Summary and Analysis of Buchi Emecheta Second Class Citizen

Summary and Analysis of Buchi Emecheta Second Class Citizen

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The novel has some autobiographical elements. The emphasis is laid on Adah’s struggle to gain access to schooling as Emecheta (author) herself struggle a lot to gain education. From the beginning Emecheta has taken a strong stand against the discrimination of women. When she wrote the novel, in Nigeria people believed that western education as a key to success in changing Africa.

They thought that it was wrong to send girls to school whole preference are given to boys because they were likely to support their parents in their old age. Girls were excluded from it as they were fated to marry and join another household Emeheta is painfully aware about the fact that women are subjected to class, race and gender-based oppression or discrimination. Through the life and struggle of Adah, Emecheta in this novel, tries to define a women’s self.

Adah’s life is turn between Ibuza, Lagos and Uk. Her dream is to study, she desires to wrote, but her desire is pitted against the forces of an egotistical and unemotional husband and largely indifferent white society. Being a female, writer, Emecheta consciously efforts to speak out against the subjugation of Igbo women. The entire story and problem Adah face was why she decides to go to school as well as her brother:

“First she is not allowed to go to school because she is a girl and her family does not want to spend Money for her to go to school. When her father died, All the money her father had went to her brother’s education, and the only reason she was kept in school so her uncle would be able to get money from her when she get married” (10).

 Emecheta quests for an ideal social change because she is a woman she belongs to nowhere as her is a disappointment to her parents. Adah learned very early to be responsible for herself. She avoids marriage over and over until she realizes that m arriage might be her only way to continue on with a dreams of going to school and the united kingdom. She later married Francis, after her marriage, she got a job, her husband had a trouble with it. He asked his father:

“Do you think our marriage will last if I allow Adah to go and work for the Americans? Her pay will be three times to my own. My colleagues at work will laugh at me. What do you think I should do?” (20).

Though Adah is a woman, she needs to seek permission from her husband. But, Francis her husband does not want her to work simply because her income will be more than his own. Francis asked his father, he replies:

“You are a fool, where will she take the money to? Her people? Her people, who did not even care and come to congratulate hare on the arrival of baby Titi? Her relatives, who did not care whether she is alive or not? The money is for you, can’t you see? Let her go and work for a million Americans and bring their money here into this house. It is your luck you made a good choice in marriage, my son” (20).

The conversation between the two men shows where they have positioned a woman. Women’s position in the family is just like a servant. The above conversation shows how a society never allows a woman to create her own identity. Adah’s education could not help her to get rid of domesticization of herself. Adah was given special treatment on days of her payments. Francis, her husband decided to work half day only:

“He goes to meet Adah at her work place as a bodyguard of hers and money. Adah kept her nick name Igbo Tigress: she still wishes to go to united Kingdom. But the circumstances are such that she has to sacrifice her wish to her husband who wanted to go to kingdom first” (23).

Summary and Analysis of Buchi Emecheta Second Class Citizen

Adah was given the responsibility to send twenty pounds every month. Apart from this, she has to take care of her children and she has to help in paying fees for some of her husband’s seven sisters. Adah was treated like a servant in her husband’s family. She found herself alone since nobody thought of giving support. She wanted to move to a new country, among new people to enjoy her own life. Adah’s happiness was disrupted by the news Francis brought to her. He said:

“You know how old-fashioned father is” “father does not approve of women going to the United Kingdom. But you see you will pay for me, and look after yourself and within three years, I will be back. Father said you are earning more than most people who have been to England. Why lose your good job to go and see London? They say it is just like Lagos” (24).

The above quote shows how women are controlled by masculine power. Men control women physically and emotionally. Adah earns for the family, but she is not allowed to live her personal life. When Francis moved to England for further study, the whole family turned out to the airpark to wish him a safe journey. Adah did not cry. All her relatives stared at her as at the time of departure from her husband they could not see tears in her eyes. Nobody told her anything because she was going to pay for Francis. She did not mind that, but it was too much when Francis wrote to her:

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“You did not cry for me. You were very happy to see me go, were you not? Was that why you did not wish to appear in my sendoff photograph? You did not care for me” (28).

Adah did not explain anything to Francis, her husband, but she kept on going in her life and did everything for her family. In a patriarchal society, a wife has to cry for her husband to prove her love and loyalty. When Adah finally went to England, she received cold welcome. She was stunned to see a new Francis. Francis kissed Adah publically which was not allowed in their culture. Francis was delighted to see his son, Vicky. When he saw him he said:

“Just my image, I can now die in peace” Adah gave a strong answer upon Francis Joke of Death. To this reaction Francis Said, “this separation of ours has made you bold. You have never in your life told me that I was lying before” (34).   

Based on this argument Emecheta’s Writings reveal the same kind of sexual politics. This is seen when men use phallus to control women’s body. Marriage is a system of legal suppression of women. A woman in Igbo community cannot escape from the clutches. In patriarchal society, the system of legal oppression allows men to manipulate women. The above system is seen in Francis towards Adah.


