Second-Class Citizen

by Buchi Emecheta

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Chapter 12 Summary

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Last Updated on July 30, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1236

It is confirmed that Adah is pregnant with her fourth child. She goes to the Indian doctor, who is very popular in her neighborhood, to see about terminating the pregnancy. This time, Adah is determined to not be a victim of her circumstances and tries to take control. The doctor tells Adah that she should have come to their office for birth control because the cap could have been fitted properly.

Adah is astonished to hear the doctor’s office would give her the cap because it is not advertised anywhere that they provide birth control options. The doctor seems sympathetic and gives Adah some pills, which she assumes are meant to abort the pregnancy. She decides not to tell Francis, as she does not see the point.

Adah now considers herself alone, left to provide for herself and make her own decisions, just as she had to do as a child. Even though she has a husband, he is no help, so she must survive on her own. She reflects on the Presence that once followed her in childhood—her dream to come to the UK—and feels that it is returning to her side. Adah feels motivated again, despite the despair she has suffered in her marriage.

Adah does not feel it useful to go to church to pray; she has no time and is unmoved by the version of Christianity she has experienced in England. To her, the English church is somber, while in Nigeria, it was a site of enthusiasm, with packed services and inspirational music. In London, Adah instead believes in a personal God who is by her side and does not feel she needs to attend a church service to verify this.

Adah has a new job at the Chalk Farm Library, where she makes good friends and feels reinvigorated. She rediscovers the part of herself that is cheerful and friendly. Soon, she becomes close with Peggy, a library assistant who is in pursuit of a young Italian man who wronged her the previous summer. Mr. Barking, the boss, has a quick temper but is not cruel. Bill, a Canadian, seems disgruntled with London but introduces Adah to a variety of Black writers she has not yet read. This opens up possibilities for Adah, who realizes that someone like her can become a writer.

Adah learns that “black is beautiful” from reading James Baldwin, and Bill is surprised to hear that Adah did not already believe that. Adah considers Bill her first true friend. Her friends at the library have troubles in their lives, just as she does, but Adah does not want to share her own marital problems with her colleagues. She would rather keep them to herself and be known as the cheerful, problem-free colleague.

Adah begins to realize, after about three months at her new job, that she is still pregnant; the doctor’s pills did not abort the pregnancy, as she had hoped. She knows that when she tells Francis he will mock her for thinking she could circumvent pregnancies by going behind his back to get the cap. However, she no longer reacts to Francis’s abuse the way she used to; she even fights back.

Adah goes to the doctor to confirm the pregnancy before telling her husband. The doctor is shocked that Adah thought the pills were a form of abortion; the look on his face seems to indicate that he is judging her for wanting to terminate the pregnancy. Adah is furious but asks the doctor what she is supposed to do if the baby is damaged from the pills. She tells him that he is to blame if anything goes wrong.

Alone, Adah goes to a park, sits on a bench, and cries. She is mostly upset for her children and her unborn child, but she also feels sorry for herself. She thinks about her brother, who has sent money and asked her to leave Francis and return to Nigeria. She worries about how Francis’s parents will react when they learn about the new baby, after the incident with the cap that Francis shared with them. Adah feels guilty that she gave others the impression that she would amount to something great because of her school performance and her respectable job at the American Consulate. She regrets coming to London only to have failed, as she thinks she has done.

While Adah is on the bench, a man approaches her, and she knows immediately that he is Ibo from Nigeria, like her. This man, Mr. Okpara, infers that Adah has fought with her husband. He goes home with her to confront Francis. Adah hopes that Francis will be impressed by this man, who looks professional and seems to be a proper man and husband. However, she thinks Francis is probably not adaptable enough to be impacted by this man or any other; he is who he is. Nonetheless, the two go to Adah’s home, where Francis is entertaining the children.

Francis lies and tells Okpara that he does not abuse his wife. Okpara’s assumption that Francis provides financially for the family shocks both Adah and Francis. The narrator reveals that Francis has resigned himself to never passing his exams or becoming an accountant; therefore, he wants Adah to be a failure, too. He is a weak man who cannot bear to have his wife be seen as more successful than he is, even though he has been content to be supported by her for several years. Francis insults Okpara and tells him to leave, and Okpara warns Francis that his sons will not respect him. Okpara continues to try to talk sense into Francis for a few weeks, but to no avail.

Francis laughs when he hears that Adah is pregnant again. She learned from her previous stay in hospital and prepares ahead of time, knitting clothes for the new baby and arranging to have cards and flowers sent to herself to make it look like her husband is attentive. She attends classes for “relaxation birth” and insists that Francis work if he wants to have money to pay for his own food and other necessities.

Francis claims to have reported Adah to some agency, but no one ever comes to follow up on his supposed complaints against his wife. Adah gives birth to a girl, Dada, who brightens her life so much that she nicknames the child “Sunshine.” Francis does not come to get her from the hospital, so she takes a taxi home; she writes a nice letter to thank the hospital staff, correcting what she saw as her mistake after having Bubu.

Francis gets a job but does not tell Adah how much he makes and only gives her a small sum for housekeeping while she stays home to recover. She tells him she will also go into the Civil Service and will not share her money; she will only care for the children. Francis buys himself nicer clothes and a radio, which he carries everywhere so no one else can use it. Adah breastfeeds Dada, partly because she has heard breastfeeding will help prevent another quick pregnancy.

Realizing she has a few free hours each afternoon that she can use to fulfill her “old dream” of writing, Adah buys a book on how to write and starts working on a manuscript, The Bride Price.

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