Second-Class Citizen – Summary and Themes

Second Class Citizen

Second-Class Citizen – Summary and Themes

Second-Class Citizen is one of the best works of Buchi Emecheta. The novel is considered autobiographical for its relation to the author’s lifetime experiences.



Second Class CitizenSecond-Class Citizen tells a story of a desperate young girl with the dream of going to school at a time women’s education was barely given a second thought in Nigeria. She enrolled in school despite being aware that her action was punishable. Indeed, her parents penalized her parents for always sneaking to school but still allowed her to go. She was allowed to continue her self-driven education because they believed that an educated woman would attract wealthy men who would pay a higher bride price.

Things get worse for her after her father’s death. The unexpected death of Adah Ofili’s father left her mother with no option but to send her to reside with her uncle in Lagos.

At her uncle’s house, she also creeps to Methodist Secondary School. One thing about Ada Ofili is that she gave no room for anything to weigh her down. She refused to let her gender and condition thwart her dream of going to school.

Things appeared better when she, fortunately, got a scholarship after outperforming other students in an entrance exam.

As she got older, her parents began to persuade her to marry. She eventually gave in to their pressure because she had come to terms that she needed a house and a husband to materialize her dream of going to England and acquiring an education.

Later, she decided to marry Francis Obi — a poor and quiet student. Francis appeared like a saint who would never learn how to abuse anyone initially but morphs into a beast in the end.

Immediately after marriage, Ada found a job in the library to support herself and the family. They had a stable income earlier in their marriage due to her job at the library. This time, Francis began to feel entitled to her support and insisted she continues working to support the family.

Ada continued working and suggested her husband leaves for the UK to study. Francis agreed and left Nigeria to study Accountancy in the UK. After the birth of her second child, Ada persuaded her in-laws to allow her to travel to the UK. They accepted her request, and she left with her husband.

Francis found a place for them to reside in the poor neighborhood where many other Nigerian migrants also stay in the UK. Adah was very disappointed after being welcomed by the state of black people in the UK. But Francis, with his pessimistic attitude, kept telling her that she shouldn’t expect much because they were the second citizens of the country.

However, she refused to let that burrow her into giving up her dreams. So, she got a job in the library again to support her family. Francis quit his studies and goofed around all day, abusing her verbally and physically. Despite the physical and mental abuse from her husband, Adah still worked hard to support the family.

When she got her third pregnancy. The abusive and lazy husband abandoned her. She fended for herself and took care of her children, too. So when she got pregnant again, she decided to terminate it, but unfortunately, Francis discovered her plan and beat her more for doing that.

After her fourth child, she summed up her guts to fight her abusive husband. She confronted Francis with boldness and told him to stop goofing around and find a job. She vowed not to support him again if he was not poised to repent.

Ada wrote a book about her struggles a few months after her fourth child. She told the library where she works bout the book. So, they advised her to get it published. Unfortunately for her, Francis discovered it and burnt it. At this time, she had no reason to live with him anymore. She decided to expel herself from his house, but he still followed her about and beat her. Ada decided to cut the marital link between her and her husband by suing him in court. The novel ends when the court terminates the marriage.


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About the book – Second Class Citizen

Second-Class Citizen is a story about an intelligent little girl in Nigeria around the 1950s when female education was not prevalent in Nigeria. Ada Ofili, the story’s main character, had a penchant for education, but got no support from her family. She got beaten each time she returned from school. The title of the story, “Second-Class Citizen,” reflects the struggles of women while trying to be like the opposite gender, and in the second position, they are naturally placed. The title also gives the impression of neglect and discrimination against blacks in the United Kingdom. They are considered Second-Class Citizens, unlike their wealthy white neighbors, who are first-class citizens and have access to everything that makes life sweet.

Themes of the Story

  • Racial and Martial Discrimination
  • Determination
  • Women freedom
  • Male domination
  • Hope
  • Early Marriage
  •  Failure

1. Theme of Racial and Marital Discrimination

The story tells us about the struggles Ada faced at the hands of her subjugating husband, worsened by her civil status. Francis was not comfortable seeing her wife make more money than him. Moreover, the story revealed the squalid condition of the black neighborhood and the discrimination that goes with being a black person in a white-dominated country.

2. Theme of Determination

From the start, Ada knew education was not her right and that she would never win the support of her parents. However, she weaponized herself with determination, which she used to conquer everything standing in her way.

3. Theme of Women’s Freedom

 Ada eventually liberated herself from the marital chain which had bound her to her abusive husband for years by going to court. The novel chronicled her struggle and how she saved herself. So Ada is set to be an archetype of African women.

4. Male Domination

 The novel sheds light on the preponderant position men inherently occupy. Francis envied his wife for being the financial driver of the family and felt the wife was taking over his superior masculine position.

5. Hope

 Ada never dashed the hope of going to school and left her home in Nigeria for the UK to achieve that. Even in the UK, she resented her initial experience but hoped for a better future by finding a job at the library.

6. Theme of Early Marriage

 There was a lot of pressure on Ada from her family asking her to get married. She didn’t wish this for herself. She always wanted to finish school before getting married, but the pressure burrowed her into it.

7. Failure

 The story ended with Adah Ofili going to court to end her marriage with Francis Obi. Their marriage failed after enduring years of abuse.

The main character of the novel – Second Class Citizen: Adah Ofili




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