Student Question

Why does Kambili in Purple Hibiscus struggle to speak and what theme does this relate to?

Quick answer:

Kambili has trouble speaking because she lives in a restrictive home where opinions are not generally shared. Her father is very controlling, and Kambili witnesses him physically abuse her mother. However, when Kambili lives with her aunt, she transforms into a free, fun young girl; as she matures, her development represents the theme of identity.

Expert Answers

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In Purple Hibiscus, Kambili finding her voice, literally and figuratively, is a symbol of her transformation from a restricted, shy girl to a blossoming, fun young woman. When Kambili and her brother live with their parents, Kambili obeys her father’s strict rules and demands because she wants to please him. His domineering personality pervades the home, and Kambili is often hesitant to speak, laugh, or upset him in any way. She has witnessed her father’s physical abuse of her mother, so she is intimidated by him. Her mother is very soft-spoken, and that affects Kambili as well. Kambili does not realize that she has been controlled by her father’s moods, anger, and powerful personality.

It is only after Kambili and her brother move to their aunt’s home that Kambili finds her own voice as she learns that it is okay to have opinions, as well as hopes and dreams. Her aunt’s house is fun and loud, full of life. As a university professor, her aunt brings new ideas and perspectives to Kambili, her brother, and her three cousins. Her relatives, especially Amaka, help Kambili see that it is normal and wonderful to embrace one’s own personality and that life should be full, not hindered.

You can trace how Kambili’s character development and transformation represent the theme of identity throughout the novel as Kambili matures and balances family, friends, faith, and self-worth.

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