Second Class Citizen tells the story of Adah Ofili, a Nigerian woman born in Lagos during World War II. The story begins with Adah’s childhood, dealing with her father’s death and her determination to be educated, and describes her adulthood in London, married to Francis, an abusive and unambitious (some might say lazy) husband.
The story explores racism, sexism, and classism, and the intersections of those identities. Adah not only has to deal with the struggles of being a woman in Nigeria but eventually in the UK as a black woman. It’s the perfect read for #WomensMonth.
I like Adah. Her story is one of survival, which is a common theme in Buchi Emecheta’s works (or at least the ones I’ve read). Adah had the right blend of wit and sarcasm to demolish Francis’s ne’er do well attitude. She had some great comebacks for Francis (they were mainly restricted to her mind though).
It was interesting to see how Emecheta portrayed the British women. They seemed untouched by the claws of sexism, more powerful and assertive than Adah who had to serve the role of the dutiful, submissive wife to an abusive husband, even though she was the only breadwinner. I noticed that sexism made her more of a second class citizen than race, and the sexism Adah experienced was mainly within her own race. I don’t know if this is the reality for a lot of people, it just seemed interesting to me.
The main message I got from the novel is that Adah is strong in spite of her obstacles. Strength is nice, but I’d like to get away from the narrative that women have to be strong to bear the pains of the world. You don’t have to be long suffering to be a good wife. The novel was published in 1975, so we’d have to consider the norms at the time and how it affects the story. I guess it’s better to have a book with a strong female protagonist than having the female character relegated behind a useless character like Francis.
I didn’t like how the story ended. I’d have liked more closure (to see how her children turned out or if she became a writer). I heard the book is sort of autobiographical since Emecheta has previously spoken about her abusive relationship and how her husband burnt her first manuscript. I don’t have much information about that though.
You should definitely read ‘Second Class Citizen’ if you’re interested in any of the themes I discussed. Let me know what you think of my assessment. Have you read the book? Leave a comment if you’ve read any of Emecheta’s other works.