Maturation in Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus: A Romanticism Glide

Cite this article as: Irany, R.K.D. & Peter, P.D. (2023) Maturation in Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus: A Romanticism Glide. Zamfara International Journal of Humanities, (2)2, 80-86. www.doi.org/10.36349/zamijoh.2023.v02i02.009.

Maturation in Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus: A Romanticism Glide

Rebecca Kenseh Daniel Irany
Department of English and Literary Studies
Taraba State University, Jalingo


Patience Diah Peter
Department of English and Literary Studies,
Taraba State University, Jalingo


In the romantic view of the subject of “Maturation” which is the journey from childhood or adolescence to adulthood, that journey Geoffrey Hartman calls a “Dangerous passageway” with the central feature of self-consciousness which is occasioned by knowledge of self and plagued by “maladies”; or “strong disease”, and “an endemic” which is central in romantic thoughts is projected by Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and is the hunt of this research. Adichie can discuss the journey from childhood to maturation; in that, she expresses the perils of childhood; which is embodied by the deep self-consciousness that covered her heroine who had to endure the perils of childhood and later the maladies of the mind, in undergoing the dangerous passageways to the place of freedom, a freedom to be, to create her destiny. Adichie destroys all impediments that would have prevented her heroine from reaching the goal of absolute freedom which can only be achieved by the romantic mind.    

Keywords: Dangerous, Maturation, Perils, Passageways, Self-consciousness


Maturation is the achievement of intellectual or emotional form or state. According to the Cambridge Dictionary online, maturation is “the process of becoming developed mentally or emotionally”. Romanticism flourishes from the 17th century and brandishes its ideology through eras and genres of literature and has since explored the subject of maturation with Zest. The Romantic critics called that process “Dangerous Passageways”, Geoffrey Hartman in his essay “Romanticism and Anti - Self-Consciousness” articulated the subject, alluding to the fact that “whatever changes the mind must undergo, it is the Romantics who first explored the dangerous passageways of maturation”. (136) Hartman further stated that “Wordsworth like many Romantics had passed through a depression linked to the ravage of self-consciousness and the “strong disease” of self-analysis. He explained further that these dangerous passageways have certain characteristics such as increased self-consciousness; one undergoing the journey is plagued with the disease, and the maladies that affect their internal constituent:

Works of the Romantic period show how crucial these maladies are for the adolescent mind. Endemic, perhaps, to every stage of life, they especially affect the transition from adolescence to maturity and it is interesting to observe how man’s attention has shifted from the fact of death and its rite of passage, to what Keats called “the Chamber of Maiden-Thoughts …to the perils of childhood (136)

On the subject of adolescence, Harold Bloom stipulates that “If adolescence was a Romantic or Rousseauistic phenomenon of consciousness … the pain of psychic maturation become, for Shelley, the potentially saving through the usually destructive crisis in which the imagination confronts its choice of either sustaining its integrity or yielding to the illusive beauty of nature.” (104) The self-consciousness that occurs during the process of moving from childhood or adolescence also called the dangerous passageway to maturity is plagued with a strong disease of self-analysis which Adichie explored in Purple Hibiscus through the character of Kambili. This research sweeps through the internal friction made by the character(s); with a focus on Kambili and where it would lead her. Would Kambili scale through and downward, internally to achieve in Romanticism paragon or would the external structure and its influence; its battle against the internal construct influence or twat that journey? For example, another factor that influences the constituent of the internal construct is the “perils of childhood which the Romantics also explored. Kambili’s internalized struggle and her inability to physically express her thoughts are products of the perils of her childhood where she was constantly told what to do and how to do it. Talking of creative power, Northrop Frye stipulates in his essay “The Drunken Boat: The Revolutionary Element in Romanticism” that the  “Only known model was in the human mind”, (127) and that “On the constructive power of the mind, where reality is brought into being by experience” (128) She had no freedom to think of or for herself until that safe nest was shattered when she went to visit her Aunt Ifeoma and met with her cousins and most importantly with the priest, Father Amadi, and developed the strong disease of self-consciousness; her journey through the dangerous passageways to maturity was a perilous one. Harold Bloom explained this movement that is completely internalized

The Romance movement is from nature to imagination’s freedom (sometimes a reluctant freedom) and the imagination’s freedom is frequently purgatorial, redemptive in direction but destructive of the social self…but the quest is shadowed by a spirit that tends to narrow consciousness to an acute pre-occupation with self… what Shelly calls the spirit of solitude … Blake calls this spirit of solitude Spectre, or the genuine Satan (104-5)

