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.

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Last Updated on July 30, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1391

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.

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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...

(The entire section contains 1391 words.)

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