Summary Adichie's novel is divided into four sections titled: Breaking Gods --Psalm Sunday Speaking with our Spirits -- Before Psalm Sunday The Pieces of Gods -- After Psalm Sunday A Different Silence -- The Present
Breaking Gods -- Psalm Sunday Adichie begins Kambili's story with the day "things begin to fall apart" in their orderly structured lives. The reader is introduced to Kambili's family on a day that everything changed; her brother, Jaja, is rebelling against his father's totalitarian rule of the household. Jaja is seventeen and just beginning to know who he is and who he wants to become. Jaja refuses to obey the religious rules and family rules of the household. In one day, he has set a different course for himself that will ripple over to the rest of the family. Kambili and her mother do not want the family fighting and try to maintain peace between Jaja and the father. During the argument the father throws a religious book which breaks a shelf and glass fiqurines of the mother. These figurines have special meaning for the mother as she polishes each after she has been physically abused by her husband. The reader learns of the abuse this father and husband has inflicted upon his family. With the breaking of the figurines, Adichie symbolizes the breaking of the father's hold over the family; the religious oppression he has inflicted upon his family is beginning to crumble. BreakingGods gives the reader the defining moment of the book in chapter one; the reader is captivated by the story and held hostage until Adichie finishes her Bildungsroman novel.
Class Questions: 1. What do the figurines represent to the mother in the story? 2. What does their breaking foreshadow? 3. What possible themes have emergedin this first chapter? 4. Relate how Adichie first introduces the reader to the flowering plant that will emerge throughout the book. 5. The next chapter moves to the past. What literary term does this reflect? Name another story we have read this semester that includes this technique.
Speaking with our Spirits -- Before Psalm Sunday Adichie continues her story by flashing back to the past. She must now expound on her introduction and provide the details of a dysfunctional family living in a dysfunctional country. In this section the reader gets to know Kambili and her family. The reader learns of the strict lives of the children and the wife. The father rules the household and his parenting is not questioned. Kambili is viewed in her classroom setting and shown as a fearful child who must always perform higher than her peers. Receiving the top scholastic honors is not a goal for Kambili and her brother Jaja; it is a requirement that initiates severe punishment if not obtained. The reader is exposed to the horrific physical abuse that the father inflicts upon his family. Tucked away in the pages is a family with scalded feet and black eyes controlled by a "loving father." The mother seems to receive abuse more often from the father. The book mentions what she has done to "deserve" them from her husband, but other times she simply appears with the black eyes; it is written that she has been released from the hospital. This section of the book details all the previous happenings the reader needs to know to understand the thoughts and actions of all its characters. The father's abusive past is revealed. He was punished by the priests in his school for not following the strict religious rules. As the reader skims the paragraphs, it is all to poignant that the circle of abuse in families is a hard one to break. Adichie exposes a problem in the far off country of Nigeria that touches all too many families here in the United States. Just as we are all different and unique, this book shows how we are the same in every country. Adichie's Young Adult novel reaches into the closed rooms of our houses to uncover the secrets that need to be exposed and revealed. The mother, Kambili, and Jaja live their lives exactly as the father demands; schedules and lists dictate what they do, where they go, and what they are to think. This section of the novel details their daily lives and how the father believes he is just in maintaining this dictatorship over his family. He feels he must constantly guard their entrance to heaven; by strict rules and punishments, he determines that he is securing their heavenly future. The mother cannot change or stop the abuse. The pages inform the reader that Eugene is offered many wives, but chooses only to keep Beatrice. The mother, Beatrice, feels fortunate throughout the novel that her husband remains faithful to her. This book reminds young American readers of cultures where women are second class citizens and whose livelihoods depend on the male population. These chapters provide glimpses into a country being torn apart by civil war. The Biafra movement is addressed in the shortages of food, electricity, petroleum, etc. The father's newspaper employee is killed by a mail bomb. These images will not be foreign to the student reader as our country has experienced bombings such as this. In Kambili's Nigerian world, to speak out against the government, insures that you will be thrown into prison or killed. Her father seems immune to this action because of his foreign connections. The later chapters mention a strange rash over his body and his strength being drained from him. The reader will learn the true cause of the illness in the book's closing chapters. The first visit to Aunty Ifeoma takes place in this section. The book's earlier first section informs the reader of the differences in Jaja after this visit. The visit to the flat in Nsukka reveals a much simpler, happier live style. The cousins exist on much less than Kambili and Jaja, but are free to express themselves. The extremes of wealth and poverty and control to freedom are all addressed in this section. The reader's eyes are open as are Kambili's eyes to world apart from her own. She has always had plenty of food to eat, servants, and never questioned the use of electricity, etc. The civil war in Nigeria affects the cousin's world on a personal level. Amongst this setting, Kambili and Jaja uncover a world that is falling apart, but they are collecting the pieces to form their new world. Freedom is a precious concept and after a short visit to Nsukka, they cannot forget that a different life exists outside their compound walls. This section of the book includes references to a grandfather who