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1.1 Background to the Study

African literature has a rich and diverse history that encompasses various genres, themes, and linguistic traditions. The origins of African literature can be traced back to the oral tradition, where folklore, myths, and storytelling were passed down through generations. However, the written form of African literature emerged during the colonial period when African writers began to express their experiences and challenge the dominant narratives imposed by colonial powers. The Negritude movement, led by writers such as Aimé Césaire and Léopold Sédar Senghor, emerged in the 1930s and sought to celebrate African identity, culture, and resistance to colonialism. Post-independence, African literature experienced a surge of voices and perspectives, with authors like Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o gaining international recognition. Today, African literature continues to evolve and flourish, addressing a wide range of social, political, and cultural issues faced by the continent, while also celebrating its rich heritage and diversity.

African literary writers have been preoccupied with addressing and challenging various socio-political issues within their works. One prominent preoccupation is the exploration of colonialism and its lasting impact on African societies. Writers like Chinua Achebe in “Things Fall Apart” (1958) and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o in “Petals of Blood” (1977) examine the destructive consequences of colonialism, the loss of cultural identity, and the struggle for decolonization. Another preoccupation is the portrayal of post-colonial realities, including corruption, political instability, and economic inequality. Authors such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) and Alain Mabanckou in “Broken Glass” (2005) delve into these themes. Furthermore, the representation of gender issues, feminism, and the empowerment of women is also a significant preoccupation in African literature, as seen in works like Tsitsi Dangarembga’s “Nervous Conditions” (1988), Buchi Emecheta’s “The Joys of Motherhood” (1979), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’ Purple Hibiscus (2003) among others. These preoccupations reflect the writers’ commitment to addressing historical, political, and social realities while showcasing the vibrancy and resilience of African cultures. One of the gender issues discussed among many African literary writers is gender violence.

Gender violence refers to the physical, sexual, and psychological harm inflicted on individuals based on their gender. It is a pervasive issue that disproportionately affects women and girls, although men can also be victims. Gender violence is deeply rooted in power imbalances and social norms that perpetuate discrimination and inequality. According to Butler (2004), gender violence is a form of social control that reinforces patriarchal structures and maintains the dominance of one gender over another. Additionally, the World Health Organization (2002) highlights that gender violence is a human rights violation that undermines the well-being and autonomy of individuals. This concept has gained significant attention in academic research and activism, leading to the development of policies and interventions aimed at addressing and preventing gender violence.

The portrayal of gender violence in African literary works is a significant theme that reflects the realities and challenges faced by women within the African context. Authors use their literary works to bring attention to the various forms of gender violence experienced by women, such as domestic abuse, sexual assault, and forced marriages. For instance, in Buchi Emecheta’s novel “The Joys of Motherhood” (1979), the protagonist, Nnu Ego, endures physical and emotional violence within her marriage. This portrayal sheds light on the oppressive societal norms and cultural expectations that contribute to the perpetuation of gender violence. Similarly, Tsitsi Dangarembga’s novel “Nervous Conditions” (1988), which explores the impact of patriarchal systems on women’s lives in Zimbabwe. The protagonist, Tambudzai, faces multiple forms of gender violence, including sexual abuse and the denial of educational opportunities based on her gender. Dangarembga’s portrayal exposes the intersectionality of gender violence with other social issues such as colonialism and class disparities. This novel serves as a critique of the oppressive systems that perpetuate gender violence and highlights the resilience and agency of women in challenging such norms. Through the use of literary works like “Nervous Conditions,” African authors contribute to the broader conversation on gender violence, urging for social change and gender equality.

     In recent years, increasing attention has been paid to women writing in Africa. Consequently, gender studies dominated the literary scene and the representation of women in male authored works precipitated many critical debates. In other words, there has been more interest in examining the ways in which men behave, particularly in relation to women. Consequently, a literary canon was developed in which women writers give a re-presentation of the female experience by depicting a different image of women in their works in variance wih the earlier works by male authors.

