November 22, 2020

Danford School

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Summary Of Second Class Citizen By Buchi Emecheta

11 min read



Second Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta is about the struggle of Adah (the main character) and her survival, not only of herself but also her dreams, while growing into a woman, moving from a high class position in her native Nigeria to a very poor class in a predominantly white European society. She struggles with motherhood and with being a wife and supporting her entire family along with being her own independent person. Part of her struggle also deals with the issues of race and being black in the face of English racism.


Buchi Emechata was born of Ibuza heritage in Nigeria near Lagos. With her two children and her husband she later moved to England. Emechata was aware of the prejudices against women receiving an education while she was growing up but this did not stop her from graduating from the London University with a degree in Sociology. She is the author of numerous books including The Joys of Motherhood.


Emecheta’s struggle getting her education in London played a large part in her life. Second Class Citizen is a book that depicts the struggle for women in receiving their education and surviving in a European white society while adapting to different religious beliefs and still following the beliefs of her own people.




This theme relates to many works of literature. For instance the Mexican novel Balun Canan (Nine Guardians) by Rosario Castellanos. Castellanos in Nine Guardians writes about the Mayan civilization as it is related to the European Spanish hacienda owners. The Indians struggle for rights to land that was originally theirs. The Indians struggle to receive an education to better their position in society and to aid in defending themselves–one of the promises of the Mexican revolution. The Cardenas administration required the Spanish landowners to educate the Indians’ children.


Castellanos also addresses the roles that women play in both the land owning society as well as in the Indian society. There is much contrast between these women and how they survive and fight the male domination in order for their voices to be heard.


Adah does this at many times in Second Class Citizen. She stands up to her husband and when he puts her down she uses her intelligence to find ways around her husband’s behavior. He is very stubborn and at times mentally abusive and this is Adah’s only defense in fulfilling herself as a person and her dreams.


In the same ways that Indian cultures in Nine Guardians use education against the European landowners, women use education to improve their circumstances. These attempts are not always successful but they are a start in a revolution that is bound to strike every country.


Second Class-Citizen, which tells the story of Adah Ofili from her childhood to her early years in London, begins with a discussion of dreams. The eight-year-old Adah, who was born in Lagos during World War II, can only dream of going to school, since she was not allowed to attend because she was not a boy. One day when her mother is distracted, Adah goes to the Methodist School where a neighbor teaches, and he allows her to remain for the day. When she returns home, the police are there. Her mother is punished for child neglect, yet Adah is allowed to continue attending school.


A few months later, Adah’s father goes to the hospital but does not return. Her mother is inherited by her father’s brother, her brother goes to live with one of her father’s cousins, and Adah is sent to live with one of her mother’s brothers. Only because she could bring a higher bride price if educated, she is allowed to remain in school. Suitors come; however, she is not interested in any of them. Instead, fascinated with the possibility of winning a scholarship to secondary school, Adah steals the money for the sitting fee, passes the examination, and wins the scholarship. She attends the Methodist Girls’ School and completes the four-year course.


Wanting to continue her education at the university, Adah knows that she will not be allowed to live on her own. Therefore, she marries a student, Francis Obi, who is too poor to pay the bride price, with the hope of being able to attend school and study at her own pace. Instead, she gives birth to a daughter and begins working for the American consulate library. Having had the dream of going to the United Kingdom, she shares it with her husband. They decide to go, but his family, who depend upon her income, approves of his leaving but insists that Adah remain…




The title of Buchi Emecheta’s second novel, Second-Class Citizen, published in 1974, refers to the condition of the protagonist Adah in both her native Nigerian society and in the African immigrant community in Britain. The character is clearly autobiographical, and her journey from Nigeria to London to follow Francis, her student husband, closely resembles Emecheta’s own trajectory as an author.


Adah is a second-class citizen in Nigeria where her parents initially refuse her a suitable education and arrange her marriage. She is equally second-class in England both because she is a black African woman and because the Nigerian immigrant community reproduces the patriarchal values of the mother country. Yet, in spite of her second-class status, Adah does not give up her ambition to pursue an education in England. Her quest for knowledge is part of the struggle for self-achievement and freedom from social constraints. Ultimately, it is precisely education that allows Adah to improve her condition.


Plot summary of Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison 

The central character of Second-Class Citizen is representative of many women created by Emecheta. Through education, they are able to challenge the masculinist assumption that they should be defined as mere domestic properties whose value resides in their ability to bear children and in their willingness to remain confined at home. Like other characters in Ememcheta’s fiction, Adah is also torn between two places, suffering from a sense of displacement because she belongs in neither.


In spite of her “second-class” condition, Adah is characterized throughout the novel by her sense of initiative and determination. The first part of the novel, set in Nigeria in the 1940s and 1950s, recounts Adah’s childhood marked by the death of her father and her frustrated aspirations for an independent existence. Contrary to her hopes, her family devote all the money that they have for her brother’s education and, when Adah is finally allowed to study, this is only to make her a better marriageable commodity.


To Adah, marriage means the fulfillment of her childhood dream to emigrate to England where her husband is going to complete his studies. Initially left behind, Adah finally joins Francis in England with the couple’s two children. She soon discovers that her childhood vision of England as the land of opportunity was clearly the result of the cultural domination of the colonizers.


The new country reserves a cold welcome to Adah who is discriminated against by whites because she is black and by her own community because she refuses to comply with prescribed gender roles. Emecheta effectively draws the reader’s attention to the paradoxical nature of traditional gender beliefs within the Nigerian immigrant community. On one hand, Francis firmly believes that a woman’s place is in the home. On the other hand, he is fully dependent on Adah, who supports the whole family with her salary as librarian. By the end of the novel, Adah refuses to be further harassed by her husband and becomes aware of her potential to sustain her children alone.


