Religion in Second Class Citizen

The concept of religion in Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen is interesting. Adah discusses religion throughout the novel. She sometimes discusses the goddesses of her traditional Igbo religion, and at other times, she talks about Jesus. It seems Adah believes, or at least wants to believe, in something, she just is not sure what. I think this confusion has to do with the colonizers and the religion they brought with them. I believe the influence of the colonizers and their religion mixed with traditional African religious concepts for Adah. I also believe Adah’s religious experience could be exemplary of the religious experience of post-colonial Africa as a whole, stuck between two cultures—their traditional one and British culture.

I think this conflict functions in Second Class Citizen in two important ways. First, in Adah’s understanding of Britain and the British culture, and secondly, in Adah’s view of Jesus and herself. Adah’s understanding of England before she moves there comes from, I assume, the stories she has heard from the colonizers and the “been-to” Africans. She idealizes England. Once she gets there she sees the country for what it truly is and realizes the error she made. Adah’s conception of England, as a better place than Nigeria, is probably a result of the presence of the colonizers in Nigeria. They brought their culture and presented it as better, or civilized. Adah accepts this premise and choses British culture over her traditional culture.

In accepting the culture of the colonizers and idealizing England, Adah also adopts the religion of the colonizers. She accepts it so much that she begins to see herself as a sort of messiah figure. Several times in the course of this novel, Adah compares herself to Jesus. This is interesting for so many reasons. First of all, it is almost an appropriation of the British culture for her own purposes. This seems fair, in some way, considering what Britain did with the cultures of the countries it colonized. Adah, when she arrives in England, comments that if she “had been Jesus, he would pass England by” (Emecheta 36). If I understand correctly, Adah’s idea of Jesus came from England, so this seems slightly Ironic. I think Emecheta could have several motives for this use of religion in Second Class Citizen. I wonder if one might be pointing out flaws she sees in religion. Despite this, I see a strong emphasis on the importance of some sort of faith. So, maybe it is more to point out the damage colonization did as far as culture goes, especially since Adah seems lost and without a true culture of her own in England.



Adah’s Connection to Mother Nature in Second Class Citizen–Meghan

Surprise! I’m going to talk about nature and apply a little bit of ecofeminism.

While reading Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen, a specific passage stood out to me about Adah’s relationship to Mother Nature:

She wished the Presence was still with her to give her a clue but it seemed to have deserted her when she landed in England. Was the Presence her instinct? It had been very active in Nigeria. Was that because in Nigeria she was nearer to Mother Nature? She only wished somebody would tell her where she had gone wrong. (55)

There are a quite a few interesting things going on in this passage.

Thinking back to our discussion about “what is civilization” and “what it means to be civilized” in class on Thursday, I think it is very significant that Adah’s “Presence” leaves her upon her arrival to England. If Adah’s Presence is indeed her instinct, the idea of civilization and the departure of instinct is really interesting. A quick Google definition of “instinct” says “an innate, typically fixed pattern of behavior in animals in response to certain stimuli.” Thus, instinct is associated with the animal kingdom rather than humanity. This could then imply that Adah has animalistic qualities/instincts that are not common among the “civilized” person. However, once Adah arrives in England, her instinct leaves her because she enters a civilized sphere in which her instinct is looked down upon. I think this is especially interesting because Adah is a women and the men in the novel are never described as having instincts (they are only described with physical animalistic qualities). Women are often associated with emotions and instinct. This might be a stretch, but perhaps this could mean that civilization or being civilized takes away from a woman’s identity as a woman. If a woman is stripped of her instinct and nature, she is no longer a complete version of herself.

Could this mean that the more “civilized” a person becomes, the further the person gets away from their natural instincts? It seems as though civilization makes instinct an unacceptable characteristic. Since civilization implies education, command of language, common law,etc., it appears as though instinct would not be considered an important part of such civilization. In order to be civilized, a person must be able to participate in society by abiding by the rules and maintaining socially acceptable behavior. This problematizes instinct because instinct is natural inclinations to behave in specific ways.

This reading of civilization and instinct supports the idea of England being civilized and Nigeria being uncivilized. If Nigeria is the place where Adah feels most comfortable being her whole self (instinct and all), than this implies that Nigeria is uncivilized. The use of Mother Nature in this passage is interesting because she can be present in one place and absent in another. Typically, Mother Nature is used as a general term to refer to nature and natural elements, which can be found everywhere. However, Mother Nature’s absence in England could imply there is nothing natural about England–perhaps because of industrialization and the “civilized” elements present in the novel.

The last sentence in this passage indicates that there is a problem with leaving Mother Nature. Adah wishes someone “would tell her where she had gone wrong.” It is interesting that she wishes someone, no specific person, would tell her what was wrong. Perhaps, the “someone” she is referring to is her Presence or Mother Nature. However, since both of these entities have left her upon her arrival into civilization, they cannot communicate to her that it was actually wrong to leave Nigeria and distance herself from her nature.

Overall, I think Adah has a connection to nature that becomes conflicted when she is required to act outside of her nature as second class citizen and as a woman being oppressed. Speaking of oppression, I think her instinct leaving her in England may also have to do with the fact that Francis obtains a more oppressive control over her in England. Not only does Adah feel disconnected from her nature, but Francis feels more controlling in civilization. As I said previously, women are more connected to nature because they act on emotions and instinct. In addition, men are closer to “civilization” because they are closer to “logic” and “rationality” (I’m not saying I necessarily agree with these things–men can be pretty silly and impulsive–but these are common conceptions among ecofeminist scholarship). Thus, because Adah is away from her natural environment and Francis is thriving in his new environment, he oppresses Adah through emotional and physical abuse. These are things that he would not have attempted to do in Nigeria because in Nigeria (being closer to Mother Nature) Adah had a “home field advantage.” By oppressing Adah, Francis is also oppressing Mother Nature because Adah is representative of nature.

Though there are many “brands” of ecofeminism, here is a cool video that presents many fundamental aspects of ecofeminism well: