Author: Buchi Emecheta
Introduction and Structure
As usual I would start with a structure of this book before I delve into the story, highlights and lessons. I learnt a whole lot about writing while reading this book. This book has undergone several cover changes, so don’t be too surprised if you try to purchase and you see a cover different from the one I posted on my blog.
The copy I have was purchased by my father in 1990 in Kano, LOL. If you have a father like mine, who writes dates of purchase and place on the book and reason why or the occasion on which the book was purchase, then you probably can relate.
I first read the book as a child but for the purpose of this review I had to read it again. So rubbing my hands together in anticipation I will download my thoughts soon. This book was one of the most difficult books I have had to read, not because of structure or grammatical composition but because of the story itself.
Don’t be deceived by its petite disposition, the book is full on the inside. It is only 192 pages but with tiny fonts that may make it difficult to concentrate on, if you are not much of a reader. The story line itself is easy to understand, don’t get me wrong; my issue was with the issues and topics raised in the book. You will understand if you read until the end.
It is written in the third person and with simple tenses. I came across new words like ‘Equanimity,’ which means calmness and composure especially in a difficult situation. ‘Kaleidoscopically,’ which means continually shifting from one set of relations to another or rapidly changing. ‘Insalubrious,’ which describes a place that is unwholesome, amongst others like ‘Rehashing,’ ‘Alyssum’.
Second Class citizen I guess was so named because of the way the white people treated the blacks in those days. Women were already being marginalized but then being a black woman was the lowest state anyone could imagine. So it was bad enough that your family in Nigeria treated you as being worth only to bear child and breast-feed them and of course the money you could fetch them.
Adah, the heroine and main character from whose perspective most of the story was told had desired to go to school and to become a librarian right from her childhood. To start with, even her date of birth had not been recorded because she was a girl though her mother had told her her age without specifically pinning down the day and month she had been born.
Adah, an inquisitive child had run away from home just to attend school and had almost gotten her mother in trouble because of that. Life changed quickly after her father and mother passed and she and her brother Boy, were to live with some relatives. She stole from the relatives to further her education into the secondary school. The relatives didn’t care about her education though they were all too excited that the very same education would be a reason why they would collect huge sums as bride price for her. They had tried to marry her off to older men who could afford to pay but for some reason she rejected and chased them all away.
Finally she got married to Francis, a boy from school only because she needed a home to study and pass and the house of the relatives had not been convenient besides her relative did not believe in a single girl living by herself. Secondly her plans to travel to the white man’s country could not be fulfilled if she was single. So she got married to a man who was also trying to become an accountant. At the time, she had thought he was a good prospect because he was young and educated.
No sooner had she married Francis she became pregnant with her first girl Titi, I still have no idea why they named their first child Titi, because they were both Igbos. She was working at the consulate and earning a huge sum. At the time, Francis had been worried about the fact that she was earning more but his father had assured him that her money was his and he would be the one enjoying it after all. Wise father, but only because it was tied to a selfish agenda.
Now Adah brought up the idea of going abroad after receiving a fat cheque from work and immediately Francis started making plans on how he would spend the money on taking care of his academics. Prior to this time, he had taken the accounting exams and failed. He told Adah that travelling abroad meant he would get to attend classes and then his chances of succeeding would be higher without recourse to her who was earning the money.
Plans went underway and her in-laws decided that from her pay she would send money to Francis in London, feed his parents and pay the school fees of his six sisters.
She had her second baby, Vicky within the same period just before Francis travelled. After a while Adah started to make plans to travel as well because she had her own ambitions and was also tired of her in-laws taking all the decisions for them. she convinced her father in-law that she would be gone for a short while and would return with a car, both her and Francis and that she would be sending him money from abroad. That was what made them agree to let her go with the children.
She got to London and that was when the beating started, while in Nigeria Francis never laid hands on her because they had been living in the family home but being far away he started to show his true nature. It was here that we became introduced to the phrase second-class citizen.