The Theme Of Female Self-Assertion

In Second Class Citizen Emecheta develops the issue of self assertion and personal development. The story describes fully the problem that assaulted the heroine, Adah, as she struggles to adapt to her socio-cultural environment. The handicap of being born a female is fatal, just being born a female child. This point is clearly developed in the character of the heroine, whose birth was so insignificant because they were expecting their first issue to be a boy. The author writes:

She was a girl who had arrived when everyone was expecting and predicting a boy. So, since she was such a disappointment to have parents, to her immediate family, to her tribe, nobody thought of recording her birth. She was so insignificant. (7)

The protagonist, Adah, was denied the opportunity of going to school in preference to her younger brother who was characteristically called a boy. Emecheta buttressed this point of inequality of opportunities between different sexes and the conscious rationalized effort to subsume the female for the enlistment of the male as the heir. Helen Chukwuma states:

Feminism must be seen in the obvious handicap of being female in a male dominated society and the second class status this bestows. Adah, the heroine of Second Class Citizen was her paternal grandmother’s “reincarnation’ and Adah’s father knew it, the only reservation he had was that he did not want a girl for her first child. She was denied education to the advantage of Boy, her younger brother (131).

Adah asserts herself by rejecting the socio-cultural norms of her people and succeeds in gaining education up to secondary school level on her own. Even after her marriage with Francis Obi, she keeps her dreams alive and realizes that her financial contribution to the house hold is the main force that keeps her family together. Helen Chukwuma acclaims this in an article “Voices and Choices: Feminist Dilemma in Four African Novels’.

The single most competing factor of female subjugation was her economic dependence on the female, and the social demands that made a woman give all her earnings to the home because her identity lies there (132).

Summary and Analysis of Buchi Emecheta Second Class Citizen

We should note that the wife’s matrimonial responsibility is not economic. What we find in the case of Adah the heroine of Second Class Citizen is a reversal of role; when she joined Francis in London she became the bread winner since her husband was a fulltime student.


Emecheta comments, “the fact that she was still laying the golden eggs stopped Francis from walking out on her. As before, her pay bound him to her but the difference was that she now knew it”. Helen Chukwuma in an article “Voices and Choices: the Feminist Dilemma in Four African Novels in Literature and Black Aesthetic” states that:

The point therefore is that economic independence becomes a source of female assertion, breaking loose the shackles of subjugation and establishing choice as the basis of interaction. It is Adah’s economic independence that guided her to her separation from Francis (133).

Adah was not frustrated in her plans to travel abroad, though she was to stay in Nigeria, to finance her husband and take care of her husband’s extended family because according to Francis “father does not approve of women going to UK”. This did not put her off as she tells herself, “Be as cunning as a serpent but as harmless as a dove!” Chukwuma states, Through the maze of self-assertion the female individualism and personality shows, she appears in another light as a person capable of taking and affecting decision (4).

Without direct confrontation and antagonism she cunningly succeeded in getting her parents- in law to accept her joining her husband in London. Through Emecheta’s careful revelation, we are confronted with the heroine‘s courage and fortitude. Adah never accepted that she is a Second Class Citizen because she is black or because she is a woman. In her fierce commitment to a better life for herself and children, she became very resourceful and wrote a novel.

Her attempt is seen as an awareness of response to the stifling condition of her existence. Adah’s independent spirit and creativity, pride in herself as a mother and the desire to live a good life, encouraged her to divorce Francis. This actually marked the end of new tortuous process of self-assertion. Gloria Chukwuma in “Gender, Voices and Choices”, writes: In Adah’s ultimate awareness, the novelist creates the heroine who in spite of her vicissitude refuses to accept the degrading stigma of second class citizenship (25).

The Themes in Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen

Conflict of class of culture. This theme can be seen in the novel which poses the colonial ideology and culture of African represented as the conscious when Adah moves to the United Kingdom:

“She faces cultural shock due to the stark contrast of London from her own home in Nigeria and her expectation of London” (80).

But, when she lived in Nigeria as a Liberian, she had managed to attain the status of a first class citizen within the residual class structure existing there. She earned a fair amount of money and enjoyed luxurious such as servants. The author portray this:

“On Adah moving to United Kingdom, she is instantly demoted to the status of second class human. In the Uk, it because increasingly evident that Adah is double-colonized, first by imperialism and second by her marriage with Francis” (81).

The above quote shows a clear picture of the theme of class conflict and culture. Adah is discriminated by the political super-structure and racial prejudices in the United Kingdom. For Francis, Adah was a second-class human and he treated her like a slave girl.

The theme of cultural suppression

As marriage is a system of legal suppression of women, as if suppression of women had became a tradition in androcratic society. Men fell proud for biting their wives. Women here not to open their mouths at any condition.