     In furtherance of the argument on the importance of women writing about the female experience in literary texts, Aidoo (1996) submits that, ―Women writers write about women because when we wake up in the morning and look in the mirror we see women. Many female writers try to bring into focus their femaleness/femininity and personal experiences in their narratives and in doing so highlight power differences between men and women. As a result, women scholars and activists have pioneered a literary canon built on sexual politics aimed at stamping gender and feminism into both criticism and theory. This is with the aim of replacing a tradition that is viewed as masculine and domineering by female critics like Showalter (1985). She maintains that gender has become an analytic category whether the concerns are representation of sexual difference, (re)shaping masculinity, building feminine values or exclusion of female voice from the literary canon.  

    It is not surprising therefore, that African scholars have now begun to include the concepts of sex, gender and violence in gender studies in order to understand how they play out in gender relations (Lindsay & Miescher 2003:1-3). Consequently, in the analyses of women authored work, amongst other themes, there is the need to explore gender-based violence and its portraiture in these works. This is beacause gender -based violence is a serious problem in many societies today and and a new area of investigation in literary criticism.This study therefore interrogates the depiction of gender-based violence in the Nigerian novel with reference to fiction by women in general and to Adichie‘s novel in particular and the role of gender in the propagation of violence. The study explores how the gender of a person contributes to inter /intra-gender violence in the selected novel.

      Gender issues in every discourse are often divisive because of its sensitive nature and because the term ‘gender’ is often used interchangeably with ‘sex’. There is a clear dichotomy between both terms and scholars have since established the difference between them. While the term sex is the ―biological characteristics that define humans as female or male‖, gender is the ―economic, political and cultural attributes and opportunities associated with being male or female‖ (USAID, 2007). Gender is therefore socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women. While sex and its associated biological functions are programmed genetically, gender roles and the power relations they reflect are a social construct ,they vary across cultures and through time, and thus are open to change. While sex refers to the anatomical difference between man and woman, in contrast, gender refers to the ―social aspect of differences and hierarchies between male and female‖ (John Macionis & Ken Plummer, 2005:309).

    Thus, gender-based violence is violence that is directed against a person on the basis of gender. It therefore constitutes a breach of fundamental right to life, liberty, security, dignity, equality between women and men. Gender-based violence occurs in many parts of the world, within a home or wider community in general and it affects women and girls disproportionately (Bloom 2008:p.14). Although there are different types of violence like punching, bullying physical fights etc, gender-based violence includes domestic violence, rape, sexual violence during conflict, harmful customary or traditional practices such as forced marriages, genital mutilation etc.

            It is in line with the above discussion that this study seeks to examine gender-based violence in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus.

1.2       Statement of the Problem

            Gender discourse is a critical area of literary criticism that holds significant implications for gender equality and human development across various sectors. In contemporary African literature, there is increasing focus on the negotiation of gender relations. However, there remains a notable gap in understanding the nature and historiography of gender-based violence specifically in the works of women writers in Nigeria. This form of violence has received limited attention in gender studies, often being analyzed alongside other issues impacting gender relations. Despite the growing body of literature on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel, there is a lack of an analytical framework for examining violence as a tool of oppression and the role of power in perpetuating gender-based violence. Therefore, this study aims to investigate the portrayal of gender violence in Nigerian literature, particularly exploring the various forms of gender-based violence and Adichie’s treatment of this phenomenon in her novel, Purple Hibiscus.

The focus of this study centers on the depiction of violence in Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus. Sociological studies have consistently shown that women, more than men, are often subjected to different forms of violence. However, this problem has not been adequately addressed in the realm of literature. Thus, this research aims to fill this gap by examining Adichie’s works. According to World Bank data, as much as seventy percent of women experience violence during their lifetime, and it concludes that the root cause of such violence lies in persistent discrimination against women and girls. There is a strong correlation between gender equality and violence, with studies indicating that gender inequalities increase the risk of gender-based violence. Therefore, this study operates on the assumption that discussing violence is an integral part of gender discourse, specifically focusing on how Adichie portrays acts of violence in her novel, Purple Hibiscus. While the themes of women’s oppression and empowerment have been central in African literature and research in recent decades, scant attention has been given to gender-based violence as a form of oppression against women in these literary works. This is the gap in which this research seeks to fill.