They had been quarrelling about the fact that Francis was living in a room in a shambled area and that the place was not convenient considering their class, she had come with the same mentality of the woman working at the consulate. She decided she was going to get work, Francis wanted her to start a menial work but she wanted to get a job benefitting her qualification. This also caused a fight as Francis felt she was being arrogant.
Luckily she got a job at a Library but coincidentally she was pregnant again. The neighbours hated her because she acted differently. She didn’t send her children to foster homes like the other African women in London. She worked at a good job too. Their landlady was also a lady who wanted a child and was jealous because Adah was having them like she was releasing gas.
Then came the quit notice that sent them scratching the whole of London to get one where coloured people were not prohibited eventually they found a building owned by an aged Nigerian man. It was at this point that we were told that Francis changed religion and read the bible only to the extent that it supported whatever he did. He called her lazy and not being a virtuous wife when because of labor pains and trains on strike she couldn’t make it to work whereas he was not working and had even failed the exams again. Of course Adah was to blame for his failure.
He became a Jehovah witness when he failed and used Jehovah witness as an excuse not to work because according to him, he was going to the kingdom of God. Then he gave birth to her 3rd child and Francis did not think to bring her clothes or care about her. At the time of this birth Francis had told her that they would have the baby at home just so that they could earn six pounds and she had agreed but fortunately she collapsed and had been rushed to the hospital where she had Bubu through Caesarean operation.
Her employer decided to pay a fat cheque for the period she was in the hospital and Francis came to the hospital bearing the letter and after reading it excitedly started telling her that he would use the bonus to pay for an additional course. Whereas she needed clothes so that she could get out of the hospital’s shirt that she had been asked to return.
It was during her stay at the hospital that she realised that she had been married to a fool and staying in a marriage that was not deserving of her. She saw other women being treated well and knew that she deserved better. And after this her desire to become a librarian or writer became rekindled again.
She decided to go for family planning so that she would not have any more children. She had just turned twenty-one and already had three. But the family planning failed and Francis found out about it and wrote to his family and hers. Boy, her brother, at this time sent her his savings to leave Francis and come home but she didn’t instead she started making plans to leave him.
Soon enough it happened that she decided not to work for a while and forced him to get a job like other men. He complained and complained, it was within this period that she wrote her first manuscript ‘The Bride Price’ she’d begged him to read it but he had refused. Her friends at the library read it and found it very interesting. But one day while she went out to buy groceries Francis burnt the book before she got back and told her that his wife could not be permitted to write such a book. They had a big fight after this and she eventually moved out with her now four children. She’d had another child after the family planning failed.
Francis still came to the new house and tried to kill her just before a neighbour broke down the down and saved her. At the end she sought the protection of the law, and right there in court Francis denied being married to her. He had even burnt her passport and the children’s birth certificate.
Issues for discussion
- Does pain make it easier to appreciate the little respites and beauties in other pleasurable things?
- In the story African mothers took their children to foster homes just so that their children would have some white parents in their lives, no matter how bad the living conditions of those foster homes were. Is this practice still prevalent?
- Is the issue of white supremacy now a thing of the past?
- In the story when Vicky had been sick the doctors had come to the house to see him and Ada had quickly suspected that there was a catch, as doctors don’t make house calls in Nigeria where she was coming from. Do you agree that when a person gets accustomed to ill treatment, respect and love becomes received with the greatest suspicion?
- An uncomfortable pause followed, during which Adah seemed to be weighing up her freedom. After all, she earned the money in the family: How well does this statement portray the fear held generally by men when their wives become the breadwinner of the home?
- Did all the men read this statement in the book and popularise it?
- Or could it be a general statement made by anyone who is the breadwinner of a home?
- Is it ok for a wife to throw this in the face of her husband?
In all, Second class citizen was a good read with many expositions about red flags to look out for before marriage. In my opinion I believe that Adah indulged her husband a lot. She gave him the opportunity to treat her badly. Because of her upbringing she had been so used to being strong and independent that she allowed him lazy about while she worked and provided for the family.
Where to purchase? Amazon.