Paper #4 Topics: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus
Your six-to-eight-page research paper is due Monday, May 3. This research paper is designed to teach you the following skills: to gain a broader understanding of the novel Purple Hibiscus by referring to outside sources, to learn to incorporate your own voice/analysis alongside those of the experts’, and to practice employing MLA guidelines of citation and documentation. Keep in mind: you are writing an argumentative, not an informative, research paper.
You must use no fewer and no more than three outside sources, coming from:
1. A book
2. A scholarly article from one of Rutgers’ library’s databases and/or from a literary journal
Your first step is to decide on a topic that interests you (there’s nothing worse than doing a research paper on a topic you find boring). Perhaps you can choose from a discipline that you are pursuing academically (i.e., your major). You may come up with your own topic or you may choose from the ones I have provided. The key is to be creative in your intellectual approach to this; Adichie provides many philosophical, historical, political, and artistic ideas with which to work, so take advantage of them.
1. Many of the characters go through changes in the novel, but Jaja’s path from an obedient son to a rebellious teenager stands out most. Find unifying details, events, or symbols to follow his character development.
2. A major symbol in the novel is the purple hibiscus that a professor at Aunty Ifeoma’s university has experimented with. Typically red or white, the purple hibiscus can be viewed as an alternate way of being as well as a symbol of hope and freedom. Write an essay in which you explore the symbolism of the purple hibiscus as it pertains to any of a number of themes: tradition, religion, feminism (various treatment of women in the novel), a post-colonial Nigeria’s struggle for political stability.
3. How does Adichie complicate simplistic notions of morality? Some avenues to consider exploring may include Eugene’s relationship to his family (as a provider and an abuser) or Beatrice’s poisoning of her abusive husband. You could also consider Ifeoma’s role in influencing her brother’s children or Father Amadi’s role in trying to help Kambili come out of her shell, so to speak.
4. Religion and spiritual faith are integral parts of Adichie’s characters’ identities. But religion works in tandem with tradition. Father Benedict, for instance, upholds a Euro-centric tradition of Catholicism. Eugene, like Grandfather, believes that Nigerians should embrace this form of Catholicism and avoid any infusion of Igbo culture into religion. Aunty Ifeoma and Father Amadi seem to embrace a more progressive version of Catholicism. They are faithful and believe in the doctrines of the church, but sing Igbo songs and dance during the liturgy. Amaka is less balanced by refusing to take the name of saint for her confirmation. Papa Nnukwu does not embrace Catholicism altogether and views it as a “White man’s” religion, doing away with what makes him essentially Nigerian. Consider religion on a spectrum and how it shapes each character and their views of the world.
5. Consider Kambili’s family as a microcosm of Nigeria. What are the problems the family deals with, what role does each relative play and how do they deal with abuse differently? What are the parallels that can be drawn between Kambili’s family and the troubled politics of a fragile Nigeria?
6. Patriotism is a major theme in the novel. Examine the various ways in which characters are patriotic. Some characters that are central to this theme are Eugene, Aunty Ifeoma, and Ade Coker. Eugene’s shows optimism for Nigeria (supporting Coker’s journalism) while preferring European traditions over Igbo traditions. Aunty Ifeoma supports student protests but leaves Nigeria for America in pursuit of better opportunities. How do they differ? Is each character’s version of patriotism genuine or are there any contradictions between their beliefs and actions? Are they justified in their choices?
7. Do a close reading of any two of the characters. Think about how they serve as foils, dopplegangers, or complements of each other – or, perhaps, consider two characters whose roles in the novel help to illuminate a particular theme. Father Amadi and Father Benedict; Father Amadi and Eugene; Papa Nnukwu and Grandfather; Aunty Ifeoma and Beatrice; Aunty Ifeoma and Eugene; Kambili and Amata; Kambili and Jaja; Ade Coker and Eugene.
8. Write an essay that explores some of the secondary characters of this novel, such as Ade Coker, Papa-Nnukwu, Ifeoma and her children Amaka, Obiora, and Chima. Why are they important characters, and how do they alter the readers’ perspective as the story progresses? Ultimately, what do Adichie’s secondary characters suggest about the nature of freedom, wisdom, family, or gender roles?
9. Create your own topic: In class we have discussed many of Adichie’s recurring images and motifs (flowers, homes, architecture, silence, laughter, scars, et. al.). If you think you have a good idea for an original paper on one or more of these symbols, write a working thesis and email it to me no later than 6pm on Wednesday, April 14.
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