1.3   Aim and objectives of study

The aim of this study is to examine gender violence in Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus. Other specific objectives of the study are:

  1. To determine the physical violence faced by women in Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus
  2. To examine the emotional violence faced by women in Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus.
  3. To find out how the measures advocated by Adichie against gender-based violence in her text, Purple Hibiscus.

1.4 Research Questions

            The study is guided by the following research questions:

  1. What are the instances of physical violence experienced by women depicted in Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus?
  2. How does Chimamanda Adichie portray emotional violence against women in Purple Hibiscus?
  3. What measures does Adichie advocate for addressing gender-based violence within the narrative of Purple Hibiscus?

1.5 Significance of the study

In women writing, the female gender is often a victim of various forms of violence.

  • The texts selected for this study by the thematic preoccupation and character delineation show culture and tradition as strong factors in sex differentiation and the creation of gender identities.
  • Socially constructed roles and identities contribute to domestic and social violence in patriarchal societies.
  • The dialectics of gender- based violence can be better understood when approached from the theoretical perspectives of Max Weber‘s Power and Radical Feminist theories.

 1.4   Significance of Study

      Gender violence is a serious problem confronting many societies of the world today and it is a problem that is almost as old as mankind itself. Also, studies have shown that in most societies where violence happens there is a code of silence involving the victim and perpetrator(s) when it is perpetrated (Walby: 1990). There are diverse reasons why genderbased violence continues to thrive and these include unequal power relations between men and women, biological differences between males and females, negative traditional and cultural practices etc. But despite the increase in the number of victims of gender-based violence, no conclusive findings have been made concerning this problem (WHO: 2015).   

Furthermore, in literary criticism, the area of gender violence has not received much attention in the Nigerian novel. Therefore, this study takes a close look at Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s Purple Hibiscus as it depicts various forms of genderbased violence and how they occur. It seeks to show the dialectics of gender relations and how gender-based violence is portrayed through the eyes of a female writer. The work specifically seeks to interrogate the issue of violence as it affects the female. Although there are diverse scholarly works by many African writers on issues affecting the African continent like bad leadership, crime, poverty, illiteracy, urbanization etc, not much has been said about the festering problem of gender violence in the works of Nigerian female writers

     Therefore, the choice of the novel of Chimamanda Adichie is premised on the fact that her novel capture many issues of gender conflict and violence hence the justification for this study. Also, her works provide an insight into the world of violence as suffered by women in the midst of other issues threatening the growth of the Nigerian female. Since there is a dearth of publications which interrogate gender violence in the novel of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as the researcher‘s findings show, there is the need for this study since little attention has been given to the analysis of women‘s writing with the tools that the multitheories of Max Weber on Power and the Radical Feminism provide. The study will show the literary tools, devices and strategies Chimamanda Adichie use in the portrayal of gender violence and how these techniques and devices shape the representations of power relations between men and women in the novel. This study therefore contributes to a more balanced field of gender criticism in Nigeria.

1.5 Scope and Limitation of Study

Although Chimamanda Adichie‘s works can be interpreted from different perspectives, this research interrogates the nature of gender-based violence as depicted in her novel; Purple Hibiscus . The study cross examines Adichie‘s treatment of gender relations and violence in these novel. Furthermore, the research explores how Adichie uses characterization and other literary devices to depict some of the social ills facing the society. The novel treat different dimensions of violence in the private and public sphere and they form the primary texts that will be used for analysis; also articles and journals with related contents to the study will be analysed. Consequently, the radical feminist theory and Max Weber‘s theory of power will be used as analytical framework because issues affecting the female gender often have to do with conflicts over domination and suppression.

1.6 Theoretical Framework

One specific feminist theory that can serve as a theoretical framework for analyzing the topic of gender violence in Chimamanda Adichie’s novel Purple Hibiscus is Intersectionality Theory. Intersectionality Theory, developed by Kimberlé Crenshaw, examines how multiple social categories, such as gender, race, class, sexuality, and ability, intersect and interact to shape individuals’ experiences of oppression and privilege.

