“Second-Class Citizen”, by Buchi Emecheta, is a novel that explores segregation on two fronts—on the basis of colour (race), and that of sex. It follows the life of Adah as she journeys through two societies, as a woman and as a black person (a Nigerian).
Adah, who was a young, ambitious and educated Nigerian Igbo girl emigrated from Nigeria to London in search for favourable opportunities for her family. While in Nigeria, Adah lived though the disintegration of her first family; her father died after a brief illness; her mother who was sent off to her late father’s brother as a wife; and her only brother went to live with another family member while she stayed with her uncle and his family.
Living with her uncle, Adah went through physical abuse and maltreatment and barely went through school as her extended family grudgingly paid for her primary school education.
Adah’s cultural Igbo background frowned upon women getting an education and believed that women are only slightly regarded more than a goat. They are often seen as less than and second class.
With all the terrible experiences fighting to weigh her down, Adah still had an ambitious spirit of becoming educated and independent, she fought against the storms and earned her spotlight for a fully funded secondary school education which she passed with flying colours and later got a job at the U.S. Consulate as a librarian.
Later on she succumbed to the raging winds of culture and the pressure of marriage which became her undoing. Adah married Francis, a very lazy, egoistic, and patriarchal Nigerian man who drained Adah of her self esteem, dreams, and income and planted seeds of doubt around her. Francis would later go to London to further his education which was fully sponsored by Adah’s income in Lagos and when Adah joined him in London, she continued to put herself through rigorous work for him.
The book paints a picture that entails what it means to be a woman in a misogynistic society, and what it means to be black in a racist society. It is the “second-class status”, associated with both identities, that encapsulates the work’s core.
It was established that Buchi Emetcheta’s semi-autobiographical novel did justice to an essential function of literature—mirroring and criticising the society through the eyes of Adah, the protagonist.