Second-Class Citizen

by Buchi Emecheta

Start Free Trial

What are the themes in Second-Class Citizen?

One of the themes in Second-Class Citizen is the importance of female emancipation. Throughout the novel, Adah gradually tries to break free from the shackles of patriarchal culture to become her own woman. It's only when she finally does so by leaving her husband that she's able to take control of her own destiny.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The novel Second-Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta presents several important themes including misogyny, immigration, racial prejudice, and female strength.

The novel reveals the deeply engrained misogyny in Nigerian culture. As a young girl, Adah longs for an education, but her family will not send her to school, for they view education as unnecessary for females. Adah goes anyway, however, and is allowed to continue her education when her family realizes that they will get a higher bride-price for an educated young woman.

As Adah grows older, she decides to forgo further education because of pressure from her family to marry. They would like her to marry an older man, but Adah wants to make her own choice and marries Francis Obi. Francis, however, turns out to be just as misogynist as others in their homeland. After Adah joins him in London, Francis forces himself on her, beats and abuses her, and refuses to care for their children. Eventually, when Adah seeks divorce, Francis denies that the children are even his. In his eyes, Adah (and all women) are no more than an object to be used or a piece of trash to be thrown out.

Another theme in the novel is immigration and the experiences of immigrants. In London, Adah must learn how to adapt to another culture, and she is shocked by the differences between Nigeria and Great Britain. Adah has always dreamed of living in Great Britain, but she soon discovers that the reality is nothing like her dreams. She finds the city and their apartments dirty and unwelcoming. Her children suffer at the hands of a daycare provider who behaves badly and lives in filth, and officials refuse to do anything about it, at least at first.

Further, Adah and her family face strong racial prejudice and discrimination. They have difficulty even finding a place to live because of their race, and they are treated very much as second-class citizens. Adah, who has always been a member of the upper class at home, struggles to adapt.

Yet even in the midst of misogyny, the trials of an immigrant life, prejudice, and discrimination, Adah remains surprisingly strong. She finds jobs in libraries, builds friendships, resists and eventually divorces her husband, and even writes a novel. By the end of the story, Adah is on her own with five children, determined to make her way in the world and care for her children as well as she can. She vows she will survive.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Second-Class Citizen is a novel written by Buchi Emecheta. It was first published in 1974 and follows the story of Adah, a Nigerian woman, who grows up in Nigeria and later on moves to the United Kingdom.

There are several important themes in this book, such as feminism, immigration, and racism. Let me elaborate on these in a little bit more detail.

Firstly, with regard to the theme of feminism, you could point out that Adah is not content with the role women were supposed to play in Nigerian society. Back home in Nigeria, Adah grew up in a society that considered men as stronger and more powerful than women. This attitude even accompanies Adah when she eventually moves to Great Britain, as her husband, Francis, also treats her according to this mindset. He expects Adah to obey him and to do her duties as a wife and mother. Adah, however, does not agree with this discriminatory view of women at all. You can see that in her desire to write a book, despite the fact that Francis strongly objects to that, for example.

With regard to the theme of immigration, you could mention how Adah finds it initially difficult to settle in the United Kingdom, as life there is so different compared to the life she had been used to in Nigeria. The theme of immigration is naturally very closely linked to the theme of racism, as sadly Adah also experiences racism after moving to the United Kingdom. For example, this is very prominent when Adah is trying to find a flat for her and her family: sadly, many landlords do not want non-white tenants in their flats.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The necessity of female emancipation is a very important theme in Buchi Emecheta's Second-Class Citizen. The protagonist of the story, Adah, comes to realize the importance of breaking free from the constraints placed upon her by a patriarchal society and its values and forging her own path in life.

For most of the story, Adah is trapped in a marriage to Francis, a man steeped in the old ways. He treats her appallingly, regarding her as his inferior, simply because she's a woman.

Having been brought up in a traditional culture, Francis is firmly of the belief that men must keep their wives under control at all times. In relation to Adah, this means that she is unable to exercise freedom in any kind of meaningful sense.

And yet, Adah is determined to become free, and over the course of the novel, she gradually begins to take more and more control over her life. Whether it's by seeking out contraception or writing her book, Adah is slowly but surely breaking free of the patriarchal values insisted upon by her husband.

Eventually, Adah frees herself from the grip of her husband and the value system he represents. In doing so, she is finally able to chart her own course in life, to fulfill her potential and make her dreams come true.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Some of the important themes of Second Class Citizen are education, immigrant life, and colonialism. The protagonist, Adah, is determined to continue her education. Despite the many obstacles thrown in her path, including the low value placed on education for women in Nigeria at that time, she perseveres. This desire figures into her choice of spouse, as her husband is also a student.

She and Francis share the dream of emigrating, but when they arrive in England, she finds that circumstances are far more difficult than she predicted: they are deemed second-class citizens by the white, native-born English. The novel's action spans the period between the end of colonial rule and the beginning of independent nationhood for Nigeria. The changes that the country undergoes and the ways that these changes affect Adah's experiences help to structure the whole novel.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team