Revealing Racist, Misogynistic and Xenophobic Oppression in Buchi Emecheta’s ‘Second-Class Citizen’

“Father does not approve of women going to the UK. But you see, you will pay for me…”


From when she was a young girl, Adah’s dream was always to leave Lagos for the greener pastures of the United Kingdom. The decisions she’s made throughout her life have been in concert with this dream, and some of these decisions intensely difficult.

When she arrives in London, her hopes for the life she had always imagined are shattered. She meets the reality of what it means to be black in a white world, a black immigrant, and a woman at that. The husband she had known back in Nigeria has been replaced by a stranger. Adah must navigate through all these difficulties; the increasing number of children and raising them, providing for the family, and the deterioration in her marriage.

Although Adah finally get a good job in Nigeria, migrating to Europe was always a fantasy painted by the stories of those who had gone to pursue opportunities there. Despite being financially independent and being the provider for her family, her wants and needs to go to the land of her dreams must take a back seat to give priority to her husband’s plans.

The tyrannical nature of her marriage is a major theme, worsening at every turn. Parenthood and its roles based on gender is another interesting topic. The arrangement of duties is appallingly lopsided, that even though she provides for the household, almost all duties regarding the children are mainly hers. Emecheta pulls us towards the extent of male privilege and domination, and the normalcy they’re afforded.   

Second-Class Citizen is a splendid piece of feminist literature. Each character, especially the protagonist, is so well-developed that their contribution to the story brings out the intended piece of the plot to the stage. Each character understood the assignment.

The title itself is appropriate for the story; it encapsulates the crucial thread that runs through the whole novel. It’s a realistic novel, reflecting society at that time and also relevant to the present.

Through all the adversities our main character faces, there is much to admire about her. Read about these qualities in the previous character-focus post.

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Autodidact & Bibliophile

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