believes in the old Igbo religious ways. The father forbids contact with him except for a yearly ten minute visit. Aunty Ifeoma's rules are different and Kambili enjoys visiting with her grandfather, at last. Their visits are short lived as the grandfather dies due to the lack of proper healthcare. The war affects every fraction of society. Aunty Ifeoma loses her employment as a college professor due to her political views and the college closing. Jobs are scarce and talk begins of moving to the United States. This section includes Kambili's first love story. She falls in love with Aunty Ifeoma's young priest. The sweet, innocent beginnings stem from a male figure who believes in her and thinks she is special. Her opinions suddenly matter to someone and that is a foreign concept for her. The priest does love Kambili, but holds fast to the vows he made to the church and his Lord. Kambili longs for kisses instead of caresses, but the love affair ends with the priest moving to Germany. As with the Bildungsroman novel, Kambili is growing up and experiencing life with all of its pain and problems. She is escaping to freedom, but finds even in that setting, happiness sometimes eludes you. Another visit to Nsukka comes after Eugene discovers that Kambili secretly has a portrait of her heathen grandfather. She is severely punched and kicked as punishment. A long hospital stay ends with her being released to her Aunt's care. Later, the mother joins the siblings after a severe beating from her husband. The reader will wonder along with Aunty Ifeoma why they all return home to the abusive father the day after the mother arrives in Nsukka. Research shows that abuse victims often return to their abusers. In her mother's situation, something is also occurring that the reader is not privy to, until the next section of the novel. This section ends with the events of Psalm Sunday. Class Questions: 1. Compare and contrast the family lives of Kambili and her cousins. 2. Look up the word freedom and write what that word means in context to your life. 3. Do you believe Jaja was justified indefying his father's rules? Why or why not? 4. Why was Ade Coker killed? 5. The Catholic church forbids priests to marry. Do you believe this rule should be changed? Why or why not?
The Pieces of Gods -- After Psalm Sunday These short chapters address the changes in the household after Jaja refuses to obey his father's mandates. Adichie allows the weather to also change and writes of "howling winds . . . with an angry rain" (Adichie). Voices are no longer quiet and silent. The mother does not lower her voice or hide the food she takes to Jaja's room. She openly smiles and cares for her children in a way she has never been allowed to before. The father's health is continuing to deteriorate and he is often in bed. The reader also finds him reading the book of Psalms in his study. Adichie carries the the religious theme throughout the book and connects all the events through the religious holiday of Easter. On Good Friday, Aunty Ifeoma calls with the news that she has applied for a visa at the American Embassy and Father Amadi will be leaving for his Germany missionary work. This call greatly upsets the siblings and Jaja decides that they will spend Easter with the cousins. He informs his father and Eugene is resigned to the fact; he allows their driver to drive them to Nssuka. The strong, domineering father is reduced to a weak, frail man. While there, they learn of their father's demise. The mother calls them with the news that the father has collapsed on his factory's floor. They return home full of questions regarding their father's death. The autopsy is soon conducted and it is determined that he died from poisoning. The mother admits to adding poison to Eugene's tea. She explains that she began this prior to her leaving him and going to Nsukka. The children are stunned. The police arrive to ask questions, but Jaja quickly confesses to the crime and is taken away. Questions: 1. Why do you suppose Jaja confesses to a crime he did not commit? 2. Why are the children stunned when they learn that she placed the poison in the tea? 3. Do you believe the mother was justified in poisoning the father? Why or why not? 4. What does the observence of Easter symbolize for Jaja and Kambili? 5. Has Kambili's lack of freedom made you appreciate your freedom? Why or why not?
A Different Silence -- The Present The reader turns the pages of the novel stunned as to what has just occurred. Adichie continues on with the shocking new details of their lives. Jaja has been in prison for almost three years awaiting trial. The reader receives details of the letters, calls, and bribes that have been implemented for the release of Jaja. Aunty Ifeoma and Amaki (female cousin) in America have written letters to demand the release of Jaja. One finds a mature Kambili managing her mother's affairs and struggling to keep her mother sane. The priest's letters are a comfort to Kambili and her mother's new driver is devoted to her welfare. Adichie allows the reader to visit one last time with the family as they visit in the prison. The news for Jaja is positive; they inform him that he will be released next week. There is no big celebration; Jaja cannot allow himself to hope. His three years of incarceration have stripped him of that luxury. Kambili has enough hope in her heart for them all. After leaving the prison, she reveals plans to take Jaja to Nsukka when he is released. Then, they will travel to America to visit Aunty Ifeoma and the cousins. Finally, Adichie is careful to continue the flowery theme with the revelation that after they return, Jaja will plant purple hibiscus in the courtyard. Kambili even adds the planting of the flower ixora that is a reminder of her time spent with the priest. The reader dares to hope that this will all transpire, even in an unfair world. Adichie closes their story with a dream that all mankind will one day be at peace. Questions: 1. Why does Jaja have feelings of guilt while he is incarcerated? 2. Write an additional "chapter" to thisstory - what happens after page 306? 3. Describe the continuing theme of the purple hibiscuses as Adichie weaves them throughout the novel. Include quotes and page numbers. 4. Choose an additional theme that this book includes and follow it throughout the novel with 4 quotes and page numbers. 5. After reading this novel, what can you take away from it and apply in your own life?