Characterization: “Purple Hibiscus”

You are keeping your writer’s log aren’t you?  I have read some interesting comments and insight.  Thanks for sharing them with me/us.

Writing a successful story asks for different aspects to be taken into consideration.  We will start from building up “credible” characters, so realistic and vivid the reader’s “disbelief” will be suspended (to borrow Coleridge’s words!).

Let’s start off with Kambili’s Papa.  Let’s see what mental picture you got of him out of the excerpts we read and responded to together.  This is how I imagine him.

Tough to imagine the kind of upbringing Papa had been subjected to.  No “well-done” had ever left his father’s lips.  Words resounded like whips, there was no belief in sugar-coated words, such as “sweet heart”, or “well-done, honey”, or “congratulations my boy”, never to mention the absolutely forbidden expression “I’m proud of you”.  His father’s belief was “harsh ways will turn you into a man of success”.  That harshness, that hearth deprived of any warm sense of affection, certainly turned him into a man before his time and possibly contributed to him becoming a man of success.  He toiled over his books and had to walk miles and miles to go to school, in the blistering sun and certainly not wearing the comfortable shoes he could afford for his children.  He was undoubtedly better equipped than they because he could rely on himself only.  His parents could not afford the best school for him and they could never help him, they were too busy at work.  Instead his children had everything they needed, they had comfort, they had a wonderful house to live in, good food and most of all the guarantee of a top-notch education.  No need to work to study, this was an advantage and privilege he had not been granted.  He had to make sure not to be too soft with his kids.  They had to succeed, they had to be the best.  They had to be smarter than other kids, they had to be exceptional representatives of Papa’s success.  He was a man of responsibility.  He had to be tough for his children’s sake.  Sweet words do not give you food.  Sweet words do not let you climb up the social ladder.  Sweet words do not gain you people’s respect.  God invested him with that conviction.  He was tough because God made him tough, so it was God’s will and he could not possibly go against the Almighty’s plans for him.  You straighten a tree when it is still a sapling.  His children were saplings and it was his duty to straighten them up.

Cristiana Ziraldo

This is the pdf file of the activity of “Purple Hibiscus”:

creative activity on Purple Hibiscus

Then, the task is to write a poem hinging around the feeling of sadness, to sympathise with Kambili’s personal lot and sorrow.

Looking forward to reading your “depths of sorrow”. 

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14 Responses to Characterization: “Purple Hibiscus”

  1. creativewriter says:

    Hi,I’m Silvia
    I watched the video as you asked me to and I found out some interesting tips
    for my creative writing activity.When I was about ten I was so happy and I felt
    grateful to my teacher as she asked me to write an essay just as the author of
    the video said.I laid down on my bed or at my desk or wherever I was and I
    started writing.Doesn’t matter what I wrote I just have to sit and write.The
    ideas started from my mind and than slid down to my hand and then were
    transferred to the pen,and my hand led the pen on the blank page and I wasn’t
    able to control it anymore and I wondered myself if my hand had a soul itself
    cause it wrote things the very moment I thought them.Most of the times I wrote
    very sad things because writing things was the only way I could express what I
    had inside.I remember once that I wrote about a child that had cancer,I was
    very young so I didn’t know exactly what cancer was,but I imagined this kid
    getting up a morning and seeing something like a spot so that she couldn’t see
    perfectly and then the spot became bigger until one day it became so big that
    she couldn’t see anymore.Death for me was just a black spot that little by
    little make you blind,unable to see life anymore.When I wrote these things I
    was a child and I used to write about children,people of my age,the only group
    of people I knew very well.At first I was never satisfacted of what I wrote
    because Ithought that what I wrote couldn’t express exactly what I want to say,
    in my mind the images were so vivid,they made a significant impact on me;then I
    started reading them and I finally felt satisfacted. Unfortunately when I
    write I let me lead from my fantasy and I am not practical.The italian teachers
    I met especially the one at high school didn’t appreciate very much my writing
    style.Now I’m paralysed at the idea of writing and I pray that the teacher
    doesn’t ask me to read,especially in front of the class,what I wrote,because I
    feel vulnerable,as if I were naked in front of the class.This is my
    Achilles’heel.If you want to make tremble or make my heart beat faster:just
    make me read what I wrote.I want to ight with this stupid fear and I hope to
    win this struggle.The author of the video first spoke about the blank page and
    not knowing what to write or better how to start:this happens to me practically
    every time because when I start writing I feel insecure as all my certaintes
    falled down.Fortunately I’m starting feeling more comfortable when I write and
    finding out how I love it.I liked the passage of the video in which Keith sais
    that you can find inspiration in many ways:looking back at your past,your life
    experience,the places you go to,people you meet…

    Ps:I really loved the activity of last creative writing lesson,the one in
    which we have to keep our eyes close while you made as see things leading our
    mind with your words,not only I felt proctet but I enter in a different world,
    one in which all is possible,the one of children,and it was so nice that it was
    pretty hard,when we open our eyes convince me to come backto reality.