Aim and Objectives

The subject of Maturation has been explored by many romanticism writers in Europe and America and strived in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries among romantic poets; the romantics explored the subject of maturation and how it affects the individual minds; which is the centre of all creativity as stated in Northrop Frye’s essay “the Drunken Boat: A revolutionary element in Romanticism”; he states that Rousseau represents a revolutionary change in Modern frame of mind and it is because Rousseau believed that civilization is manmade and man can always undo it and the only construction site is the mind. Adichie’s work has gone through many critical evaluations; the most common is that she is a feminist. No work to the best of this research knowledge has been done on her exploration of the subject of maturation within the romantic spirit

The aim of the study therefore is to subject Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus to a critical evaluation to ascertain if it aligns with the Romanticism cannon that explores the subject of maturation, and its challenges and then to arrive at the place of freedom to explore one’s greatest potential; the mind. The objectives of this work it to

a.       Explore how Adichie can discuss the subject of maturation in Purple Hibiscus.

b.      Explore the impediments embedded in the journey to maturation as projected by Adichie in her romantic spirit.

c.       To ascertain Adichie’s ability to explore the romantic spirit of freedom of the mind as a result or otherwise in the subject of maturation.

The Struggle

Kambili has to destroy all her hitherto social self to come to the understanding of self. She began to think of herself how she looked or what people thought of her and her inadequacies. The special understanding of the mind and its struggles; the loneliness and pain felt by the Kambili and her soaring to achieve freedom of the mind; accepting it as a more worthy achievement than the heretofore places the work in study within the Romantic jungle.  Frye explains it in better terms

The mechanical being the characteristic of ordinary experience, it is found particularly in the world “outside”, the superior or organic world is consequently “inside”, and although it is still called superior or higher, the natural metaphorical direction of the inside world is downward into the profound depths of consciousness (126)

Adichie is not in the category of the early romanticist writers. She is not associated by genre and era or by culture and belief but by the subject matters that have been explored by the Romantics and their critics alike. The subject of “Maturation” is explored by the Romantic ideology and glides through genre and through different eras to arrive successfully at Adichie in Purple Hibiscus and will be explored in this work. Jerome Mcgann in his “Romantic Ideology” stipulated that

The works of romantic art, like the works of any historical movement “transcend” their particular socio-historical position only because they have localized themselves. In this fact …paradox fundamental to all works of art is best revealed through a historical method of criticism: that such works transcend their age and speak to alien cultures because they are so completely true to themselves because they are time and space-specific…different. Works of the past are relevant to the present … because of this difference. (109)

Romanticism and the subject matters they subdued are as relevant today as it is during the era that was called Romanticism era and these ideologies transcend all cultures. Adichie tells the story of a young Nigerian girl in the 21st century in the character of Kambili, whose creative mind is sealed by patriarchal culture, and religion that rejects the freedom to think, to create and to have an identity outside the one that has been defined for her. Northrop Frye describes the agencies that create such culture and identity as: “the sacraments of religion, the moral law, and that habit of virtue” (126) Kambili is controlled by the patriarchal figure(s) in her life, her father and the Reverent Father (s).

She is expected to do as she is told and not think to do. The bondage enveloped her and it became normal; when a suggestion of the university where she would go came forth; she thought to herself “I had never thought about the university, where I would go for study. When the time came, Paper would decide.” (138) Papa is Kambili’s father and the character used by Adichie to symbolize the old order that Romanticism seeks to undo. The American Romanticism ideology rejects the strict beliefs of the Puritans and the rationalism of the age of reasoning and were less concerned with social or political reform but leaned on their own “intuitive experience” (Part 1: Romanticism), they upheld sensibility and the desire for individual freedom to explore their innate abilities and not be bound by the stipulated laid down rules that limit the individual mind

Kambili’s visit to Aunty Ifeoma and her children and meeting with father Amadi whom she later fell in love with, quickened her mind to question the status quo mildly at first and then progressively, a revolution emerged within her spirit and she began to travel on the dangerous passageway to maturation and then encountered the malady of self-consciousness and the disease; the endemic that she seeks cure throughout her journey. Harold Bloom talking of romantic focus says: “The real man, the imagination, emerges after terrible crises in the major stage of the Romantic quest … to bring the search within the self and its ambiguity.” (110)

