Second-Class Citizen Characters
The main characters in Second-Class Citizen are Adah Obi, née Ofili, and Francis Obi.
- Adah Obi, née Ofili, is the protagonist of Second-Class Citizen. She grows up in Nigeria, where she has to fight for an education, and moves to London, England, after marrying and having two children. There, she has several more children before leaving her controlling husband, Francis. A writer, Adah completes a manuscript, The Bride Price, by the novel’s end.
- Francis Obi is Adah’s husband, whom she marries as a teenager. In London, he unsuccessfully studies accounting and torments Adah with physical and emotional abuse.
Last Updated on July 30, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1371
Adah Obi, née Ofili
Adah is the protagonist of Second-Class Citizen, which is told by a third-person narrator close to her point of view. Adah grows up in Lagos, Nigeria, and from an early age dreams of going to the United Kingdom. She insists on receiving an education, despite the fact that education isn’t necessary or customary for girls in her country. She loses both of her parents when she is fairly young: her father, Pa, when she is just a child, and her mother after Adah marries Francis. Pa’s early death eventually leads to Adah’s decision to marry young, as a teenager, so that she can have a stable and secure life from which to continue her studies.
Adah marries Francis Obi and hopes to have a satisfying relationship and travel to England for her education and career. Very early in her marriage, Adah becomes pregnant with her daughter Titi, and less than two years later, she is expecting her son Vicky. While she is pregnant, she tells Francis about her dream to go to England, but he initially ends up going without her or the children. She goes to join him after Vicky is born, and they live in a very small room before Adah quickly becomes pregnant with a third child, Bubu. Adah is disappointed with their accommodations and grows frustrated with her husband’s lack of ambition and refusal to work.
Adah finds a library job but cannot work there long because of her pregnancy. After nearly dying while giving birth to Bubu, she vows not to have another child and seeks birth control in secret. Her controlling husband quickly makes her confess, however, and forbids her from using “the cap” or any other contraceptive method. Adah then becomes pregnant with a fourth child, Dada, as a result. After Dada is born, Adah decides to no longer ask anything of Francis and simply consider the children hers. She also begins to write, an “old dream” of hers, and completes a manuscript of a novel called The Bride Price.
Adah shows The Bride Price to her husband; in response, he burns the work and beats her repeatedly, and Adah finally leaves him. Though she will not receive financial support from Francis, who has burned their children’s documentation and denies that he is their father, Adah takes full custody of the children and finds her own apartment.
Adah’s character is optimistic by nature, and throughout the trajectory of the novel, she must become realistic as well in order to survive. She is a hard-working, educated woman who is fiercely protective of her children. Hopeful that Francis can change, she endures his abuse for too long. Eventually, however, she does what is best for herself and her children in leaving him.
Francis is Adah’s husband, whom she marries in Nigeria when she is only a teenager. Though he cannot afford her high bride-price, Adah likes him and desires the security of marriage. Francis is studying to be an accountant but never seems to make much progress. He fails all of his exams and blames his failure on Adah. In some ways, Francis has a very traditional mindset toward gender roles; however, he does not feel that he must provide financially for his wife and children. Even though his wife makes all the money, Francis treats Adah like a piece of property, abusing her physically and verbally, and expecting her to be available sexually whenever he desires her. He does this even though he has affairs with other women and Adah does not want to have more children.
A weak man, Francis is incapable of responding to his own failures without dragging his wife down with him. He chastises Adah for trying to obtain birth control and mocks her for attempting to become a writer. When Francis does work, during the brief periods Adah must recover after delivering their third and fourth children, he controls all the money, accuses his wife of laziness, and complains endlessly about his job. Eventually, Adah takes Francis to court for custody of the children and financial support, where he lies and says the children are not his. He has burned all of their passports and birth certificates so there will be no proof.
Pa Noble is a Nigerian man who has failed at becoming successful in England. Adah, Francis, and their children eventually live in his house after their original landlords evict them. Pa Noble earned his name from white men who thought of him as a clown or a fool; for example, they laughed at him and made him show them that Africans are not born with tails. After injuring himself trying to boost an elevator at work, Pa Noble could not perform manual labor any longer. He thought he might make an income from buying a house and charging rent, but the two women who lived there when he obtained the house refused to leave.
After the women’s deaths, Adah and Francis approach Pa about renting a room in his house. Pa intervenes in a later conflict between Adah and Francis, when Francis shames his wife in front of the other tenants for attempting to use birth control without telling him. Pa admits that she should not have lied but tells Francis that his wife has the right to not want to bear more children.
Sue Noble, Pa Noble’s wife, is a white woman. Sue and Pa spoil their children with Christmas presents bought on credit, because they do not have much money. Their home is dilapidated and dirty, but Sue is a friendly and hospitable presence when Francis and Adah rent a room in the house, though Adah assumes that Francis and Sue will have an affair. Sue lets Francis watch the television in the Nobles’ portion of the house, which they sometimes do together. Though Sue judges Adah for not being able to give her children Christmas presents, she also helps her by calling the police when Francis is beating her so badly that Sue thinks Adah’s life is in danger.
Boy, Adah’s younger brother, is given a better and more expensive education than she is because of his gender. When their father dies, Boy and Adah are split up between different households, and she does not see her brother again until the day she leaves Nigeria for England. He is there to wave goodbye on the platform, which makes Adah emotional and grateful. They later communicate with each other by letter, and Boy sends money and encourages Adah to leave Francis.
Trudy is a woman in London who is registered as a daily-minder, or babysitter. Adah takes her children to Trudy because Francis refuses to watch them during the day, claiming they distract him from his studies, and Adah has to work at the library. Trudy has two children of her own, though their father does not seem to be involved. When Adah goes to visit the children at Trudy’s house, she sees that Trudy is about to be intimate with a man while Adah’s children play unsupervised in the backyard near the garbage bin. Trudy also sleeps with Francis, which Adah considers part of Trudy’s pay for watching the kids. After Vicky comes down with viral meningitis, Adah blames Trudy and reports her to the childcare officer. Trudy is removed from the approved list of daily-minders after this incident.
Bill works at the second library where Adah finds work in London, and the two become friends. He is a Canadian man who is married to another of the librarians and constantly complains about England. Bill introduces Adah to Black authors beyond the two Nigerian writers she knows. From reading James Baldwin on Bill’s recommendation, she learns that “black is beautiful.” Bill is also pivotal in Adah’s burgeoning writing career. He reads the first draft of her manuscript, The Bride Price, and encourages her work; he says that she is the only one who could have produced the novel and that she should have it typed up and sent to a publisher. Adah refers to Bill as her only real friend.