    Dear Silvia,
    you are a special young woman, with great potentials and capabilities. Your way of perceiveing the things that surround you is just exceptionally unusual, and for this reason I admire you a lot. Unfortuantely there are lots of people with different forms of sensitivity. Being educated does not imply being sensitive, at all. When I was your age i was paralysed with fear in class and by doing this I deprived myself of something really important for an adolescent: enjoyment and feeling happy about the things I was doing. I could not write and I could not express myself the way I felt I could. Writing was a need I had inside, yet I could not write because for my Italian teacher I did not write well. That blocked me totally, till I left for England and there I met some teachers who used creative writing tasks with me. I started writing, but I did it in English, not in Italian. There I did not feel judged negatively. now I can write in Italian pretty well and I smile when I think of how superficial my teacher had been. A techer should never attach labels to students, but…teachers are fallible, unfortuantely, and they often prove wrong (not all of them luckily, though!).
    It is up to you to be yourself. Do what you feel happy about, do not think about other people’s judgement. There will always be someone who does not like you, somebody who competes with you, somebody who is envious of you. Happiness is only in our hands. If we let other people to affect us, then it is our fault. You have a great family who can support you, and you have lots of teachers who love and esteem you (I am one of them!), so keep on writing my girl, because you are pretty good at it.
    Great job. Well done. I am going to post it now. Do remember about the poem. If possible do what I did with mine. Go do the creative writing webpage and see the way I did my poem. Use the same programme, it is very easy. You choose the photos and if you do not like them you can upload the ones you prefer on flickr.
    Use www.

    The title of the poem should be “my sadness” or something similar.

  2. creativewriter says:

    “Come on, child! You have to run faster if you don’t want to be arrested!”. The police officers were running tightly after them to catch that gang, who had just stolen things in the supermarket round the corner. He was running out of breath, but he knew he couldn’t stop running. In the meantime the boys gave the policemen the slip.
    He couldn’t believe it, he did it again…he committed a theft. He was just a dirty thief, robber, pickpocket.
    Back home, he greeted his parents, but no voice came from upstairs. He waited silently for an indefinite time, then finally he heard the main door slam: it was his father. And, once again, he was drunk. But Papa used to see his father in that condition, since he had lost his work some months before…
    Instead his mother was always somewhere away. He didn’t know why, where, for how long, to do what or with whom. Just that he was growing up alone. She didn’t care, well, no one cares about that boy, that’s why he started to mix with bad folks, skip classes and steal.
    He didn’t enjoy his life, and not even his parents’ lives.
    But what could he do? Nothing. Papa felt that feeling of impotence into his stomach, and he was going to be eaten up by this feeling. He promised himself he won’t let his son or daughter grow up without rules, education, authorities. “I will never make their mistakes, I don’t want anyone to be like me, to have a life full of struggles to face like mine…”. But, now, this is what he got: just two creatures who are unaware of what life really is.
    Silvia Ersetti

  3. creativewriter says:

    And yet Kambili could imagine one of these stories.
    She knows Papa-Nnukwu. Her mind was filled by the thought that he’s the kind of person who doesn’t care at all about serving God’s purpose or anything like that. He’s the practical, hard-working, cold-blooded one in the family.
    He didn’t even notice Papa. He was supposed to help him become a wealthy and honourable man, to plan his wedding with a respectable woman.
    Yet he didn’t even think about his marriage. Unusual someone would say.
    He didn’t save his money for his children. It was HIS money. HIS fatigue. The outcome of HIS hard -work.
    Papa was completely overwhelmed by the uncaring attitude of his dad.
    He could not even express his own opinion on a subject at dinner because he would’ve received no answer.
    His thoughts, his will, even his feelings were at that man’s mercy, but it seemed like he was throwing them away, because no good will, no sign of any kind of fatherly-like love was found in his unconcerned words. The identity of Kambili’s Papa was unwilling to react. Weak? Oh, not at all. Yet dominated by the strong desire of some kind of attention.
    And now he is giving vent to his pain, the sorrow he has carried since he was a child.
    Not fair, not respectful of God’s teachings. But in his opinion the way he was trying to educate his children, the effort he made to send them to a renowned school, the interest he showed in their reports. It was his way of rebelling against his father, to be different from that shadow which haunted his mind.
    And she could perceive that. Kambili knew that he was not disappointed. He was remembering his past. He strongly wanted her to become a woman deserving a nice man by her side.
    A woman who could strictly observe God’s teachings and choose what to do only for Heaven’s sake.
    Papa approached religion because it was the only way not to feel alone. His Mama was not there anymore. She died giving birth to him. And Papa-Nnukwu didn’t even cry. He simply did not care at all about her health, about her life.
    He started praying as a way to communicate with her. And then it became a relationship. With Someone who could share his feelings, to his efforts in riveting his father’s attention. A Someone who could help him make it out to the end of the day; a Someone in whom he could put his hopes, his desires for his future. A friend.
    And now he was so devoted to that friend that his life was based on thanking Him and making Him happy.
    Papa had become weak. And it was not because of the age, not because of the disappointment for her failure, not because of a wrong religion. It was because of the lack of affection. Of a missing friend.
    The love everybody needs and looks for.

    Alessandro Venti

  4. creativewriter says:

    And here you will read the rest of what you have been able to come up with. Congratulations my great team! You are getting better and better at what you are writing.

    Papa lived in a small village in southern India.In this village the houses were made of clay and thatch,very poor materials for poor people.The village was very quiet and papa lived there with his father,mother and Joshua,his little brother.Mum was sweet and sensitive,but Father was strict ,authoritarian;he couldn’t remember of having received a single kiss from him,not even as he was a baby in her mum’s arms.Mum had told him that when he was born Father had given him just a glance and than he had looked away from him.Papa knew very well where to go when had a problem or was just sad;but mum was always so busy looking after Joshua.Joshua wasn’t a normal child ,at least not for our concept of “normal”.He had mental problems,he couldn’t speak,couldn’t hear very well,sometimes he even forgot of breathing and mum had to open his mouth and quickly blow in it .There where times in which they thought he wouldn’t survive.But the worst thing was that he couldn’t think and while mum suffered for this ,dad seemed not to accept it.Father demanded a lot of papa,at school,at work,at football…he unceasingly repeated this phrase to papa:”You have to be the best,not only for you but even for your brother :do what he can’t do by himself,give him a chance to show that he wasn’t born for nothing”and papa grew with this letters stressed in his mind.He had to live not just for himself but even for Josh,and be good for both of them meant that he had to do the Impossible.Papa tried to do always his best because he knew that every failure was a failure for his brother and one for mum and dad.So he was the best at school,the best at work,he was always concentrated in everything he did but in his youth he never played,never enjoyed himself,never lived as a boy.Mum died that was very young.His relationship with his father collapsed and he had to be strong and to count just on himself.He had nobody to speak with,nobody that could listen to him,nobody that embraced him or that could teach him the art of loving.This is why Papa is so detached.He wasn’t taught to love and maybe he does that even because he wants us to be strong,because we haven’t got a mother too.Than he wants us to be the best ones because it is a consequence of his youth:he had to struggle with life,he had a big burden to carry and he was always the best, so the least we can do is being good at school.And we cannot desire him to be grateful for what we do because nobody was grateful to him.Why Papa is throwing his sad past on us?Hasn’t he learnt from his past?But I love him as well cause papa is papa.Even if he hurts me most of the times I know that it isn’t his fault if he acts like that and I understood that he uses his strictness to protect himself ,because he is like a soldier ,under the armour hides a sensitive man.So even if I cannot pardon papa,I cannot even blame him at all.

    Silvia Piol

    Falling asleep and dreaming is a pain.
    Because everything I lost, and miss, seeps in my mind
    Memories hound me. Now, embraces are hurts.
    The night doesn’t let me forget.
    And dreams are nightmares,
    What I had found, and build during my life, is lost,
    And smiles had gotten, slowly, tears.
    It is cold, I’m shivering, I’m scary, and insecure.
    I am alone. In an ocean of thoughts that strangely float,
    while something draws me down, down, until I can’t still breathe.
    That strange creature is me.
    I can’t lift me up after all those falls, and it’s my fault.