Applying Intersectionality Theory to the analysis of gender violence in Purple Hibiscus allows for a deeper understanding of how gender-based violence is influenced by intersecting systems of power and oppression. It recognizes that gender violence does not occur in isolation but is interconnected with other forms of oppression. In the novel, the experiences of gender violence are shaped not only by gender but also by factors such as race, social class, and religion.

Intersectionality Theory provides a framework to examine the unique experiences of different female characters in the novel who may face varying forms and degrees of gender violence based on their intersecting identities. For example, analyzing the experiences of Kambili, the protagonist, through an intersectional lens would involve considering how her gender, race, and class intersect to shape her experiences of violence and oppression.

Furthermore, Intersectionality Theory helps to uncover the ways in which power dynamics operate within the context of gender violence. It allows for an examination of how intersecting systems of oppression, such as patriarchy, colonialism, and religious authority, contribute to and reinforce gender violence in the novel.

By applying Intersectionality Theory, one can also explore the resistance and resilience demonstrated by female characters who navigate multiple forms of oppression. This theory highlights the importance of understanding the complex and interconnected nature of individuals’ experiences, allowing for a more comprehensive analysis of the impact of gender violence on different marginalized groups.

In summary, Intersectionality Theory providesa valuable theoretical framework for analyzing the topic of gender violence in Purple Hibiscus as it recognizes the intersecting systems of power and oppression that shape individuals’ experiences. It allows for an examination of how gender violence is influenced by factors such as race, class, and religion, and highlights the unique experiences of different female characters. By applying Intersectionality Theory, one can gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of gender violence in the novel and its intersections with other forms of oppression, contributing to a more nuanced analysis of the text.

1.7 Author’s Biography

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a renowned Nigerian author known for her insightful and powerful works of fiction, non-fiction, and speeches. She was born on September 15, 1977, in Enugu, Nigeria, and grew up in Nsukka, a university town in southeastern Nigeria. Adichie comes from an Igbo family, and her heritage and experiences growing up in Nigeria have deeply influenced her writing.

Adichie’s early exposure to literature and storytelling came from her parents, who both worked as academics. This upbringing nurtured her love for reading and writing from a young age. She pursued her education in Nigeria and later obtained a bachelor’s degree in Communication and Political Science from Eastern Connecticut State University in the United States. She furthered her studies with a master’s degree in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University and a master’s degree in African Studies from Yale University.

Adichie gained international recognition with the publication of her debut novel, Purple Hibiscus, in 2003. The novel tells the story of a young Nigerian girl named Kambili who grows up in a strict and oppressive household. Purple Hibiscus explores themes of family, religion, politics, and gender dynamics, and it earned critical acclaim for its compelling narrative and exploration of complex social issues.

Her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), catapulted Adichie to even greater prominence. Set during the Biafran War in Nigeria in the late 1960s, the novel vividly portrays the lives of characters caught up in the conflict. It won numerous awards, including the Orange Prize for Fiction, and solidified Adichie’s reputation as a formidable storyteller.

Adichie continued to garner accolades with her collection of short stories titled “The Thing Around Your Neck” (2009) and her third novel, “Americanah” (2013). “Americanah” explores themes of race, identity, and love through the experiences of a young Nigerian woman living in the United States.

Beyond her fiction, Adichie is also known for her thought-provoking non-fiction works and powerful speeches on feminism and social justice. Her TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” has been viewed millions of times and has become a seminal piece on the importance of diverse narratives. Adichie’s essay, “We Should All Be Feminists,” adapted from her TED Talk, has been widely read and translated into various languages, cementing her status as a prominent feminist voice.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s work has received numerous awards and honors, including the MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the “Genius Grant,” in 2008. She is celebrated for her ability to tackle complex social issues with nuance and empathy, and her writing has resonated with readers worldwide. Adichie’s contributions to literature and her advocacy for gender equality have made her an influential figure both within Nigeria and on the global stage.

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