Kambili is in her room at the beginning of this passage

By February 12, 2019 Communication

Kambili is in her room at the beginning of this passage. We know this because the spatial deictic expression “at my desk” (extract 1, henceforth numbers only) anchors her position in the scene. However, there is quite a lot of physical movement in this short passage as she changes positions three more times. She comes down to the dining room, goes upstairs to Papa’s bedroom and, at the end of the passage, she sits “next to Mama” in the lounge. Kambili does not initiate either the second or third change of place, which indicates her lack of power status in the relationship. She simply carries out her father’s commands without hesitation or comment. This sheds light on her subordinate personality.
Even though other characters refer to her father differently throughout the novel – for example as “Eugene”, “my son”, “your father” or “Uncle Eugene” – Kambili always calls him or refers to him as “Papa”. I think this term of address from Kambili’s part signals closeness, a desire for more intimacy and endearment in her child-parent relationship than the use of the somewhat neutral and less affectionate word “father” would. On the other hand, her father almost always addresses her either as “Kambili” or by simply using the second person pronoun “you” which certainly adds greater distance between them. Calling her by her first name could signal to Kambili that Papa is displeased with her, just like in Western context when parents use their children’s full name to express their dissatisfaction. The way the different terms of address are used by the two characters is also a strong indicator of their different social standings and power relations. Their relationship is not based on equality, which is understandable in the African patriarchal setting of the novel. However, in my opinion, it could also indicate deliberate emotional distancing on Papa’s part. Because Kambili is no longer a small child but a teenage girl on the threshold of womanhood, he would find it difficult to relate to her and have physical closeness with her as he used to have.
Perhaps out of respect, Kambili never – not even in her thought presentation – describes her father’s physical appearance by using simple adjectives such as large, fat or overweight. Instead, she uses vivid, visual verbs like “lumbered”, (2) “climbed” and “quivered” (3). These verbs help the reader to imagine Papa’s physical appearance and to understand how Kambili views him, all without stating the obvious. The words she uses to describe him seem to convey what a dominating figure Papa is to Kambili both physically and emotionally. Perhaps simpler words are not adequate enough to describe the intensity of thought and emotion he inspires in her. These verbs are also good examples of Kambili’s linguistic maturity and over-lexicalisation, since most readers would not expect a 15-year old girl to use such vivid language. Another example of this is her use of figurative language such as “creating turbulence in my head” (2). Not only does this describe the impact of her father’s physique in an abstract way but it also gives the reader insight into her mind style and emotional state as her father approaches. Another example for linguistic maturity can be found in her use of a simile: she describes her legs as “long strips of wood” as she walks downstairs (5). The simile reminds the readers of punishment as she was beaten with a stick (a long strip of wood) as a child. All her thoughts concerning her father’s physical closeness fills her with fear and trepidation.
Examining the conversational power in this passage’s turn taking pattern can tell us a lot about the characters and their relationship with each other. Papa holds the floor longer than his daughter in their dialogue and allocates four turns in the passage. In contrast, Kambili only gives very short “yes” answers to his questions, signifying her apprehension. Papa breaks the adjacency pair by using an insertion sequence (6). Also, perhaps most importantly, he breaks the Maxim of Relation in Griece’s Cooperative Principle when he purposefully does not reciprocate Kambili’s greeting (6). This act of “flouting the maxim” brings attention to the conversational implicature: Papa seems to care more about performance than politeness or making his child at ease. His rude, “let’s get down to business” manner builds on this culturally unacceptable attitude as he ignores his daughter (a potentially face threatening act). The fact that Papa can break all these rules of conversation unpunished indicates that he is the one with the power in the relationship.
In the following few sentences, Kambili’s thought presentation is a good example of her ongoing internal anxiety concerning her school report and her father’s impending reaction to it. Her apprehension is expressed by both physical (7) and psychological symptoms. For instance, she is very keen to acknowledge her “failure” when Papa enters her room but she is unable to talk. This shows how much her fear prohibits her from acting as she would like to (8). Her eagerness to acknowledge her “sin” also indicates her desire to get out of the intense emotional situation and receive her punishment quickly. However, she does not have the courage to speak up; instead she stays quiet, showing her submissiveness. Even though she is evidently very bright, which is implied by her linguistic maturity throughout the text, she seems to genuinely believe that coming second in her class is equivalent to failure. This suggests that Papa’s performance-based value system has reflected on to her self-image and mind style. It also indicates that she herself has adopted her Papa’s high standards, which is proven when she accepts that her punishment is deserved. During the encounter, the pressure that she is under rises. This is shown through exaggerations, such as when she describes how the time “slows down,” taking “forever” and “even longer” (9).
Perhaps in order to defuse the intensity of the atmosphere, Kambili tries to initiate – for the only time in this passage – a conversation with Papa about the new biscuit (10). However, her attempts at reconciliation are deflected when he “opts out” and breaks the Maxim of Relation (Griece) again by completely ignoring his daughter’s positive comment. In withdrawing his attention, he seems to be emphasising that he is still displeased with her. His shunning of Kambili’s remark – and, ultimately, her whole person – is not just another face threatening act for her. She recognises that his “weaponry” includes psychological pressure as well. Her reference to weapons here foreshadows Papa’s heinous physical treatment of her in later passages. Although we are not granted direct access to his mind, these linguistic devices help Adichie to portray Papa’s personality as it is reflected in his behaviour and actions. Papa’s actions also help the readers to see that Kambili’s internal anxiety is fully justified and not imaginary. This encourages the reader to take her side or at least sympathise with her.