    Silvia Ersetti

    The happiness of sadness

    Happiness is a simple word,
    No bigger than an edge,
    But as delicate and futile as a dandelion swaying in a gathering storm,
    Afraid of thunders that could deaf,
    Of lightning that can blind
    With their odd light,
    Blinding you,
    Severing your eye sight
    From what is tangible and drowning you into a world where there is
    No time for
    Nor for revenge.

    Sadness makes happiness worth it.

    It sucks you whole
    In a chasm as deep as your fears,
    Where your longing
    For a universe that there
    Never was;
    Cuts you in half:
    The before and the after.

    Before: the LIGHT and the DREAMS;
    The HOPES and the NEEDS…
    The happiness of the MOMENT, because it only resides in an instant that must be treasured for when the COLD,
    Feeling of sadness envelops you whole
    With its tentacles making you long,
    For the intensity of the memory that kept fear away.
    Because happiness is just a moment that must be lived, fully aware of its beauty.


    The bitter part of oranges.

    Sadness: the enemy of the PAST, the seize of the PRESENT
    the hope for happiness in the FUTURE.

    Andreea Deleanu


    At that moment I didn’t know it yet, but Papa hadn’t always been such a stern man. When he was young he was a very joyful person, he used to constantly smile and not to care about school, good marks, education… He used to feel free, without any limit. But life reserved him a bad event that hardened his heart and made he become a cold and sad person.
    He was a fantastic footballer; he had started to play football with his friends on the roads, and he played better than any other boy in his group. One day a coach of a famous team of his country noticed him during a match and offered him the opportunity of joining his team. Papa was ecstatic: it was the occasion of his life, the chance to realize his dreams. So he started to train with the other members of the team; everything was fantastic and he knuckled down to make his coach proud of him. However, one day he fell down and broke his leg. He had to stop playing football for a month, but when he restarted his trainings he couldn’t play as well as he used to. He wasn’t the first anymore and everybody started not to take him into account. He felt refused and devastated. His dreams were destroyed. He was nothing. “Life has no mercy. If you want to be someone, you have always to be the best” he thought. Those words became his rule of life, and also the only target he had in the education of his children.
    It was his way to love Jaja and me. But we were just children, we didn’t need that kind of love.

    Letizia Bergamasco

    There were stories in his eyes that I would never know.
    Mama told me a dozen times that I was not supposed to ask him about his history, nor was I allowed to ask Grandpa of how Father grew up and, as if it was this huge taboo, my tongue has always been tied up when I wanted to ask the dreadful question.
    But one day…oh one day I was too bold to even care about the consequences.
    Jaja laughed at me for my lower IQ score and I wanted, for a chance, to prove him that, even though he was “smarter” I was sharper and courageous.
    I dared him to ask Father if his sibling were still alive.
    Jaja went up to him, blushing violently and biting his lips, eyes dreading the moment when they met Dad’s dark ones.
    When finally, the question had come to Jaja’s lips, as if pushed, rushed out by my thoughts, Dad’s eyes darkened suddenly, the room seemed frozen, the light in the room wobbled and disappeared slightly, as if swallowed up by Dad’s breathing.
    “Jaja, go on with your studies and don’t bother me with such silly questions”
    He got dismissed and came running back to me, eyeing me evilly, daring me to try.
    Rising my chin and smirking I sat next to Father, plopping next to him and hazarded to take a bite out of his sandwich.
    First he stared at me with wide eyes, but then his face recomposed.
    “Daddy” I called him in my sweetest voice, discovering that I was even able to lie.
    “Daddy, how was your day today? I’ve gotten a wonderful one! I’ve won the P.E. contest and Sister Beatrice caught Julian copying, finally…”
    As I was ranting on and on I observed that he had aged and his stubble was more white than brown now.
    “You’ve no idea what Jaja just told me” I later complained.
    He frowned, taking the last bite out of his sandwich.
    “What?” he asked following the news and prompted by my constant groans and exclamations of anger.
    “He has told me that I hate him. That he hates me too. That I’ll never have a brother like him again”
    Father was chewing absent-mindedly not even bothering to answer. Finally I asked him, after a pause that aggravated the tension inside my already taut body: “Do you have sibling, Father?”
    He must have heard me because he blinked and diverted his attention from the news to me, nodding.
    A maniacal glint in his eyes scared me away.
    “Yes, indeed. Five siblings, two brothers and three sisters”
    I had faked surprise. “Really! Oh! They must have smoldered you!”
    As if on cue, he answered: “yes, they had. They had been a burden ever since I can remember. No bog deal now though. They all have been disposed of. I killed them as soon as I had the chance. They were traitors, Kimbali, betrayers with no ethics. Oh, now, there’s no need to talk about it ”
    He stood, smiling lazily. I was frozen; paralyzed in my spot, mind reeling.
    Later in time, I dared ask Grandma.
    You have to know that Grandma Sylvia is a lunatic.
    She has a split personality; she can pass from anger to deep sadness mode in a blink.
    One summer afternoon I visited her at the nursing home. When she saw me her face lit up. She told me all about Dad.
    When he was 15, a religious war arose.
    There were two fronts. The Conservatives and the Demo-Socialists.
    He was a Conservative. And he still is.
    But his sibling, all older, wanted to fight for freedom, for women’s rights, for law and order.
    My Dad is not a diplomatic. He’s an excellent strategist.
    He organized a operation versus the socialist’s safe-houses near the country side, and discovered that his brothers were the ones who were keeping ex-conservatives or communists safe from them, hiding them in underground tunnels that brought to UN’s neutral zone.
    He guided the troops and shot with no hesitation what so ever, his two older brothers.
    He was 16.
    Conservatism, our county’s govern, which is more a dictatorship, altered him, making him devote his life to the party.

