Eugene is a complex and fascinating character, whose shadow falls strongly on his wife and children. Born during the colonial period in Nigeria, he was raised by priests and left his country to study in England. Publicly, he is praised for his courageous stand against the military regime in Nigeria and admired for his success in the business world. Privately, however, he is revealed to be a religious fanatic who rules his household with his fists. Eugene is tormented by an ongoing sense of cultural inferiority.
The man of honour in society
• “Papa deserved praise for not choosing to have more sons with another woman, of course, for not choosing to take a second wife..” (p.20) • Man of principle, refuses to pay bribes to policemen (p,111) • Won a human rights award but modestly did not want to be featured in newspaper • After his death, Kambili discovers Papa anonymously donated to “children’s hospitals and motherless babies homes and disabled veterans from the civil war.”
The Colonial Product
• In denial of his cultural roots: “He hardly spoke Igbo, and although Jaja and I spoke it with Mama at home, he did not like us to speak it in public. We had to sound civilised in public, he told us; we had to speak English. Papa’s sister, Aunty Ifeoma, said once that Papa was too much of a colonial product.” P. 13 • “Papa changed his accent when he spoke, sounding British…. He was gracious in the eager-to-please way he always assumed with the religious, especially the white religious.” • His feelings of shame/cultural inferiority: “I didn’t have a father who sent me to the best schools. My father spent his time worshipping gods of wood and stone. I would be nothing today but for the priests and sisters at the mission.” P. 47 • While Eugene rejects his own father on the grounds of his “godlessness” he is proud of Grandfather (the children’s maternal grandfather). “Grandfather was very light skinned, almost albino.. he determinedly spoke English… He knew Latin too…” P. 67
The devout believer
• He is used as an example to others: “Father Benedict usually referred to the pope, Papa and Jesus — in that order.” • When he kneels to receive communion, and shuts his eyes “so hard his face tightened into a grimace.” When he says grace, “for twenty minutes he asked God to bless the food… he intoned the Blessed Virgin in several different titles.” He is excessively fervent. • He is revered in church settings almost like a living saint or “god”. On Christmas day, “He led the way out of the hall, smiling and waving at the many hands that reached out to grasp his white tunic as if touching him would heal them of an illness.” p. 90
…and the religious fanatic
• Eugene is a religious fundamentalist who cannot tolerate any small deviation from the rules. He lashes out with his belt when he discovers Kambili eating cornflakes before Mass, crying “Has the devil built a tent in my house?”. He shows no humanity. But afterwards he seems ashamed although he can’t admit it, asking instead “why do you like sin?” p 102 • Ifeoma says “ Eugene has to stop doing God’s job. God is big enough to do his own job. If God will judge our father for choosing to follow the way of our ancestors, then let God do the judging, not Eugene.” p. 95 • His own sense of worthlessness seems to drive his behaviour. Following confession with Father Benedict, Papa says “I am spotless, we are all spotless. If God calls us, we are going straight to Heaven.” …His eyes were bright.” 107
The Controlling husband and father
• “Papa liked order.” He draws up meticulous schedules for his children, dictating how long they were able to study, sleep, pray or spend with the family. P. 24 • His habit of offering “love sips” shows the way the family have been indoctrinated by him to accept pain as a form of love: “I knew that when the tea burned my tongue, it burned Papa’s love into me.” • Papa is quite reluctant to let his children go to Nsukka –but not only because of Ifeoma’s influence. He shows his love and attachment to his children: “I have never been without you two for more than a day” and cries p. 109 • After he burns his childrens’ feet he comes to her and justifies his actions: “Everything I do for you, I do for your own good.” P. 196 He had a ‘model’ for this cruelty.
After being caught masturbating at St Gregory’s – a priest made him soak his hands in hot water. • After the death of Ade and he catches K and J looking at the painting of Papa Nnukwu – he beats her to a pulp, leaving her with a broken rib. He is possibly taking out his sense of guilt about his relationship with his father / Ade’s death on them p211 • He does lash out during stressful periods of his life. As Amaka observes: “Uncle Eugene is not a bad man, really. People have problems, people make mistakes…. I mean some people can’t deal with stress.” p 251
Man of contradictions – crusader against injustice but repressive towards family • “He could have chosen to be like other Big Men in this country, he could have decided to sit at home and do nothing after the coup, to make sure the govt did not threaten his business. But no, he used The Standard to speak the truth even though it meant the paper lost advertising. Brother Eugene spoke out for freedom.” • He champions human rights yet there is no freedom of speech or thought in his home. After The Standard exposes corruption and the government-sponsored killing of an pro-democracy activist, his editor Ade Coker is arrested and later killed through a letter-bomb • He says Nigeria needs a renewed democracy (p25) yet he rules his own family as a dictator. • Nwankiti Ogechi, the activist his paper supports, is killed after a gun shot and acid bath (p.200). Ironically, Papa will later “torture” his own daughter Kambili by pouring hot water over her feet in the bath for a comparatively minor transgression. • He feels guilty about Ade’s death: “I should have protected him.” He organises his funeral, sets up a trust for his wife and children, paid huge staff bonuses and gave them leave. Ironically, he seems less aware of his ongoing abusive tendencies towards his family and his role as protector of his children.
The broken “god”
• When the children see Eugene again after their time in Nsukka – he has rashes on his face, it “looked swollen, oily, discoloured.” He had lost weight. P. 252 His voice was different, tired. • When Ade Coker is killed by a bomb, Papa cries. “He seemed so small” (symbolic of his diminishing power). He falls into a semi-depression. “He took longer to reply when spoken to, to chew his food, even to find the right Bible passages to read.” p 206 • The soldiers begin to sabotage his factories by planting dead rats in cartons so the factory is closed down. After this he seems to give up (it could be partly the effect of the poison?), When challenged, he gives into Jaja and lets them go to Nsukka p 262 • When Kambili hears that her father has died, she is shocked. “He had seemed immortal”. He is like one of her “gods”- and now he is broken. Her love for him seems like idolatry to the reader.