The loneliness, longing and fear that something is wrong with her, that self-consciousness described by Hartman plaques Kambili as she tries to find her identity and her voice. Amaka’s friend asked her if the hair on her head was her hair. She wanted to respond but could not. She also wanted to join in the conversation and be free like them but she could not so she ran to the toilet. “I wanted to tell the girl that it was all my hair … I wanted to talk with them, to laugh with them so much that I would start to jump up and down in one place the way that they did but my lips held stubbornly together. I did not want to stutter, so I started to cough and then ran out and into the toilet.” (149) Adichie through the character of Kambili seeks to create her identity; to free herself from repressiveness which has been suppressed by “the perils of childhood” Bloom expresses it well in romantic thoughts, “In the Prometheus [fore thinking] stage, the quest is allied to the libido’s struggle against repressiveness, … and [for]Keats, most simply and perhaps most powerfully, the identity.” (Bloom 110)

The Perils of Childhood

As children, Kambili’s father forces his children to suppress the internal being and to confirm the sacrament of religion and moral virtue which is enshrined in the Christian doctrine and his brand of Catholicism. Papa had forbidden the children to see his father, their grandfather Papa-Nnukwu, because he is not a Catholic, depriving his children; especially Kambili of having the relationship she desired with her grandfather “Amaka and Papa-Nnukwu spoke sometimes, their voices low, twining together. They understood each other, using the sparest words. Watching them, I felt a longing for something I knew I would never have” (172) she longed for something she knew she would never have; the relationship between Amaka, her cousin with her grandfather, Papa Nnukwu. Papa punishes her and Jaja, her brother severely for staying in the same house with his father; their grandfather.

On arrival from Nsukka, Jaja had asked for the key to his room and he alluded that act to Jaja trying to defile himself and that the evil Jaja was trying to commit was caused by the children sharing the same house with their grandfather. “Papa, may I have the keys to my room, please?” (198) Papa’s response was “To sin against your own body? ... See how being with a heathen has changed them, has taught them evil?” (198), he went further to burn their legs with boiled water because he believes that in punishing them he heals them from any moral sin; Kambili narrates: “I stepped into the tub and stood looking at him. It didn’t seem that he was going to get the stick, and I felt fear, stinging and raw; fill my bladder and my ears. I did not know what he was going to do to me.

It was easier when I saw the stick … Then I noticed the kettle on the floor, close to Papa’s feet … Papa picked it up.” (200) he then begins to ask her questions like: “You knew your grandfather was coming to Nsukka, did you not? (200)  Kambili answers “Yes Papa” (200) Papa continues: “So you saw sin and walked right into it?” (200) Kambili nods and answers: “Yes Papa.” (200)  Papa tells Kambili that she is precious “‘You should strive for perfection. You should not see sin and walk right into it.’ He lowered the kettle into the tub and tilted it towards my feet. He poured the hot water on my feet. … And I screamed. ‘That is what you do to yourself when you walk into sin. You burn your feet.” (200-201)

Papa later came into Kambili’s room to further emphasize the importance of the severe injury he inflicted upon her and her brother and stated that it was necessary and for their good. He had also undergone such punishment and had since then subdued his libido: “I sinned against my own body once …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 hands in it … I did not know that Papa committed any sins, that he could commit any sins.” (203). Every mistake is severely punished by her father who tells Kambili and her brother it is for their good; to save them from hell. The “God” Papa presents to them is a wicked God who punishes sins without mercy like “Big Brother” in George Orwell’s 1984 or General Tilney in Northanger Abbey and if one presents “Papa” as a god in the subject of roles as described by Madaki and Li describes in their essay “The Father Figure in the Novels of Jane Austen”. Then Papa as god is wicked and punishes every sin.

Kambili’s longing for a relationship with her grandfather and her desire to keep a reminder of him after his death; she accepted a gift from her cousin. Papa beats her severely, almost to the point of death when he sees her with the gift; the painted picture of his father which her cousin Amaka gave her. Kambili later thinks of her father’s utterances as she always does “I wondered if Papa was right, if being with Papa- Nnukwu had made Jaja evil, had made us evil: (199) The feeling crept unto her without her knowing it; the feeling of loss, a loss that is occasioned by the old order symbolized by Papa Eugene and his strict catholic belief. In Nsukka, she was beginning to discover herself. She started her journey through the dangerous passageways of maturation.