    Andreea Deleanu

    Veronica Baldasso

  5. Cristiana Ziraldo says:

    Eleonora Del Col

    Sadness is always with me,
    in the floor of my heart,
    ready to go out when it is frail

    (it’s a “hermetic” poem. I don’t want that the reader, reading my poem, understands what I want convey by my poem, but what he feels. )

  6. Cristiana Ziraldo says:

    Where do we belong to? Sense of place. (I was inspired by the first imagine)

    Far away from anybody.
    That’s his Home.
    Alone in the wind
    like a raindrop.
    Alone like an echo
    which resounds
    in his heads.
    Not matter what happens
    around him.
    His house resides
    in what HE is.

    Zanelli Ilaria

  7. Cristiana Ziraldo says:

    Kambili’s story.
    Reaction 1.
    I waited him to return back home on the steps. I was trying to foresee his reaction when he flung the door. He put the house key on the shelf and stared me for never-ending minutes. He figured out that something was wrong: <> said him with a thoughtful expression, <>, I said with a guilty face. He, much to my surprise, got closer to me and hugged me. I started crying and saying I was sorry and I wanted to do better, but my words melted when I had felt his body heat…<>. When he had finished talking to me he smiled at me and he understood after that conversation I would be grown.
    Reaction 2.
    My heart was thudding madly and my thoughts were like choken, when my dad climbed up the stairs. He was very tired, I could figured it out by his heavy and shuffling steps. He said hello to my mum, my sister and eventually to me too. I was on the point of telling him my report, when he said he was exhausted and he would have a refreshing-ideas shower. I waited and waited, drifting on the landing, I hoped even he would have never came out of the bathroom. But it wasn’t like that and I had to face the reality. As soon as he went out, I told him all the truth. He slapped my face and he started swearing against me. It was written all over his face his disappointment and his anger. My mum, scared by the confusion, rushed into the “torture” room and she snatched me from my dad’s clutches. I was safe.

    Zanelli Ilaria

  8. Cristiana Ziraldo says:

    Alessandro Venti’s poem:

  9. Cristiana Ziraldo says:

    Papa became a stern man by a terrible childhood.
    When he was about 5 years old, his parents were very stern with him.
    He couldn’t breathe because of his parents’ strictness.
    He couldn’t play with his friends in the neighbourhoodif he hadn’t finished to study all the subjects.
    When he was a little bit erratic, and his marks weren’t the best of the class, his dad uded to hit him with his leather belt.
    He could feel every single leather fibre.
    He doesn’t show his emotions with his children because he wants the best on everything from them.
    ‘Only in that way they could be strong adults?; this is what he thinks about it.
    But inside himself he’s very proud of his children,even if he doesn’t show it.

    Eleonora Del Col

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