Second-Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta

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Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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 in Lagos. She agrees for a time but eventually persuades her in-laws to allow her also to travel to England.

Adah’s dream comes true as she sails for London with two young children; however, the narrator makes it clear that all dreamers know that there are setbacks to dreams. For Adah, there are complications when she gives birth to her third child. She is in the hospital for a few weeks but is ignored by her husband. Rather than being concerned about her welfare or the child’s, he is more interested in using the money she receives from work for his personal advancement. Adah then comes to accept that she did not marry the man of her dreams.

Francis informs Adah that in England she is a second-class citizen. Noting Adah’s disappointment at their living conditions among a lower class than they would have associated with in Lagos, he tells her she cannot discriminate against her own people, for they are all second-class now. In spite of Francis’s conciliation, Adah rejects the notion of being a second-class citizen: She has what is considered a first-class citizen’s job and insists upon taking care of her own children, a trait linked in England only to...

(The entire section is 1,432 words.)