Francis made these statements and give his mother’s example to convince Adah that she could not separate herself from her husband. Francis was a parasite as he was dependent upon his wife. He even left his job when Adah got a new one by thinking that Adah would earn thrice an amount for her previous job. He had given nothing to his wife except children which he could claim fully his own.

The theme of Marriage

The theme of marriage is seen when Adah, the heroine makes an important decision concerning her marriage to Francis. She chooses to marry Francis, an accounting student, instead of one of the old and wealthy baldies who could pay the huge bride placed on her. The true test of the woman continues for be the marriage institution.

The Theme of Divorce

This divorce could be seen when Adah suffers various obstacles, but finally abandons her with four children. After this, Francis burns Adah’s manuscript, The Bride Price, the aims of the novel was a means of emancipation. The hold of patriarchy on Adah grows from bad to worse until she eventually breaks free from her marriage to Francis.

The stylistics Devices Used in Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen

According to John Lyons, Literary stylistics sets itself the task of describing these resources. It involves the deliberate and systematic analysis of these linguistic resources exploited by a writer in his work. He opines:

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“The Literary use of language can be seen as one in which the exploitation of their resources at all levels of their structure is particularly effective and creative” (220).


There are instances where the author has used indigenous languages as shoran in the following examples:

 “Opoho” (103)            –           Igbo word for woman

“Okei” (103)   –           Igbo word for young man

 “Iyawo” (92)   –           Yoruba word for a young wife.

The author, (Emecheta) is from the Igbo tribe of Nigeria and she was brought up in Lagos, a Yoruba society. Apparently, she has been exposed to these two languages.


Figurative Expression creates images in the mind of the reader. Emecheta uses various figures of speech including: simile, metaphor, irony and euphemism to add beauty and rhythm to the novel. These figures of speech and textual examples are explained below.


There is a profuse used of similes in the novel. The following examples are:

Adah from the day of her registry marriage, had seen the romantic side of her life being sheltered like broken glass, about her” (25). 

Here, Adah’s romantic life is compared with “Broken glass”. This statement portrays the sad and joyless life of shattered dreams the protagonist faces in her marriage.

“Her Mouth started to water like that of a starving dog, so she turned away” (57).

The above comparison depicts hunger and consequently, poverty. This also shows the state of life of the protagonist, Adah. The author also uses biblical characters and events to draw comparison. Examples:

“Adah’s father said it in hushed tones, wearing such a respectful expression as if he were speaking of God’s Holiest of Holies” (2).“…The Bible… said that one could be as clever as the serpent but as harmless as the dove” (16).


The author also used metaphoric language in the novel. Examples are below:

“These women were so proud of this new lawyer, because to them it meant the arrival of their very own Messiah” (2).

Here, the new lawyer is compared to a messiah.

“… With what type of soap was Adah to wash herself clean of dirty accusation?” (28).

In the above, a comparison is drawn between ‘soap’ and absolution. Apparently, soap cannot be used to cleanse one of an accusation because, accusation are not tangible.

“… But Francis’s mind was fertile ground in which such attitudes could grow and thrive” (57).

Here, Francis’s mind is described as a fertile ground.


“….Adah scribbled away, enjoying the smell of craw-craw and dried sweat” (6).

The smell of ‘craw-craw’ crashes/and ‘dried sweat’ obviously are not appealing, so they cannot be enjoyed.


Emecheta has discreetly handled sexual activities in the novel as she uses different euphemisms to express them. Below are some examples.

“As soon as her husband touches her, she gets a swallow tummy…” (22).

By ‘touch’ her, the author means ‘have sex’ and by ‘swollen tummy’ is meant pregnancy.

“All Adah had to do was to …. Be waited on hand and foot and in the evening be made love to” (22)

“is it too much for a man to want his wife?” (88).  Here, ‘want’ refers to sexual urge.

The author, (Emecheta) has used euphemism to cover the harshness of sexual activity with more pleasant expressions.

Characterization in Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen

Adah is the major character who the author emphasis on the problems on. She is a young girl who begins to have this dream when she is about eight to get to the United Kingdom to study and to see the greatness that she is sure is there. Her trouble begins from the first moment she realizes what her dream is.

First she is not allowed to go to school because she is a girl and the family does not want to spend the money for her to go. When her father died she decides to Marry to Francis because she think that other alone will solve her problems, but all Francis want from Adah was money. To Francis, Adah was a sexual object.

In this novel, within her own culture since she was born. She explains, she was a girl who had arrived when everyone was expecting and predicting a boy… she was so significant. In the Igbo culture that Adah grew up in being of girl was looked down upon. Giving birth to boy was a major accomplishment, whereas given birth to a girl was equally a major disappointment.

Francis: Is the husband to Adah, an accounting student. He treats Adah as if she is property; he forces Adah to support the family and is responsible for the children. While Adah is at home taking care of the children, Francis goes to and studies, but continuously fails exams which cause Adah to become upset due to the fact that he is living her dream.

Mr. Harrison

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