Second-Class Citizen

by Buchi Emecheta

Start Free Trial

Second-Class Citizen Summary

Second-Class Citizen is a novel by Buchi Emecheta that traces the journey of its protagonist, Adah, from childhood in Nigeria to adulthood in England.

  • Around the age of eight, Adah develops a dream to live in the United Kingdom and receive an education.
  • Adah marries Francis Obi as a teenager. After she becomes pregnant with their second child, he moves to London, and she follows soon after.
  • In London, Adah grapples with discrimination based on her race and gender, both from Francis and society itself. She has more children; writes a novel, The Bride Price; and ultimately leaves the controlling and abusive Francis.

Second-Class Citizen Study Tools

Ask a question Start an essay


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated November 3, 2023.

Adah’s story begins when she is about eight years old, when she develops a dream to go to the United Kingdom. (Though she does not know her exact age, she does know that she “fe[els] eight” and was born during World War II.) As a Nigerian girl, however, she must overcome limitations placed upon her gender. She fights to be sent to school, as education is seen as unnecessary for girls. Adah takes it upon herself to go to school one day; thereafter, she is allowed to attend school with her younger brother, Boy, at an expensive private institution.

After their father’s death, however, the siblings are split between relatives, and Adah must attend a cheaper school while being treated like a servant for her uncle’s family. She is permitted to continue to pursue an education so that her family can charge a higher “bride-price.” Adah wins a scholarship for high school that includes room and board, so she moves out of her uncle’s house. Soon, though she wishes to continue studying, she decides she will have to marry. Her mother and others in the community have been encouraging Adah to consider suitors for some time already, but Adah did not want to marry a much older man. She ultimately marries Francis Obi, a young man who is studying accounting and cannot afford her bride-price.

Adah lives with Francis and his parents, with whom she gets along well. She starts a good job at the American Consulate but is dismayed to discover that she will be the only one working to support the family. She quickly becomes pregnant with her first two children: a daughter, Titi, and a son, Vicky. While Adah is pregnant for the second time, a plan is conceived for Francis to study in England; Adah has shared her dream with Francis and he finally agrees that they can pursue it. Unfortunately for Adah, Francis’s parents allow only him to go. After he goes to London, Adah gives birth to Vicky and soon decides she must join her husband.

Adah arrives in Liverpool with her two young children and is greeted by a changed Francis. He seems to have adopted some of the British mannerisms and sense of humor, and he claims Adah has also changed when she talks back to him. They take the train to London, and Adah is shocked to see the bare, minuscule room Francis has taken for their accommodations. They live in a building that houses immigrants from various countries. Adah feels crushed by some of the things Francis tells her about life in England for Black immigrants. He says that Adah can no longer expect to be treated like an elite, as she began to feel in Lagos with her respectable job and connection to Americans; she is now a “second-class citizen.”

After their separation of many months, Francis wants to have sex with his wife. Though Adah knows that they shouldn’t have another child so soon, she submits to him. Afterward, Francis criticizes her for her “frigidity,” and she soon discovers that she is pregnant for the third time. She also learns that the landlord and landlady are antagonistic toward her and Francis, and resent their children’s noise. The neighbors think Adah and Francis feel superior to them because they are educated and will not foster their children like other Nigerians.

Adah gets a job at a library and is once again the family’s breadwinner. Francis stays home and studies, but he does not want to take care of the children, so it is necessary to find a “daily-minder.” Adah reluctantly agrees to leave the children with a woman named Trudy but is shocked to see the woman’s dirty house and yard and her inappropriate behavior when Adah drops by one day to check on the children. Adah complains to an official, but Trudy lies; Adah, having no other choice, continues to send the children to Trudy.

Later, Vicky contracts viral meningitis and becomes deathly ill. Adah attacks Trudy and reports her to the official, who removes Trudy from the list of daily-minders and finds places for the children in a nursery. As Adah’s third pregnancy advances, the family receives an eviction notice from their landlord and has to look for a new place to live. In doing so, Adah and Francis face clear discrimination for their race: many advertisements say, “Sorry, no coloureds.” Adah finds a listing without that note, but she nevertheless disguises her voice when she calls the number. When the landlady meets the couple, she is taken aback and says the rooms have already been let. The woman’s decision is obviously based on Adah and Francis’s race.

Adah and Francis soon find accommodations in Pa Noble’s rundown house. Noble is another Nigerian immigrant who has failed at reading law and now attempts to make an income by renting rooms in his house, which he bought after an on-the-job accident incapacitated him. Noble is married to a white woman, with whom Adah assumes Francis will have an affair at some point. The house is dirty, and Adah is embarrassed at what she perceives as Noble’s lowering himself to please white people. Even so, the family moves into the upstairs room.

Not long after moving into the Nobles’ house, Adah gives birth to her third child, a son named Bubu. It is a traumatic birth: Adah must have a cesarean section, recover in the hospital, and rest at home for a while afterward. As a result, Francis must work temporarily; he delivers mail but constantly complains about the job’s difficulties.

After Adah recovers, she gets a job at another library and makes friends like Bill, a coworker who introduces her to a range of Black writers. Adah’s attitude is improving, and she no longer feels helplessly burdened by her problems. She resolves to take control: she will care only for her children from now on and will obtain birth control. She wants to focus on her job, her studies, and raising her three young children without the fear of becoming pregnant. Adah inquires at a clinic about contraception and is given some pamphlets and a form for her husband to sign.

Adah ends up forging Francis’s signature, as the only birth control he believes in is natural family planning. She decides to go on the Pill, but after she meets another young immigrant woman at the clinic who has a rash from the medicine, she decides to get “the cap” instead. Francis notices that Adah is walking strangely and quickly forces the whole story out of her. Francis shames her, tells the other tenants what she has done, and exposes her in a letter to his parents. He also beats Adah, as he does periodically throughout the novel, in addition to berating her with verbal abuse.

Adah’s plans for contraception having failed, she becomes pregnant with a fourth child and goes to her doctor to say that she cannot have any more children. He gives her pills that she assumes will abort the pregnancy, but she later finds out that is not the doctor’s intent. Adah prepares for this pregnancy by sending herself cards and flowers to the hospital, anticipating Francis’s lack of attention. She has a girl, Dada, and feels even more resolved to devote herself completely to her children. She takes time off of work, sews, and writes a novel. After finishing, she brings the manuscript, called The Bride Price, to her friends at the library, and Bill encourages her to type it up and have it published.

Adah asks Francis to read the novel; he refuses and later burns her manuscript. This is the last straw for Adah. She endures a violent beating from her husband but is now determined to leave him. Adah also learns she is pregnant for a fifth time. She eventually finds an apartment for herself and the children, then takes her husband to court. Francis denies being the father of the children and has burned their documentation. Adah resolves to claim the children as her own and leaves the courthouse. She happens to meet an old school companion from Lagos on the street, and he pays for her taxi home.

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

Chapter Summaries