Dangerous passageways

The meeting between Kambili and Father Amadi awakened in the chambers of her maiden heart the dynamism of freedom as well as the rigour of the strong disease that she has to content with; the maladies that have consumed her maiden heart. Bloom puts it well “Usually destructive crisis in which the imagination confronts its choice of either sustaining its integrity, or yielding to the illusive beauty of nature.” (104) She describes the force of the disease that has consumed her: “I could not help staring at him, because his voice pulled me” (156) she continued to explain the danger of the malady that threatened her contained world: “Hearing my name in his voice, in that melody, made me feel taut inside. I filled my mouth as if I might have said something but for the food I had to chew” (156) the malady that is central to romantic thoughts “It is interesting to observe how man’s attention has shifted from the fact of death and its rite of passage, to what Keats called the Chamber of Maiden-Thoughts…whatever changes the mind must undergo, and that it is the Romantics who first explored the dangerous passageways of maturation” 136


Kambili began to experience feelings for Father Amadi even though she knew he was a reverend father. These feelings are the maladies that confront her journey. The feelings were beyond her control. Hegel explains that the realization of self-consciousness is a struggle for recognition between two individuals bound to one another as unequal in a relationship of dependence. (1) The maladies occupy her being and even a handshake with him or his voice or his cologne or his thoughts had begun to affect her in a manner that displaces her stability and can only be likened to a disease.  She describes how his touch affects her, “I extended my hand so that we could shake, my lower lip started to tremble” (178) now his eyes have become a disease that ate through her system, “His eyes rested on my face and I looked away.

It was too disturbing, locking eyes with him; it made me forget who was nearby, where I was sitting, what colour my skirt was.” (180) Kambili felt like fire was consuming her being; the malady, the disease was spreading and it surprises her that no one has noticed “She seemed so happy, so at peace, I wondered how anybody around me could feel that way when the liquid fire was raging inside me when fear was mingling with hope and clutching itself around my ankles” (Purple Hibiscus 180) In going through the dangerous passageway to maturation Kambili is plagued with the endemic, a strong disease. Adichie shows “how crucial these maladies are for the adolescent mind. Endemic …the transition from adolescent to maturity”. (Hartman 136), these maladies forced Kambili to feel guilty; and fear for the road that she has taken, she expresses it thus: Father Amadi’s car smelled like him, a clean scent that made me think of clear Azure sky. …The space between us was too small.

I was always pertinent when I was close to a priest at confession. But it was hard to feel penitent now, with Father Amadi’s cologne deep in my lungs. I felt guilty instead because I could not focus on my sins, could not think of anything except how near he was.” (182) When Father Amadi praises her legs and tells her they are good for running, it seems too much “You have good legs for running … I looked away. I had never heard anything like that before. It seemed too close, too intimate, to have his eyes on my legs, on any part of me” (185) she is dragged to him by his clothes, and she enjoys caressing them, Father Amadi removes and drops his tank top on Kambili’s feet before joining the boys on the field to run: “My eyes were on the football field, on Father Amadi’s running legs …My hand finally touched the top on my lap, moving over it tentatively as though it could breathe, as though it were a part of Father Amadi” (184) she becomes conflicted when her cousin seems close to him.

I watched how Chima clung to him, how Amaka’s and Obiora’s eyes shone as they looked up to him….I did not hear much of what she said. I was not listening. I felt so many things churning inside me, emotions that made my stomach growl and swirl.” (271) She often feels fear when she gets too close to him, and even looking into his eyes is troubling to her, “I was afraid to look into the warm brownness of his eyes, I was afraid I would swoon, that I would throw my hands around him and lace my fingers together behind his neck and refuse to let go.” (273)


Laughter that was hitherto foreign to Kambili is familiar and a constant when she conquered the malady, the disease that infected the chambers of her maiden heart; the disease that Father Amadi inflicted anytime he strolled into it and the self-consciousness that had hitherto inflicted her:

I laughed. I laughed because the allamanda flowers were so yellow. I laughed imagining how bitter their white juices would taste if Father Amadi had sucked them. I laughed because Father Amadi’s eyes were so brown that I could see my reflection in them. That night when I bathed, with a bucket half full of rainwater, I did not scrub my left hand, the hand that Father Amadi had held gently to slide the flower off my finger….I sang as I bathed. (273)

Kambili broke through every chain of bondage that had kept her spirit tied to emptiness and is easing into her new reality where love rains over all the dry places of her mind “It was one of those songs that eased the dryness in my throat as we got into his car, and I said, I Love you.” 279-280. Kambili later describes the situation in retrospect:

I laughed loudly … I laughed because Nsukka’s untarred roads coat cars with dust in the harmattan and with sticky mud in the rainy season. Because the tarred roads spring potholes like surprise presents the air smells of hills and history and the sunlight scatters the sand and turns it into gold dust. Because Nsukka could free something deep inside your belly that would rise to your throat and come out as a freedom song. As laughter” (303)

Father Amadi, the subject of Kambili’s love interest was leaving for Europe; she was distraught. She was hurt but she was bold and could express herself; not exactly as she wanted it but she had moved from a place of silence to a place of laughter and pain and love.  