Kambili seemingly accepts the situation she is in, as she does not challenge her father in her speech representation. Papa, on the other hand, seems to be able to exercise his authority as the “ruler of the family” even through non-verbal communication (11). Simply looking at his son prompts (or perhaps forces) Jaja to say something complimentary about the new biscuit. Jaja subconsciously de-codes his father’s prompting and seems eager to give the right response. This indicates his familiarity with Papa’s body language and opinions as he understands which type of answer is required and then answers accordingly rather than honestly. Mama joins in with the praise. After this, Papa breaks the adjacency pair again, attributing his business success to the blessings of God (“. . . by God’s grace”). His use of such a value-laden religious expression gives the reader a glimpse into his strong religious beliefs and the ideological point of view that he fosters as a result of them (12).
Adichie includes a relatively long, detailed description of Papa’s bedroom in this passage. She uses analepsis (flashbacks) to create a change in the temporal point of view. Kambili thinks of some pleasant memories from her childhood, perhaps to distract herself from her fearful anticipation. The complicated, long sentences and grammar structures that make up this section of the narrative are further proof of Kambili’s linguistic development, showing how she has matured since the childhood she remembers. The author achieves a lot more than just introducing another room in the house; by describing the room in this way, she reveals a lot about Kambili’s mixed and changing feelings towards her father.
Kambili’s childhood self does not think of Papa’s bedroom as a simple room but as “heaven”, a place of safety (13). Furthermore, her memories of the room are very intense and deploy her physical senses. She can visualise, smell and feel the room as it was (“the cream blanket that smelled of safety”; “I would snuggle into Papa’s arms”). This vividness of memory suggests that this positive experience is something that she really wants to hold on to. It is interesting to note how the modal verb “would” indicates a habit once repeated but no longer common. It implies how Kambili and her father were once close and thus intensifies the distance she feels between them now. Additionally, the verb “snuggle” connotes intimacy, warmth, trust and love from both parties (14), as do words such as “softness”, “creaminess” and “endlessness”. The use of definite articles in the list gives us the impression that we are ‘in the know’ and by sharing something familiar and deeply personal with us, Kambili helps us feel sympathy for her (13).
Kambili seems to yearn to experience this safe, familar feeling about the room and Papa again but there is a strong contrast between her childhood memory and her feelings in the present. However, there is one familiar bridge that links the “then” and the “now” and it is the “similar blanket” (15). A long time ago, she would be wrapped (protected) in the blanket but now she only sits on top of it. This represents how Papa’s once-reassuring physical closeness is gone (16). The contrasting use of two deictic expressions related to place helps to create an impression of the distance and anxiety Kambili is feeling. Even her body posture – sitting on the edge of the bed – is a non-verbal expression of anxiety and anticipation of punishment. She cannot make her whole being feel safe again so she sinks her toes in the rug, rationalising that at least one part of her body will feel cushioned (protected) from harm (17). This part of the passage contributes significantly towards portraying the complexity of Papa’s personality, emphasising his humanity by suggesting that he was able to show affection and tenderness towards his daughter when she was younger. We are not told what has caused the change in his behaviour and we are left wondering what might have gone wrong, just as Kambili does.
Papa does not give Kambili a chance to explain her school report. His short, harsh words are full of accusation and blame (“you didn’t put in your best” and “you came second because you chose to”). His judgement feels like a sentencing in a courtroom but without having listened to the defendant first (18). His words once again reveal that he values performance over relationship as he attacks Kambili’s positive face and pays very little attention to her feelings. Though he does control his temper, there is deep sadness in his eyes, indicating intense or warring emotions. The adjective “sad” is repeated twice for emphasis (19). This genuine sadness makes the reader want to know more about his complex personality and why he takes these matters so seriously. Kambili is desperate to console him by touching his face but she holds herself back as if showing emotion is dangerous (20). In the past, Papa would comfort her during storms but the roles have reversed and it is now her who wants help to ease his pain. In this scene, despite her fear of Papa, we can see a young and mature person who understands suffering and feels empathy. She is sensitive enough to realise that her father is struggling with some darkness in his past, even if she (like the reader) does not understand what that might be (21).
Kambili seems to idolise her father and is extremely proud of him. Her lexical choices such as “surge” are the most salient technique used by the author to indicate this part of her mind style. However, she also uses metaphors to show how proud she is of her father, such as “felt a surge run through me” or “a clear, tingling sensation”. As well as this, there is another flashback from the past when Kambili combines Father Benedict’s oral words of praise during Mass with the written words in the newspaper article, giving the reader further insight into the positive side of her her current complex relationship (pride, love, longing and fear) with her father (22).
Papa’s comment concerning Ade Coker’s release presents an interesting angle on his personality and pschychological point of view. He repeats the same sentence twice (23) and adds the word “so” the second time in order to emphasise his condemnation of the violent act. His strong non-verbal disappoval (“shaking his head”) of his editor’s physical torture adds futher effect to his compassionte words. Altogether, this image seems to contradict his abusive physical treatment of his own family. Adichie uses this to show that there is more complexity to Papa’s personality (as with any human personality) than can be seen from a one-sided view. His reaction does not necessarily make him more likeable in general but it definitely creates an impression of a multifaceted and psychologically damaged character.


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