Second-Class Citizen

by Buchi Emecheta

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Chapter 7 Summary

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The narrator briefly discusses a generation of Nigerian men who came to London in the 1940s, well before Francis and Adah did. Inspired by Indian independence, they felt confident that Nigeria would be the next country to win its freedom from England. These men, who left their wives and children behind in Nigeria, dreamed of becoming successful and wealthy and returning to important leadership roles in their home country. Some of the men succeeded and returned to their country speaking in an “educated” English that their fellow Nigerians heard as mere nonsense. Many of these men failed, however, and became “second-class citizen[s]” in London. One of them is Mr. Noble, also known as Pa Noble.

Pa Noble’s birth name is not revealed. He was given the name Noble by his mates in London, who rewarded him for entertaining them by, for example, pulling his pants down to prove to them that Africans are not born with tails. Noble was studying the law, but he was unable to pass the exams and ended up working as a elevator operator for the London Underground. He injured himself irreparably one day by trying to prove that he was strong enough to boost the elevator without electricity. After his accident, Pa Noble retired with a pension that he used to buy a house.

Unfortunately, the house had two older women as tenants, and as they were in a rent-controlled situation with very low rent, they did not want to leave. Even worse, one of the women had a son with a good job; he could afford better housing for himself but refuses to leave because the rent is so low. Pa Noble could not make enough money from their rent to repair the building, which over time fell into greater disrepair. He attempted to bring his case to court two times but was told that the women were within their rights to stay and that he could not raise the rent.

Pa Noble married a white woman named Sue, and they had several children, but the older women remained on their two floors of the house. He eventually told them that his mother was a witch in Africa and that she was cursing them. The next winter, which was exceptionally brutal, both sisters died within a brief span of time, and the house was finally vacated. The woman’s son left the house in fear, believing the curse to be real, even though Pa Noble’s mother is actually dead and the curse was totally fabricated. The narrator implies that the poor condition of the house, with its leaky roof, was actually the cause of the women’s demise in that difficult winter.

Adah and Francis hear that Pa Noble has an empty room from some other Nigerian acquaintances. Adah must convince Francis that they should go talk to Pa Noble. Her tactic whenever she needs to discuss a serious matter with Francis is to wait until a time when he wants to have sex with her. By this point, Francis has other “girlfriends,” so when he wants to have sex with his wife, Adah knows that she can take advantage of the situation to get what she needs or wants. Francis is hesitant to listen to her but quickly grants her request.

The next day, they decide to go to the house to speak to the Nobles. In the neighborhood, there is a brick building that divides the well-kept, attractive houses from the dilapidated ones, which are owned or rented by lower-income tenants. It is, of course, in this less desirable area that Noble’s house is located. Francis and Adah find the place extremely run-down on the outside, the yard full of trash. They must knock repeatedly and wait a long time before Pa Noble opens the door. He is described as an emaciated, frightening old man whose face serves as a testament to all he has weathered.

After Adah and Francis are invited in, they find that the house is just as messy on the inside, with dirt on the walls and children’s clothing and other items covering every surface. Sue, who seems to be friendly, introduces herself to the couple. Noticing that Adah is pregnant, Sue makes Adah tea and clears places for her and Francis to sit. Pa tells them stories about how he supposedly grew up in Africa, making sure to paint his childhood as backward and primitive.

Adah is embarrassed that Pa feels the need to “lower” himself to earn the love of a white woman. She even criticizes him vocally, but everyone simply laughs at her. The men don’t take her seriously because she is a woman. Adah notices that her husband is eager to please white women, so even though he rarely laughs, he answers Sue’s glee with a smile. The couple is granted the room in Noble’s house, and it is implied that Sue has her eye on Francis, as he is much younger than her husband.

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