Adah’s ability to rise above her unhappy marriage is paralleled by Emecheta’s own progress as a writer, which she details in her autobiography, Head Above Water (1986). Yet her portrayal of female characters has also sparked some controversy. Although Emecheta celebrates women’s resourcefulness, fellow black women writers such as Flora Nwapa have taken issue with her definition of women as “second-class citizens” because it implies potential passivity and underscores the gender divide as one of the major elements in Nigerian society.


The main character of Second Class Citizen is a woman named Adah who was born in Nigeria and belonged to the Ibo tribe. Adah is a young girl who begins to have this dream when she is about eight to get to the United Kingdom. The novel takes place seven to eight years after World War II and, as part of the colonial educational system, outstanding students can travel to Europe to study.


Because Nigeria was a British colony, the United Kingdom becomes the land that Adah often hears about as a child and also the place from which people in her town have come from. She hears her father speak of the United Kingdom one day, “The Ibuza women who lived in Lagos were preparing for the arrival of the town’s first lawyer from the United Kingdom. The title “United Kingdom” when pronounced by Adah’s father sounded so heavy, like the type of noise one associated with bombs. It was so deep, so mysterious, that Adah’s father always voiced it as if he were speaking of God’s Holiest of Holies. Going to the United Kingdom must surely be like paying God a visit. The United Kingdom, then, must be like heaven.”


The story starts out with Adah as a young girl who is stuck at home with her mother who does not pay much attention to her. Adah’s brother is away at school all day while her father is away working. Adah decides that she wants to go to school too and she sneaks away from her mother one day and runs all the way to school. She has met the teacher a few times before and she goes hoping that he will let her sit in on his class. When she arrives she disrupts the entire class by bursting into the room. The children all stare at her but the teacher just looks at her and smiles and lets her sit in on the rest of the class.


Adah’s dream is to go to the United Kingdom to study and to see the greatness that she is sure is there. Her troubles begin from the first moment she realizes what her dream is. First she is not allowed to go to school because she is a girl and the family does not want to spend the money for her to go. She is a girl of her own mind though and she goes to school anyway which ends up getting her mother in trouble.


Her next set of problems occurs when her father dies and she is sent to live with her mother’s brother. Any money that her family had went to her brother’s education, and the only reason she was kept in school (though not very good ones) was because it was thought that her uncle would be able to get more money for her when they finally married her off. “Children, especially girls, were taught to be very useful very early in life, and this had its advantages. For instance, Adah learned very early to be responsible for herself. Nobody was interested in her for her own sake, only in the money she would fetch, and the housework she could do and Adah, happy at being given this opportunity of survival, did not waste time thinking about its rights or wrongs. She had to survive.”(18).


This desire to persevere and survive in her society is what leads Adah on her journey through life. It is also the driving force behind her desire to never give up on her dreams. She avoids marriage over and over until she realizes that marriage might be her only way to continue on with her dreams. She then uses her marriage in the sense that she gets a good job and takes care of her husband and her children and she saves money with the intent for her family to go over to United Kingdom. The plan is that she will go along with her husband and both of them will continue their educations and become prominent figures in society.


Adah is alone hoping for her dream to come true, “So she found herself alone once more, forced into a situation dictated by society in which, as an individual, she had little choice. She would rather that she and her husband, who she was beginning to love, moved to new surroundings, a new country and among new people. So she said special prayers to God, asking Him to make Pa (her husban’d’s father), agree to their going to the land of her dreams, the United Kingdom! Just like her Pa, she still said the name United Kingdom in a whisper, even when talking to God about it, but now she felt it was coming nearer to her. She was beginning to believe she would go to England” (27).


The news Adah receives from her husband is not that she will go to England, but that her husband will go to England to study to better himself while Adah will stay at home and continue to support the family. Her husband’s father does not approve of women going to England and so he will not allow both of them to move there. At first Adah is filled with rage, but she controls her anger and she comes up with a plan. “‘Be as cunning as a serpent but as harmless as a dove,’ she quoted to herself.” (28). Once again she uses her smarts to get what she wants. She sends Francis (her husband) off to England to study and in the meantime she works and sends him money.


Adah does not give up here, she keeps her hopes up and when her husband writes to her a few months later that he is going to be in England for at least four or five more years she decides it is time to make her move and she convinces her in-laws that it is necessary for her to be in England with her husband and that Francis wants her there, which he did say to her in his letter. She soon books herself and her two children first class tickets on a ship to England and as the real struggle begins for Adah she is arriving in England, welcomed by cold, rainy and cloudy skies.


A foreshadowing of all that is to come for her. She is shocked by the grayness but she will not give up on her dream. Adah has arrived in the United Kingdom and this is where she goes from a first class citizen in her native Nigeria to a Second Class Citizen in England.


Some of the main points of struggle for Adah are being a black woman in a predominantly white society, learning of the women’s rights movement during the seventies and the fact that there is birth control available to her, and her struggle to pursue her goal in becoming a writer and ultimately between four children and a lazy abusive husband the time to write.


This book deals with many different issues and movements and how they all interconnect and relate to one another and also one woman. Just as the reader starts to find hope for Adah another circumstance arises and as the book progresses one wonders how one woman can put up with so much and yet be so strong not only for herself but also for her children. She never gives up on them or on her dreams, not even when her first piece of work is burned by her husband.

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