Chapter 2 Summary of Second Class Citizen

This Chapter 2 Summary of Second Class Citizen is key to any serious preparation for an exam involving this novel by the Nigerian author, Buchi Emechata.

The reason is simply this. Chapter 2 of Second Class Citizen is arguably the only place where so much of what is important in the novel is said at the same time.

Beginning with Pa’s sudden death (and later, a passing reference to Ma’s death as well), Chapter Two recounts all the events that serve as stumbling blocks in Adah’s way in her desire to achieve her dream.

But, happily, Chapter 2 of Second Class Citizen ends with Adah finally leaving the shores of Lagos. She is on her dream journey to the United Kingdom.

What you will find in this post

You will find in my Chapter 2 summary of Second Class Citizen, therefore, the following highlights.

  • The death of Pa and its consequences (effects) for Adah and her family
  • The role of the abiding image of The Presence
  • Unjustified punishment Adah receives at school
  • Adah’s stealing of the two shillings
  • Adah’s brilliant performance in the Methodist Girls School entrance examination
  • Marriage to Francis Obi
  • How Adah landed her prestigious, high-paying first job ever
  • Adah, the family bread-winner
  • The birth of Adah’s first two children
  • The death of Ma – she dies at 38 at the time Adah is in hospital having Titi, her first child
  • Francis’ departure for England (the United Kingdom)
  • Adah’s display of sheer courage, ingenuity, resourcefulness and determination to realize her ambition
  • Adah’s departure to the United Kingdom
  • A look at the title of Chapter Two: Escape to Elitism

PLEASE NOTE: I’ve deliberately provided some extra detail and commentary on each one of the incidents in Chapter Two. The objective for doing so is to help you easily write a good essay on a question which makes specific reference to any one of them. As you can see, we’re trying to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.

Now let’s have the Chapter 2 summary of Second Class Citizen.

Pa passes away.

The first major incident in Chapter 2 of Second Class Citizen is the death of Pa, Adah’s father. He dies suddenly after spending a brief period of time at the hospital. He leaves behind the 9-year old Adah, Ma – her mother and her younger brother, Boy.

Pa’s death has far-reaching consequences for Adah, Ma, and for Boy, her younger brother. Here is a quick list of the ways Pa’s death has adversely affected his wife and children.

  • For one thing, the family has broken apart.

Ma is forced, by tradition, to marry Pa’s brother.

Adah must go to live with Ma’s autocratic brother at Pike Street

As for Boy, he is sent to live with one of Pa’s cousins

  • The lives of these three people have changed for the worse.

To begin with, Ma’s new marriage turns out to be a nightmare for her. And the young, naive Adah, is not happy with her mother for marrying again. She sees it as a betrayal of her father.

Secondly, from this moment, Adah becomes a servant in a loveless household. She has to do all manner of back-breaking household chores while the rest of her uncle’s household looks on.

To make matters worse, Adah is not allowed to continue attending the prestigious Ladi-Lak school. Her uncle cannot afford the fees. So she has to settle for a dirty and noisy school.

Thus, Pa’s death is portrayed as the first major incident that would threaten to derail Adah’s plans to get a good education that would enable her to achieve her dream of travelling to the United Kingdom.


  1. How has Pa’s death contributed to the development of the plot of Second Class Citizen?
  2. Examine the effects of Pa’s death on his family?

“The Presence” and its significance

A second major development that cannot escape a mention in this Chapter 2 summary of Second Class Citizen is the frequent references to “The Presence”.

“The Presence” represents the embodiment (image) of a somewhat supernatural force pushing Adah’s dreams. So strong is her desire to achieve her ambition that the dream has transformed itself into an image whose “presence” Adah can feel before her all the time.

Sometimes, this image or force even speaks to her. In fact, The Presence“overawes” her.

Thus, Adah is possessed by a dream that has taken a form and power that she cannot control but must obey. The Presence has assumed the role of being an ever-present companion – encouraging her to take decisive action and, occasionally, landing her in serious trouble.

All her actions in Chapter 2 of Second Class Citizen, including the mischievous ones, are presented as Adah’s way of involuntarily moving according to the dictates of The Presence (the powerful force behind her dreams).

The Presence is responsible for the two severe corporal punishments Adah receives in this chapter.

This takes us to the next two important incidents in this summary of Chapter 2 of Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen.




Wrongful punishment at school

The Presence we referred to a moment ago, is the reason behind the unjustified first severe corporal punishment Adah has to suffer at the hands of a man.

In this particular case, all Adah has done is to smile at the image of The Presence smiling and speaking to her:

The smile of the Presence became wide as the headmaster of Adah’s school announced the lists of available secondary schools which the children could apply for. “You are going, you must go and to one of the very best schools; not only are you going, you’re going to do well there.” Adah heard the Presence telling her. She heard it so much that she started to smile.

The headmaster accuses her of laughing at him. He asks some tough boys to hold Adah while he canes her mercilessly. Adah, as usual, would not cry,

Instead, as a way of relieving the pain, she digs her teeth deep into the flesh on the back of Latifu, one of the boys “backing her up”. She earns the nickname, “Igbo Tigress” for this behaviour.

Adah steals two shillings and receives another severe beating

Adah has always been a determined, mischievous girl who would stop at nothing to keep moving in the direction of her dream. The punishment Adah gets from her cousin Vincent for hiding the two shillings is severe and the effects on her mind, long-lasting.

It is the second severe beating she has to endure from yet another man.

Like the school one, this punishment, too, is unlike the lenient punishment she got from Pa for running away to school and making Ma suffer the garri-drinking ordeal at the police station.

And, it is becoming clear that the men in her society, apart from her late Pa, derive great satisfaction from inflicting physical pain on defenceless girls like Adah.

It happens at the time Adah is looking for money to pay for registration for the entrance examination to the Methodist Girls School.

When Adah is given two shillings to buy a pound of teak from the Sand Ground market, she sees it as a god-sent opportunity. She justifies her stealing of the money with something she believes to be in the Bible which admonishes one to be as clever as a serpent and as harmless as a dove.

Then the image of the Presence appears again.

As usual, it smiles at her, encouraging her to take the money. So Adah digs a hole in the ground and puts the money inside it. She then returns home crying loudly pretending to have lost the money.

Cousin Vincent, will have none of it. He gives Adah 103 lashes of the koboko cane, spanning a period of more than two hours. Thereafter, Adah, who stubbornly refused to cry through it all, always prays to God to let evil befall Vincent for giving her this severe beating.

The entrance examination to Methodist Girls School

So Adah is able to register and sit for the entrance exam. And she performs brilliantly.

In fact, she happens to be among the top three best candidates among over 947 candidates.

With this sterling performance, Adah wins a full scholarship to attend the Methodist Girls School without any financial or moral input from her people. This single-handed achievement on her part marks one more milestone in Adah’s stubborn pursuit of her dream.

Marriage to Francis Obi

In her own words, Adah’s marriage to Francis is purely out of necessity other than anything else. It is a marriage of convenience that defies all the conventions of Igbo traditional marriage.

Here are the key takeaways from Francis and Adah’s wedding ceremony

  • Adah, from the age of eleven, begins to come under pressure to accept a suitor to marry her.
  • Her people think she’s had enough education to leave school and marry.
  • They want her to get out of school so she can help take care of Ma and Boy’s education. In fact, Ma is insisting on taking a very high bride price.
  • So they want to force Adah to marry “an old baldie”.
  • Many “old baldies” (very old bald-headed men) come along but Adah stubbornly refuses to accept any one of them for a husband. In her view, they are as old and as big as her late father.
  • Two mischievous ways Adah succeeds in discouraging these old men from pestering her are the following.

She would burst into native songs about bad old baldies as soon as they enter the house.

She would go to the back of the house and burst their bicycle tyres

  • Thus Adah refuses to bow to pressure and ends up gaining a scholarship to attend the Methodist Girls school.

On completing her secondary school course, Adah is concerned that unless she could find someone she prefers to marry she would be forced to marry someone she doesn’t like. And that could be the end of her dreams.

But in Lagos, too, teenage girls are not allowed to live by themselves. So this is how Francis, a boyish, poor and naive accounting student comes into the picture. Adah simply sees Francis as the right answer to her dilemma.

Reasons Adah is satisfied to marry Francis are:

  • Francis is not an old bald-headed man
  • He is not a made man but he shows the signs of having a promising future ahead of him
  • With someone like him as her husband, she could go on studying at her own pace
  • Francis is too poor to pay the high bride price. Adah sees this as an opportunity to spite her people. She cannot understand why despite having made no contribution to her education, they still have the effrontery to demand as much as 500 pounds as the bride price claiming Adah has high value because she is “college trained”.

Hilarious wedding ceremony

The wedding itself, when it finally happens is a rather peculiar affair with many elements of humour. Just take a look.

  • Both the bride and groom are underage.
  • It takes place at “the register office”
  • The appearance of the official in charge is described as skinny; wearing a black bow tie.
  • There is only one witness at the whole ceremony – Francis’s mother.
  • And she has to sign the papers with her thumb.
  • Adah’s people fail to show up because they are unhappy with Adah for choosing to marry a man who is unable to pay her bride price.
  • The would-be couple forgot to bring a wedding ring. In fact, they haven’t bought one.
  • Adah suggests that they should use “a piece of string” instead and have it done with. She justifies the rather unusual suggestion with the reason that Ebute-Metta, the place where they can get the ring to buy is too far away.
  • The skinny official insists there can be no wedding without a ring. So the event is postponed to the next day.
  • Adah has no white wedding dress to wear. She hates them, anyway.
  • The newlyweds go home without riding in a bus.

Rather than being a happy occasion for Adah, the wedding day is said to be the saddest day in her life. And the sadness continues for months until two important events come to lift up her spirit.

This brings us to the next major incident in this Chapter 2 summary of Second Class Citizen.



Adah gets her first ever high-paying job

A short time after the wedding, Adah lands a job as a librarian at the American Consulate Library. The workplace is located at a place called Campbell Street.

Her pay is 3x (three times) that of Francis’s, her young husband. Francis wastes no time in expressing concern over the size of Adah’s paycheck.

And, like in many other cases, Francis is at a loss as to what to do. He has to consult his father for advice. It is only when his father reassures him that Adah’s high salary is a blessing to their family that he becomes as cheerful “as a schoolboy”.

The day of the receipt of Adah’s first salary is itself another humorous occasion.

Francis has to sacrifice his own work to serve as a bodyguard for Adah and her pay. He takes over control of the money immediately after it has been cashed and holds it tightly to his chest lest a bad person steals it.

Francis and his father begin to speak and act as if they are the ones who earned the money. And this is how it has been with all of Adah’s salaries.

Adah the breadwinner

Henceforth, Adah becomes the sole breadwinner of the family of her in-laws. In return, she is treated with respect (particularly by her father-in-law) for being the goose that lays the golden egg.

Even when Adah tells Francis of her childhood dream to visit the United Kingdom, it is Francis who eventually has the opportunity to go first – on the back of Adah’s salary and sacrifices.

For Adah herself, overnight, she experiences a dramatic transformation in her financial and social status. She can afford anything she wants, including househelps. This is when she begins to consider herself a first-class citizen in Nigeria.

The births of babies Titi and Vicky

Adah gives birth to two babies in quick succession. So quick is Adah to get pregnant after sleeping with her husband that she earns the nickname, “touch not”.

It is while Adah is having Titi (a girl) at the hospital that Ma, her mother passes away at the age of 38.

Titi was born when Francis was still in Nigeria. Vicky’s birth, on the other hand, takes place sometime after Francis’ departure for his accountancy studies in the United Kingdom.

Vicky is a boy.

Francis’s departure for England (United Kingdom)

Then comes the day everyone has been waiting for. Francis is now travelling (by air) to England to continue his studies in Accountancy. All thanks to the proceeds from Adah’s high-paying job.

Interestingly, contrary to the conventional practice of one’s loved ones crying, willy-nilly, when one is about to travel abroad, Adah cannot bring herself to cry for Francis. This makes Francis and his people feel disappointed.

It is only when the doors of the aeroplane are shut (reminding Adah of the way Pa’s body was sent away to be buried in a coffin that had been securely nailed) that she begins to howl – as usual.

Also, at this time Adah is carrying their second child in her womb. Still, she has to shoulder the responsibility of taking care of Francis’ expenses in faraway London as well as those of her in-laws at home.

Adah’s Departure to the United Kingdom

We are coming to the end of our Chapter 2 Summary of Second Class Citizen.

Adah’s display of sheer courage, ingenuity, resourcefulness, and determination just to realize her ambition finally pays off at the end of Chapter 2 of Buchi Emecheta’s novel, Second Class Citizen.

Below are the highlights of the events leading to Adah’s departure to the United Kingdom.

It all begins to unfold when Francis sends a letter that he wants Adah to join him in England.

First, she convinces Francis’ mother that her joining Francis abroad will bring everybody more financial and material benefits.

Think of it, Ma – Francis in his big American car and I in my small one coming to visit you and Pa when you retire. You’ll be the envy of all your friends. Mind you, in England, I’ll work and still send you money. All you have to do is ask, and then you’ll get whatever you want. All the girls will go to secondary school. I’ve almost finished reading for librarianship, All I have to do is to work, look after Francis and attend classes in the evening. And when I come back. I shall earn more than double what I’m earning now.”

Next, Adah turns to her father-in-law and manages to make him agree to the idea, albeit reluctantly.

Boy and Adah say good-bye

Here are the rest of the events that finally see Adah leave the shores of Lagos for the UK.

