosby, Matt. "Purple Hibiscus Characters." LitCharts LLC, June 17, 2015. Retrieved March 10, 2018.

  • 1

    What does the purple hibiscus represent?

    Aunty Ifeoma grows the purple hibiscus, a rare hybrid created by a botanist friend of hers. Jaja is drawn to the flowers when he arrives in Nsukka. For Jaja, the flowers represent freedom. Instead of just following what must be, Aunty Ifeoma's purple hibiscus are both uniquely beautiful and a new creation. They are a symbol of an alternative to the rigid life that has been created for him and his sister. When he takes the stalks to his home, he brings with them a new sense of self and possibility.

  • 2

    Kambili describes in detail many different aspects of nature, including plants, insects and weather. How does the environment relate to the narrative?

    The environment is used to reflect both inner turmoil and joy. When Ade Coker dies, a heavy rain falls. Likewise, sadness and pressure fall on Papa. After Papa throws the missal, a strong wind uproots the frangipani trees and the satellite dish. When Kambili begins to mature, her relationship with the natural world also changes. Instead of being frightened by earthworms in Aunty Ifeoma’s bath, she lets them be. Kambili’s comfort with nature is directly related to her ease of self.

  • 3

    Papa uses Igbo and English at different times. Discuss what this signifies about his character.

    Though raised by an Igbo traditionalist, Papa rarely uses his native tongue at home and never in public. Papa was schooled by missionaries in Nigeria and in England and is educated in colonial ways. For him, his accent belies his prominence. He speaks with an English-inflected accent to both Father Benedict and Mother Lucy. Maintaining an image of an African who is comfortable with European ways helps to cement his standing in the community. He uses this stature to help his friend Ade. But Papa also carries a shame for his roots. His voice communicates both his education and also his separation from his ancestral traditions.

  • 4

    Compare the relationship between Amaka and Obiora to the relationship between Kambili and Jaja.

    Amaka and Obiora are siblings who share passions but also don’t see eye to eye on important topics. Both children are intellectually curious and argumentative. They have been raised to question authority. However, Amaka is fiercely loyal to Nigeria and Obiora finds new hope in the dream of America. Unlike Kambili and Jaja, Amaka and Obiora are not scared to disagree. Kambili and Jaja are united by silence. When Jaja begins to spread his wings a bit, Kambili is dismayed that she can no longer communicate with him via the secret language of their eyes. Ultimately, both Amaka and Obiora and Kambili and Jaja allow each other to nurture separate identities but still love one another.

  • 5

    Kambili describes in detail several dreams. Why are they important?

    Kambili’s dreams are clues to how she feels about certain people and events. Since Kambili only rarely speaks her mind, her mind speaks for her. She dreams that she has Aunty Ifeoma’s laugh because she wishes she could talk as freely and energetically like her aunt. When Amaka is deriding her, Kambili dreams her cousin is flushing her down the toilet. Kambili’s dreams are a gateway into her mind.

  • 6

    Purple Hibiscus charts the coming of age of both Kambili and Jaja. Discuss how each Achike sibling matures over the course of the novel.

    Kambili is characterized by her lack of voice. She stutters and coughs and can barely rise above a whisper. Both she and Jaja are sheltered and intimidated by her father. Both children, as they mature into adults, must overcome their father. While Jaja’s rebellions are more overt – missing communion, asking for his room key, taking the blame for his mother’s crime – Kambili’s are more personal. She does not reject her faith and compassion, but rather adapts them to fit her new, more complex, worldview. Through all of their hardships, Jaja remains Kambili’s hero.

  • 7

    Religion is a crucial theme in Purple Hibiscus. Discuss how religion influences the characters.

    There are two religions that are prominently featured in Purple Hibiscus: Catholicism and traditional Igbo practice Papa can be viewed as a symbol of fundamentalism in Nigeria. Influenced by his colonial education, Papa eradicates all traces of his traditional past and indoctrinates his children into religion as it was preached to him. God seeks perfection and Papa’s way to instill perfection is to punish failure. Papa does not let his children spend much time with his own father for he is a “heathen.” Papa’s prejudice severs his ties with his ancestry. However, as Kambili realizes, there are similarities between the faiths of Papa and Papa-Nnukwu. Aunty Ifeoma and, later, Kambili, honor both faiths in their more modernized take on devotion.

  • 8

    Why does Mama poison Papa?

    Mama’s murder of Papa is first and foremost to protect herself and her children from his abuse. However, she poisons him because she feels she has no other option. She dismisses Aunty Ifeoma’s advice to leave her home as “university talk.” After losing another child at his hands, however, Mama realizes that something must be done. In an environment of repression and violence, she fights back using the only method available to her – poison.

  • 9

    Discuss how the political unrest in Nigeria affects the Achike family.

    Though the political unrest is removed from Kambili’s day to day life, corruption touches her family. Papa’s friend and fellow pro-democracy activist Ade Coker is murdered in front of his family. Papa is distraught when this happens and remarks that Nigeria is in decline. The escalating violence and police presence echo the rising tensions inside the Achike home. Kambili and Jaja’s fight for independence echoes the fight of the pro-democracy activists.

  • 10

    Discuss the significance of Kambili’s crush on Father Amadi.

    The comforting presence of Father Amadi causes two changes in Kambili’s life. Her physical attraction to Father Amadi expedites her steps towards womanhood. Father Amadi also greatly influences Kambili’s shifting paradigm of faith. He tells her he did not have a calling, but rather that the priesthood was able to answer the most questions. Father Amadi also incorporates Igbo song and prayer into his sermons. Kambili realizes that her faith and ancestral traditions do not have to be mutually exclusive. She is able to forge her identity as both a sexual woman and as more liberal Catholic.

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