When Adah moves from Lagos to London to join her husband, Francis, she finds him a changed person. In Nigeria she had believed that the shared the same dream of finding success in England. During the interval that he lived there while she remained back home, he had become embittered by the difficulties he faced in racist society. Francis encountered far more negative attitudes toward Africans than he had anticipated. It seems as well that not only British attitudes but those of other Nigerian men influenced his treatment of his wife.
The book’s title stems from Francis’s evaluation of Adah’s status. He tells her that in England, she will always be seen as a second-class citizen. She soon realizes, however, that it is Francis who sees her that way and that he has internalized the maltreatment he has received. He takes out his frustrations on her, expecting her to show a subservient attitude. When their child is ill, his concern is minimal despite her hospitalization, and he continues to pressure her to have sex and have more children. He believes that marriage entitles him to complete sexual access regardless of her desires. Francis also opposes her advancement in her own career and even destroys a manuscript she has written. He increasingly subjects her to physical abuse.