Agent-Regret as Necessary for Fairness
In the introductory chapter, I discussed the idea of male privilege as analogous to white privilege in South Africa. Samantha Vice suggests agent-regret as the appropriate feeling for a privileged white South African. The same could be said of men in patriarchal societies. In Purple Hibiscus, Jaja knows that he is a member of the privileged gender: male. This is so irrespective of the fact that he, too, is a victim of his father’s abuse. Being male, he knows he will grow past that abuse when he becomes a man. The same cannot be said of his mother and his sister. They are stuck in their condition given the ontological status of their gender in that society. He therefore feels agent-regret, and consequently undertakes a redemptive act.
While Kambili and Jaja are spending time in Aunt Ifeoma’s house at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, Jaja learns of his namesake, King Jaja of Opobo, who defied the colonial masters, and “refused to let them control all the trade.”60 The boy was given the nickname Jaja as a child; the name struck Aunty Ifeoma as appropriate in her prediction of the boy’s character. The idea of Aunty Ifeoma linking him with the great King Jaja of Opobo could not have come at a more appropriate place than at Aunt Ifeoma’s house, where he and Kambili have their awakening. One of the lessons he learns is that “the British won the war, but they lost many battles.”61 The ease with which Jaja utters his observation stuns Kambili. But Jaja is no longer the person he used to be. He has realized that expressing defiance is the right thing to do in the face of tyranny. His father is to his family what the colonial lords had been to African societies. His ultimate redemption comes when his mother eventually confesses to her children that she poisoned his father. Jaja feels that he would have done what his mother did. When the police come to interrogate the family, Jaja “did not wait for their questions; he told them he had used rat poison, that he put it in Papa’s tea.”62 Some readers might question Jaja’s logic, but in Jaja’s world, it has its own justification. King Jaja of Opobo would have defied his own oppressors. His feelings of guilt arises from his perceived failure to protect his mother.
Jaja’s awareness of guilt is not lost on Kambili. She visits him in prison and observes that: “His eyes are too full of guilt to really see me, to see his reflection in my eyes, the reflection of my hero, the brother who tried always to protect me the best he could. He will never think that he did enough.”63 The narrative thus portrays him as having realized the need for solidarity long before the police came to interrogate the family. Shortly after their mother confesses, he “wrapped his arms around (Kambili) and turned to include [their mother] but she moved away.64” His action is undoubtedly a product of agent-regret. It is possible that Jaja might have put himself in the position of Kambili and their mother. He is redeemed by his effort to make amends for the lapse of his gender in fairness. The cry for fairness and solidarity is another thread that links “Tomorrow Is Too Far” and Purple Hibiscus. This is a cry for solidarity between women, the victims of patriarchal excesses, but also between men and women. It is a plea for men to extend the hand of solidarity to women in order to form a community in which fairness is a given in people’s relation to one another.