Characterisation in Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen

We are going to discuss the characters in Second Class Citizen, such as Adah, Francis, Trudy, Dr. Bill, Mrs. Konard, Pa Noble, and Mr. Cole.

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Characterisation in Second Class Citizen
Characterisation in Second Class Citizen
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In literature, a character is a person in a narrative work of art such as a novel, a play, a television series, or a film. Characters guide readers through their stories, helping them to understand plots and ponder themes. In this blog post, we are going to discuss the characters in Second Class Citizen, such as Adah, Francis, Trudy, Dr. Bill, Mrs. Konard, Pa Noble, Mr. Okpara, and Mr. Cole.

Below are the characters and their roles in Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen.

Adah

Formerly Ofili and later Obi, Adah is presented to the readers as the leading character in Second Class Citizen. In all its ramifications, the plot or story line of the novel revolves around her life and her dislike for the gender discrimination often found in the culture of our people.

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She is smart, intelligent, and determined to study despite the fact that there is not much missed or will to have her educated, especially after the death of her father. She moves into a relative’s home, where she is kept as a ward-cum-slave. after a life of abject misery and exploitation.

Through hard work and proper self-motivation, Adah is able to win a scholarship in the highly competitive secondary school examination. She also secures a job as a librarian at the American Consulate in Lagos, a job that easily brings her the comfort of middle-class life.

During her experience as a librarian in Lagos, she agrees to marry Francis, because she thinks he will provide protection, support, and, above all, love. All these become contrary to her expectations. Instead, she becomes the breadwinner of the young and growing family with her job as a librarian.

Adah does not give up in the face of any struggle, from her childhood in Lagos to the event in England. She copes with being a black woman in a predominantly white society, learning about women’s rights during the 1970s, the fact that there is birth control available to her, and having to struggle to pursue her goal of becoming a writer.

One wonders, through her character, how one woman can put up with so much and yet be so strong, not only for herself but also for her children. She never gives up on them or on her dreams, not even when her first manuscript was burned by her husband, Francis.

It is pertinent to note that in Second Class Citizen, she has an individual fight with the patriarchal imperialism of her community. Adah’s wish to educate herself symbolically reflects her desire to have control of her life in her hands because knowledge is a symbol of power, and power is always exclusive to men in society.

Second Class Citizen

Francis Obi

Francis is one of the major characters in Second Class Citizen. He is a very quiet young man, studying to become an accountant by the time of his marriage to Adah. He is actually too poor to pay the bride-price of five hundred pounds Adah’s family asked for.

For the record, Francis is overpampered by his parents. His role in the novel as Adah’s immediate antagonist portrays him as a “selfish gold-digger.”  He had wanted to stop Adah from working at the American consulate library for fear of his wife earning more than him; he decides to go to England first when Adah will have to “send him twenty pounds every month, save her fare and that of the children, feed herself and the children while they were still in Lagos, and pay the rent and help in paying the school fees of Francis’ seven sisters.”

The author, Buchi Emecheta, presents Francis as one of the most unredeemable villains in African literature. In scenes that are too numerous to elaborate upon in the novel, Francis is shown to be self-centered, narrow-minded, cruel, and, in fact, downright venal. Instead of helping Adah develop the creative potential that she obviously has (and part of which she uses to support him), Francis only proves to be an obstacle on her route towards self-improvement.

He is correctly shown as an irresponsible parent, spouse, and student. He brutalises his wife, Adah, and deliberately tries to inject a feeling of inferiority into her. Francis calls women “brainless” and Adah’s work “rubbish.” In his view, a woman’s only job is to be a good mother. Adah is only a domestic animal for Francis, and she cannot be a writer, according to him.

Although, he is portrayed as an obnoxious bully, physically abusive towards his wife Adah, and cheating on her, it is clear that Adah does not entirely hate him. Like Adah says, “Francis was not a bad man, just a man who could no longer cope with the overly demanding society he found himself in” (p. 110).

The last straw that breaks the camel’s back is his burning of Adah’s manuscript for her intended novel, “The Bride Price,” which pushes Adah to seek a divorce.

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Trudy

Trudy is a plump woman with too much make-up slips and nails, as red as a scarlet; her hair is too black to be natural.

She is paid six pounds a week by Adah to look after her children while she works at Finchley Library, but she ends up disappointing Adah on too many occasions. First, Adah realises she lied to her about her milk supply; she meets Titi and Vicky, washing her hands and face with the water leaking from the toilet and pulling out of the bin, respectively.

The last time Adah rushed to the news of Vicky not being well, what she did not say or call Trudy were words she couldn’t remember. Adah even tells her about her love affairs with Francis and threatens to kill her if anything worse happens to Vicky.

Characterisation in Second Class Citizen
Characterisation in Second Class Citizen

Trudy’s character makes Adah give up one of the myths she had been brought up to believe: “that the white never lies.” She discovers that the whites are just as fallible as everyone else. There are bad whites and good whites, so Adah wonders why they claim to be superior. Trudy leaves Maiden Road for Camden Town because she is scared of Adah’s threat if Vicky should die.

Dr. Bill

Dr. Bill is the character who not only encourages Adah to read several African and other literary works, but who also literally guides her on the part of becoming a writer.

He is one of Adah’s colleagues and friends at the Chalk Farm Library. Not surprisingly, the narrator remarks that “Bill was the first real friend Adah had had outside her family” (p. 167). He reads Adah’s manuscript, putting aside her initial fear that they will laugh at her. He takes it seriously, advising her to show it to somebody in a publishing firm. Bill affirms Adah’s fulfilment in finishing the novel, thus:

But that is how writers feel. Their work is their brainchild. This is your brainchild; you are the only one in this whole world who could have produced that particular work, no one else could. If they tried, it would just be an imitation. Books tell a great deal about the writers. It is like your own particular child.

Second Class Citizen

Dr. Bill is the backbone on which Adah’s hope for success in publishing her book rests, as he even promises to show it to somebody.

Mrs. Konard

Mrs. Konard is a very friendly Czech woman with wide hips, a wide waist and a face like a flattened ‘O.’ She always smiles, and this displays her creamy, even teeth. She is Adah’s superior at Finchley Library as the Chief Librarian.

She is a sort of encouragement to Adah, both on and off work. She sent her, her maternity allowance when “Bubu” was born, and she also sent a parcel of toys for Adah’s children during Christmas. Mrs. Konard and the other girls at Finchley created a conducive working atmosphere for Adah amidst the great discrimination.

Pa Noble

Pa Noble is an old man with a hairless head who becomes Francis and Adah’s miracle after their eviction from Ash Town Street. He represents the group of Nigerians and Africans who abandoned their jobs and high positions as civil servants back home for an education in the United Kingdom and, at their failure, consoled themselves by marrying white women. He is the husband of Mrs. Noble. He introduces Adah to “Never Never” as a means of escape from not having cash at hand to buy stuff for Christmas.

Mr. Okpara

Mr. Okpara is the Nigerian who approaches Adah on the street, gives her advice about her family, and even follows Adah to her home to talk to Francis. However, Francis walks out of the room and tells him to go and mind his business and his own family.

But before he leaves, he advises Francis to get a job and move his studies to evening sessions so as to earn his children’s respect in the future.

Mr. Cole

Mr. Cole is one of the earliest characters in Second Class Citizen. He is Adah’s school teacher. Adah, for the first time, started school in his class.

Mr. Cole is kind, loving, and humane, and his presence is always reassuring. He is instrumental to Adah’s early success and acclimatisation in school. In other words, he is Adah’s childhood redeemer.

Mr. Cole is a handsome, huge young African and a real black man. “His blackness shone like polished black leather.” He smiles at Adah every time he passes on his way to school.

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