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 The husband she had known back in Nigeria has been replaced by a stranger.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.

6 Things We Love About Adah

Second-Class Citizen is the brilliant and affecting novel by Nigerian author Buchi Emecheta, originally published in 1974 by Allison and Busby. From when she was a young girl, Adah was determined to be educated, become independent and free herself from the limiting hands of Nigeria and make something of herself in the UK.

Read more about the novel in the next post, Revealing Racist, Misogynistic and Xenophobic Oppression in Buchi Emecheta’s ‘Second-Class Citizen’

Here are 6 Things We Love About Adah

  • Her resilience: despite the physical and verbal abuse she got, her will remained sharp and focused. No number of beatings or berating could break her.
  • Her ambition: no matter how much and what it cost her, she was willing to become educated and she did. She always looked at the future with a vision that said she could make something of herself.
  • Her parenting skills. Despite not wanting to have more children but still falling pregnant, she loved and cherished her children, and was a brilliant parent who prioritised her children’s needs.
  • Her independent spirit. Adah could have been married off to a man who would provide for her, but she was her own provider, she followed her own path, built her own career, and made her own money.
  • She always showed up. Adah’s discipline shows in so many ways; when she was unwell, pregnancy ailments, problems in the house, she put on her shoes, worked, and did what needed to be done.
  • Adah’s tenacity was commendable. When she said she wanted to go to school, to get a well-paying job, to find herself a home, to go to London, and others, she kept her focus on her goals and went at it with such force and unflagging determination.

Although an independent woman, educated, hardworking and intelligent, she’s still subjected to the so-called duties of a wife that are designed to suit patriarchal principles. There are other things about this character that aren’t so favourable but the above outweigh them and made me forget about the negatives.

We Should All Read ‘The Power of Women’ by Dr Denis Mukwege

Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr Mukwege is a Congolese gynaecologist who specialises in treating injuries from rape, and an awe-inspiring advocate of women’s rights. The Power of Women is a harrowing account of his professional and personal journey of witnessing the heinous crimes against women, and their strength and resilience through all their traumatic experiences.

There’s often this narrow-minded belief that men who speak out against the injustices against women, or who are feminists, are ‘thinking and behaving like women’, along with the pressure for these men to justify themselves and their sexuality whenever they stand up for women’s rights. Therefore, this book is so important and a necessary read for men. If one does not see the urgent need to have more men like Dr Mukwege, after all the stories of the suffering inflicted on women, and how rape is used as a social and political tool, then we’re swimming in deep shit.

Dr Mukwege’s stories show the many ways women’s bodies are used as a deliberate power tactic in war, to make a political statement and to abuse power. However, the pages aren’t all dark and heart-breaking stories. He shows women’s power, their inspiring ability to find a reason to continue living and a new meaning to life, even after experiencing violence that destroys them in all ways imaginable. The ability to start over, and rebuild when everything has been taken away from them.

He also suggests many ways we, as society, can make the necessary changes. One of them is the need for a functioning justice system that listens to victims and deals with the tormenters in an effective way. He also suggests a cultural shift, breaking the silence and smashing taboos associated with sexual abuse and women’s bodies. Stripping out sexist language that refers to the honour, chastity, and modesty of women, is also another way.

There is so much to take in, to learn and to take with you when reading this book. It is a powerful stand against the disregard of women’s lives. It is thought-provoking, inspiring, distressing, and highly important.

I urge you to read it. Everyone needs to read it.

Another interesting book similar to this one is Women’s Liberation and the African Freedom Struggle by Thomas Sankara.