In the novel Purple Hibiscus, Mama kills Papa by putting poison in the tea that he shared with his children, which is not lost on Kambilli.

“Why did you put it in his tea?” I asked Mama, rising. My voice was loud. I was almost screaming. “Why in his tea?”

It seems like a pretty important thing to just leave out, as there is no direct answer that I can see in the text. Why did she choose his tea to poison him? Why would she needlessly want to risk the life of her children?


I believe she would have put it in the tea because Papa would only offer it as 'love sips'. But as the children were out of the house staying with Auntie Ifeoma, and he was angry with the children, so would not have offered the tea to them anyway, the children were not at risk, only him.


I agree with another answer here. Mama knew that Eugene wouldn't share his tea with his children, as a sign that they are not worthy anymore. He thinks they have sinned multiple times and do not deserve the tea. Yet he is unwittingly protecting his children. The reason Kambili gets so mad is because she understands that Mama put it in his tea because he wouldn't give her love sips anymore. Therefore to her it means that her father was disappointed in her and though she didn't deserve it. This affects Kambili greatly, causing her to lash out, because all she ever wanted, and all she still wants, is her father's approval and love.

  • Which answer are you referring to that you agree with? Natalie's at the top?
    – Rand al'Thor
    May 1 '19 at 17:20

I believe Beatrice puts poison in Eugene’s tea because those “love sips” fed the children metaphorical poison. Eugene excused his abuse by calling it love. He had the children drink the hot tea, calling the burning of their tongues his love. Beatrice feeds him literal poison the same way he fed Kambili and Jaja metaphorical poison.

  • 1
    Welcome to Literature Stack Exchange. We are not a typical forum, and all answers are expected to explain why they are right, not simply offer unsupported speculations. Do you have any evidence from the novel to back this up?
    – bobble
    Mar 19 '21 at 0:35
  • Welcome to the site. You may want to take the tour and visit the help center to see what kind of answers we are looking for. This is a decent first attempt but could be improved.
    – Skooba
    Mar 19 '21 at 13:01

Mama put the poison in Papa's tea because, at that moment, Papa was disappointed at Jaja and Kambili for sinning so he would not offer them "love sips". The main reason Mama put poison in his tea was to set them free from his hold, as Papa never let them make their own opinions, and made Kambili in a way dependent on him. At this point of the book Jaja and Kambili have grown as people and Mama can see this. That could be another reason for Mama poisoning Papa.


The Wikipedia article for this book has an explanation:

Beatrice, mother and wife in the Achike family, often called "mama", is a quiet, maternal figure for much of the work, presenting a softer, warmer presence in the home in contrast to the often tyrannical presence of Eugene. Passive is another term applicable to her, at least for a great deal of the book. During the course of the novel, Beatrice suffers two miscarriages after severe beatings from Eugene. She polishes the figurines on the étagère after every beating. It is insinuated that she stays with Eugene partially out of gratitude for his unwillingness to marry another woman after she could only have two children. Ultimately, however, Beatrice cannot cope with Eugene’s behaviour and poisons him. Her son, Jaja, takes the blame for the crime and she is a shattered wreck after this point. At the conclusion of the novel, however, with Jaja’s impending release from prison, there are some indications that her condition will improve."

  • This really doesnt answer my question, I know why she killed him. I dont know why she would want to risk the life of her children needlessly Sep 5 '17 at 17:24
  • Becuase her character has been driven to such a point of anguish that she can no longer cope with Eugene's abuse. It is the psychological notion of a breaking point. She has endured so much abuse that she can no longer stand it and is willing to risk the lives of her children in order to strike back against her abuser.
    – PephenKinD
    Sep 5 '17 at 20:12
  • Then whats to stop her from putting it in some other meal of his? why did it have to be the tea? Sep 5 '17 at 22:25

I think that it was a spur of the moment decision. While Beatrice was definitely moved to the breaking point by Eugene's abuse, I think it was the Eugene's comment while drinking tea, or just before, which was the straw that broke the camel's back. Or maybe he broke one of her figurines?

Tea is important because it is a sort of quiet rebellion. By refusing to share his tea, Eugene is unknowingly protecting his children. There was no risk to kids, because Beatrice knew Eugene won't share his tea. He might have shared some other food.

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