Second-Class Citizen

by Buchi Emecheta

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Chapter 2 Summary

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Last Updated on July 30, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 905

Adah holds on to her dream but experiences several obstacles. First, her father dies unexpectedly after falling ill and being admitted to the hospital. It is traditional for Adah to now live with her uncle, her mother’s oldest brother. Ma has to live with Pa’s brother, while Boy moves in with Pa’s cousin. Therefore, the family is separated and expected to join with these other units of the extended family.

The small sum of money that is left to the family will be spent to keep Boy in school. It is agreed that Adah should continue her education so that she will warrant a higher “bride-price” someday. Adah is only about nine years old, so she is too young to marry. In the meantime, she must attend a less costly school because of the family’s limited funds.

After Adah is sent to live with her uncle’s family, she is forced into a strict work regimen that includes going to a communal pump for water very early in the morning. She must wake up at 4:30 a.m. because the pump becomes too crowded later in the day. The narrator says that Adah’s uncle’s family—which consists of her uncle, his wife, and four sons—are happy to have Adah so that she can wait on them. She continues to go to school, but as she grows older, people question her education.

Ma starts to believe that Adah must marry soon and sets an extremely high bride-price. Adah does not want to marry an older man just to have financial stability, and she earns a reputation for being stubborn and outspoken as she refuses suitor after suitor. At school, she is punished for what the headmaster interprets as her making fun of him; in reality, she is daydreaming about England and smiling quietly to herself. Her classmates help hold her down while the headmaster beats her, and she bites one of the boys as an act of revenge. She is given a nickname, “the Ibo tigress,” but she waits in fear of the police, who she expects will come to imprison her, as the headmaster threatened.

It is from the same headmaster, during the speech that caused her to daydream, that Adah learns that there is an exam coming up for entrance to high school, but it requires a fee that she cannot afford. She decides to use money that she is supposed to spend on meat for the family on the exam fee, and she is caned by her uncle for lying. Adah also has heard that there are a few scholarships available for those who score highest on the exam, so she sets her mind to earning one and is able to do so. She attends the Methodist Girls’ School on scholarship, which includes board, for several years, but she knows she must marry in order to continue her education and work toward her dream.

Adah marries a young man named Francis who cannot afford her bride-price; her mother subsequently disowns her. The marriage ceremony is laughable, and Adah’s family refuses to attend. Fortunately, Adah soon earns a good job as a librarian for the American Consulate Library, and she is able to support herself and her husband on the relatively high salary. This job gives her numerous benefits, since it is apparently lucky to be associated with Americans. Adah grows close to her parents-in-law, and Francis continues to study accounting. Adah quickly becomes pregnant with her first child, a girl named Titi, but Ma dies before the baby is born. At this point, Adah works and brings in the money, and she is also expected to perform wifely and motherly duties; however, she does not resent or mind having to take on so much of the household’s responsibilities. Adah is feeling optimistic about her dream but must find a way to get herself and her family to England.

During this whole time, Adah has been separated from her family. She hasn’t seen Boy in years and feels she has no more ties to her late parents or brother. This makes it seem that there is even less keeping her in Nigeria when she has such high hopes of seeing the United Kingdom. She tells Francis about her dream to go to the UK. At first, he is not impressed, but they later come up with a plan to convince Francis’s parents that it is a good idea for him to study there. Francis’s parents are supportive of the plan, but they do not approve of Adah—who is pregnant with their second child, Vicky, a son—going along with him.

It is decided that Francis will go to England alone. When the family goes to the airport to see him off, he and his parents judge Adah for not crying. However, she does cry out when thinking about her father’s death after the door of the aircraft is shut. Adah supports both Francis and his parents with her salary. After he has been away a few months and Adah has given birth, she starts trying to convince Francis’s parents that she and the children need to go to London to join him. She is able to secure their places on a ship, and Adah becomes emotional when she sees her brother Boy there to wave goodbye as the ship departs.

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Chapter 1 Summary


Chapter 3 Summary