  • She plans to travel by boat. The boat is called the Oriel.
  • Adah pays for a first-class passage for herself and her two children – Titi and Vicky.
  • Boy (Adah’s brother) is present at the dockyard – wearing a dress that appears to be much bigger than his size- to bid Adah an emotional goodbye.
  • Boy sheds tears for his sister’s departure. Now he is all alone – Pa is dead; so also is Ma. And now, Adah his only surviving relative is also travelling overseas.

This time, Adah cannot stop her own tears from flowing.

She cried too, this time not a howl, not an empty show, but tears of real sorrow at the thought of leaving the land of her birth. The land where Pa was buried and where Ma lay, quiet forever. Only she and Boy remained of that life which she had known. It was never going to be the same again. Things were bound to change, for better or for worse, but they would never be the same.

As the Oriel moves away, this one thought goes through Adah’s mind. She will make sure her children attend English schools and possibly English universities.

Surely, contrary to what she made her mother-in-law believe, Adah is going to stay for a long, long time. She hasn’t forgotten her childhood mantra: One must “be as cunning as a serpent and as harmless as a dove”.

Shall we now end our summary of Chapter 2 of Second Class Citizen with a brief look at the title of this chapter?

Chapter 2 Summary of Second Class Citizen PDF
Chapter 2 Summary of Second Class Citizen PDF

Download the PDF version of Chapter 2 summary of Second Class Citizen for offline use.

Published: July 11, 2022

Why the title Escape into Elitism

There are two important events in this chapter that we can link to the idea of elitism. One is Adah’s landing a high-paying job at the American Consulate Library. The other is the departure of her young family to the United Kingdom.

With the coming of the job and its relatively high salary, Adah has been able to climb to the top of the social ladder overnight. She has no need to steal two shillings to cater to her needs anymore.

Not only has she now had people to act as servants in her household but also, she has become a celebrity in the family. Without her, nothing works.

Adah is practically the breadwinner for everybody else including her husband, Francis, his parents and siblings. This is why she considers her status at this stage in her life as first-class.

The only ironic twist to all this is that it is still the males that must decide how Adah’s money is spent.

Secondly, Adah’s escape into elitism appears to have come full circle when she leaves Lagos for life in the United Kingdom.

But again, ironically, she gets there only to realize that she is not going to enjoy the high-class status she has now become used to. As Francis, her husband tells her, in England, she must learn to live with a second class citizen status.

So, yes, Adah has, by virtue of her education, been able to move into the class of the elite. But it is not as real as it sounds.

Given all the disappointments that she has to grapple with in London, Adah’s escape appears to be a superficial one.

In fact, there are times when she regrets making the journey to come to England.

More possible questions

  • Comment on the title of Chapter Two of Second Class Citizen.
  • Why is Chapter Two of Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen titled “Escape into Elitism”?
  • Examine the character of Adah as a girl full of mischief.
  • Discuss the role of the Presence in Second Class Citizen.
  • What cultural attitudes toward the female gender are revealed in Second Class Citizen?
  • Consider Adah as a resourceful individual.
  • Comment on the theme of corporal punishment in Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen.
  • How has Adah been able to achieve her dream in the novel?
  • Discuss the significance of Pa’s death in Second Class Citizen
  • Highlight the writer’s use of humour in the novel Second Class Citizen
  • Describe the incident during the wedding ceremony between Addah and Francis.
  • Comment on the position of women in the society portrayed in Second Class Citizen.
  • Assess the character and role of Boy in the novel.
  • What are your impressions of Francis in Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen?
  • Discuss the significance of the bride price in Igbo society.
  • Compare and contrast the characters of Pa, Adah’s father and Pa, Adah’s father-in-law.
  • Comment on the significance of Addah’s experiences in her uncle’s house.

Next steps

So what must you be doing while you move to a summary of Chapter 3 of Second Class Citizen?

Here is my suggestion.

Take your pen and paper and write essays on as many of the above questions on Chapter 2 summary of the novel.

Please, if you’re a teacher, make your students do the same. The practice you engage yourself in here might turn out to be enough for you to perform well in the examination.

Thank you!

Did you find this information helpful? Then share it on your favourite social media platform for the benefit of others you care about. Thank you!

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Ralph Nyadzi is the Director of Studies at Cegast Academy. He is a qualified English tutor with decades of experience behind him. Since 2001, he has successfully coached thousands of High School General Arts WASSCE candidates in English, Literature and related subjects. He combines his expertise with a passion for lifelong learning to guide learners from varying backgrounds to achieve their educational goals. Ralph shares lessons from his blogging journey on BloggingtotheMax. He lives with River, his pet cat, in the Central Region of Ghana.

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