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When the grass isn’t that green elsewhere

In Second Class Citizen, Buchi Emecheta underscores that not all immigrants live out success stories

By Khizer Asif |
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PUBLISHED April 17, 2022

Striving for a better life has always been a struggle for everyone, and we all go through different means to acquire such dreams. However, everyone also starts this struggle at different points, and normally they all follow a zeitgeist: money. When considering those born from affluence, there is an obvious disproportionate struggle between those who aren’t. Those outside of affluence encounter more issues and set-backs that wedge their dreams from becoming reality. Such issues like gender, nepotism, wealth and social-status, all prevent people from having the life they want. This is why for such individuals, it is not a matter of having a good life but instead a better life.

What is one solution when faced with such issues? Immigrate.

From dreams to tragedy

Second Class Citizen, by Buchi Emecheta, is a semi-autobiographical novel that follows the hardships of Adah, a Nigerian woman, and her dream of immigrating to the UK to further her education. A defining personality for Adah is her determination to achieve her dream of becoming a writer. Faced with misogyny, the undermining of her education, and breaking free from her dictatorial husband; Adah never let such problems hinder her aspirations to be a writer in England.

However, not all immigrants turn out as success stories, and as it is found in the book, immigrating does not protect from more issues that decide to appear. Such is the case of the tragedy, on December 3rd, that befell Priyantha Kumara with him being mobbed, killed, and burned. The 43-year-old Sri Lankan immigrant, an export manager for Rajco Industries in Sialkot, told his employees to remove propaganda placed in the factory. Refusing to remove the propaganda, Kumara removed it himself subsequently a mob ensued under the claim of blasphemy. The propaganda in question was a slogan of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and religious scriptures were added along with the party’s name. Kumara, with cuts, broken bones and bleeding bruises–died on the scene. Then the unrelenting mob set ablaze the body and recorded the whole defilement while chanting TLP’s slogans.

People who have no hold over their process of thinking are likely to be ruined by liberty of thought. If thought is immature, liberty of thought becomes a method of converting men into animals. (Iqbal)

Determination to a detriment

It is a zeitgeist, the way money runs the world and how it can propel people to heights they’ve never thought possible or prevent them from attaining peace or freedom. Immigrants face such issues as they come to a country to attain wealth to support their families and dreams. While countries pride themselves for the wealth they’ve attained and breaking promises to help, is a reality for most immigrants. Adah, who like others, came to the grim reality of immigrating. Her determination for pursuing her education could be seen as a sign of desperation where in her early years, was in need of money to pay for the school entrance exam, and had been given money to buy meat though instead decided on hiding it to pay for the exam. She tried her best to lie about the money, but her face gave it away and her cousin caned her and didn’t stop till she confessed where the money was–she didn’t break. The need for money became ever more prevalent when wanting to move to the UK. In her attempt, she marries Francis–still being a teenager–in a desperate attempt to secure the finance and thus securing her dream of living in the UK. The lack of money prevented her from a lot of things which could have snuffed out her dreams and future dreams.

What propels her towards education? And why the United Kingdom?

This attitude towards education can be likened to hunger, and her reason to immigrate to the UK can be interpreted as a malnutrition from the lack of support (more of a prevention) she receives as a woman in Ibuza, Nigeria. Like in Pakistan, a Nigerian woman is expected to follow strict standards in terms of what it means to be a woman. Adah belongs to the Igbo people, and it is their belief that sending a girl to school is considered a waste of time. Contrary to their approach on education for women, the Igbo people in the story, are described to put the greatest importance on education as they believe this is the most certain way to elevate wealth and social-status. This edification of men’s education is what sprouts Adah’s fascination with the UK. The arrival of Lawyer Nweze, whose sole purpose as a character was being an educated man, becomes the catalyst to the protagonist’s reason for why she pursues education and the UK. The grandiosity of Lawyer Nweze is best illustrated when the narrator says, “A Messiah specially created for the Ibuza people. A Messiah who would go into politics and fight for the rights of the people of Ibuza. A Messiah who would see to it that Ibuza would have electricity, that Ibuza would have a tarred road…”. It is also important to note how the book addresses Nweze, as “Lawyer Nweze”; which is treated as a title of equal importance to a king or a Messiah.

This normalisation of keeping women in the kitchen, taking care of the children, and subservient to men is what Betty Friedan calls “the problem with no name”. The quote questions the institutionalisation of society’s women and how they develop girls to only be housewives and caretakers regardless of the personal decisions of these women. Creating an identity issue, where the lack of freedom of expression and the right to choose one's own path is stripped away in Adah’s culture.

Emotional murders


“Murders take place when young people get emotional” (Defence Minister Pervez Khattak)

The argument that is normally brought up to explain the reason for these abhorrent rules is: that is how things always have been. This statement objectifies the notion of people’s lives being dictated by either their lack of power/influence they wield in order to live freely. The point of keeping old practises, like gender, religious and race inequalities, is what leads to the ruination of a nation. Second Class Citizen provides a look on how the lives of individuals with political/social representation or power and not providing such rights is a dismissal from the people in power; which can be categorised as fear will create a disastrous future. Francis exhibits this kind fear of losing power when he burns Adah’s manuscript. Burning her dreams is his way of preventing any remembrance of his failures. Francis’ insecurities and like comments from Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, take away individual power from those residing in Pakistan.

In Adah’s case it was upon her lacklustre arrival to England did she realise that the country she dreamt up was nothing like the reality that had appeared. The absence of oppression is the reason why Adah left her country however the same reasons she left also resides in the UK. Gender-inequality is also an issue in the country, and to her surprise the change in attitude from Francis from his foreign mannerism and abusive behaviour was all a slap in the face. The pervasiveness of racism and discrimination against blacks created a new issue she hadn’t encounterd. This new form of dehumanisation is accounted for in the story where it says, “She was now learning to suspect anything beautiful and pure. Those things were for the whites, not the blacks.” These social and political rules such as this, and other activities that are determined by a person/people's status in the community is not a society that is run at the benefit of its citizens.

Created by minorities

Immigrants like Priyantha Kumara and other minority groups are under threat, such with blasphemy claims. The blasphemy laws facilitate a free-hand for those who have ill-intentions to misuse the imbalance of rights–taking advantage of the minority’s vulnerability. Such tactics will only serve to hinder the progress of freedom and tarnish the effort that went into creating Pakistan. By using the power they’ve gained to oppress others just as they were before is a sign of hypocrisy for a country that once fought for independence from the fear of being a minority itself. Gaining the voice and power and serving those who don’t have the ability to use theirs is an important dynamic that will serve a country's future. For those powerless people to live freely, the first to fix any indifference in political rights, witness and admit the inequalities in a political system, and to expel any old beliefs that are a detriment to the future of our society.