I copied Father Amadi’s German address over and over in my notebook. I was copying it again, trying different writing styles when he came back. He took the notebook from me and closed it. I wanted to say, “I will miss you” but instead I said, “I will write to you.” “I will write you first,” he said. I did not know that tears slipped down my cheeks until Father Amadi reached out and wiped them away, running his open palm over my face. Then he enclosed me in his arms and held me.” (285)

This exemplified Bloom’s erudition of the selfhood “The Selfhood is not the erotic principle, but precisely that part of the erotic that cannot be released in the dialectic of love.” (110) Kambili’s love interest was not fulfilled (265) in Adichie’s romantic feat Kambili’s love could not be conquered in romantic ties, but it open up to her a world of possibilities that can only be gotten in romantic freedom. Kambili summarises her life and that of her brother: “Silence hangs over us, but it is a different kind of silence, one that lets me breathe. I have nightmares about the other kind, the silence of when Papa was alive. In my nightmares, it mixes with shame and grief and so many other things that I cannot name … There is so much that is still silent between Jaja and me. Perhaps we will talk more with time, or perhaps we never will be able to say it all, to clothe things in words, things that have long been naked.” (309)


The Romantics believe strongly in individual and internal freedom which has been projected by Adichie just as expressed in Romanticism, Transcendentalism and Gothic Literature: Romanticism 1…..“The Romantics believe in personal freedom … celebrated and explored the inward experience of the individual” (13) In the subject of maturation Adichie projects that her heroine, Kambili went through the “perils of childhood” and journeyed through the “dangerous passageways” and endured the perilous journey and the disease that inflicted her to arrive at a place of freedom, a freedom to be, freedom to do, “that freedom that is expressed even in the silence that hanged in the air”; that freedom that is within the romantic spirit; the freedom that makes her breathe. Adichie produced a character that went through abuse by her father, most especially by the accepting silence of others who benefitted from him. She struggles with self-consciousness and finally is saved by love. She became free to talk and to laugh. Adichie injected in her heroine the ability to be able to create for herself the freedom that is within the romantic spirit, a freedom to be fully mature to make decisions and be responsible for them. Papa Eugene symbolizes power, a threat and an obstacle to freedom; the romantic freedom, hence his neutralization by Adichie which excelled in her Romantic spirit.

Works Cited

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2.      Adichie, Chimamanda N. Purple Hibiscus. Kachifo Farafina 2006.

3.      Bloom, Harold. “The Internalization of Quest-Romance.” Romanticism: Critical Concept in Literary and Cultural Studies, Definitions and Romantic Form, vol. 1, part 1, 2006, pp 102 - 121. Routledge, Francis and Taylor.

4.      Cambridge Dictionary Cambridge Dictionary, https://dictionary.cambridge.org › dictionary › matura... MATURATION | English meaning

5.      Frye, Northrop.  Anatomy of Criticism: Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University. 2000.

6.      Frye, Northrop. “The Drunken Boat: The Revolutionary Element in Romanticism.” Romanticism: Critical Concept in Literary and Cultural Studies, Definitions and Romantic Form, vol. 1, part 1, 2006, pp 122 - 135. Routledge, Francis and Taylor.

7.      Greenblatt, Stephen and Giles Gunn. Redrawing the Boundaries: The Transformation of English and American Literary Studies.  Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, 2007.

8.      Hartman, Geoffrey. Romanticism and Anti – Self – Consciousness. Romanticism: Critical Concept in Literary and Cultural Studies Definitions and Romantic Form, vol. 1, part 1, 2006, pp 136- 145. Routledge, Francis and Taylor.

9.      Hegel, Georg W. F. “Hegel on Self-Consciousness” | Princeton University Press

10.  What is the problem of the formation of self-consciousness in Hegel?

11.  Madaki, R. K, Li, Z. The Wandering Jew in Novels of Jane Austen: the Pursuit of an Organic Whole in Romanticism. International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature Vol. 3 No 5; 2014, pp 104-111

12.  Peckham, Morse. “Towards a Theory of Romanticism.” Romanticism: Critical Concept in Literary and Cultural Studies Definitions and Romantic Form, vol. 1, part 1, 2006, pp 56- 73. Routledge, Francis and Taylor. 

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