So Long a Letter - Mariama Ba
Major Issues: Traditionalism vs. Modernity
Inequality: Gender & Class
Pages 1 - 25 Delores H. & Amanda G.
I. Introduction: “A pioneer of women‟s rights, she became involved in several Senegalese
women‟s organizations. Her commitment to eradicating inequalities between men and women in
Africa led her to write So Long a Letter. (The battle to end gender equality was led by well-
educated women from the elite class).
II. Time Period: “It was the privilege of our generation to be the link between two periods in history,
one of domination, the other of independence. We remained young and efficient, for we were the
messengers of a new design. With independence achieved, we witnessed the birth of a republic,
the birth of an anthem and the implantation of a flag.
III. Education: Ramatoulaye and Aissatou are educated women who promote gender equality.
“Because, being the first pioneers of the promotion of African women, there were few
of us. Men would call us scatter-brained. Others labeled us devils. But many
wanted to possess us. How many dreams did we nourish hopelessly that could
have been fulfilled as lasting happiness and that we abandoned to embrace others,
those that have burst miserably like soap bubbles, leaving us empty-handed?”
Regret, bitterness at having abandoned personal dreams for men who
subsequently abandoned them.
Ramatoulaye, a teacher, believes in the value of education and that it should be
accessible to all.
“But what about your younger brothers? Their steps were directed towards the white man‟s school. Hard
is the climb up the steep hill of knowledge to the white man‟s school: kindergarten remains a luxury that
only those who are financially sound can offer their young ones. Yet it is necessary, for this is what
sharpens and channels the young ones‟ attention and sensibilities.”
Ramatoulaye recognizes the need for progress/modernity, but is also aware that is not without limitations
of its own.
“Should we have been happy at the desertion of the forges, the workshops, the shoemaker‟s shops?
Should we have rejoiced so wholeheartedly? Were we not beginning to witness the disappearance of an
elite of traditional manual workers?”
“Eternal questions of our eternal debates. We all agreed that much dismantling was needed to introduce
modernity within our traditions. Torn between the past and present, we deplored the “hard sweat” that
would be inevitable. We counted the possible losses. But we knew that nothing would be as before. We
were full of nostalgia but were resolutely progressive.”
Ramatoulaye and her friend Aissatou both shunned traditional marriages. They both made their own
choices regarding husbands. These choices were not without consequences. Eventually both their
husbands returned to the traditional practice of polygamy and took second wives. The women each react
differently to the betrayals.
“Thus, free from frustrating taboos and capable now of discernment, why should I follow my mother‟s
finger pointing at Daouda Dieng, still a bachelor but too mature for my eighteen years.”
“But I preferred the man in the eternal khaki suit. Our marriage was celebrated without dowry, without
pomp, under the disapproving looks of my father, before the painful indignation of my frustrated mother,
under the sarcasm of my surprised sisters, in our town struck dumb with astonishment.”
Then later, after her husband abandoned her and took a second wife;
“I no longer scorn my mother‟s reserve concerning you, for a mother can instinctively feel where her
child‟s happiness lies. I no longer laugh when I think that she found you too handsome, too polished, too
perfect for a man. She often spoke of the wide gap between you two upper incisors: the sign of the
primacy of sensuality in the individual. What didn‟t she do, from then on, to separate us?”
Ramatoulaye stays in her empty marriage whereas, Aissatou divorces her husband and succeeds on her
V. The Traditional Practice of Polygamy and it’s inherent inequalities regarding women
During Modou’s funeral:
“This is the moment dreaded by every Senegalese woman, the moment when she sacrifices her
possessions as gifts to her family-in-law; worse still, beyond her possessions she gives up her
personality, her dignity, becoming a thing in the service of the man who has married her, his grandfather,
his grandmother, his father, his mother, his brother, his sister, his uncle, his aunt, his male and female
cousins, his friends. Her behaviour is conditioned: no sister-in-law will touch the head of any wife who
has been stingy, unfaithful or inhospitable.”
“Our sister-in-law give equal consideration to thirty years and five years of married life. With the same
ease and the same words, they celebrate twelve maternities and three. I note with outrage this desire to
level out, in which Modou‟s new mother-in-law rejoices.”
“The presence of my co-wife irritates me. She has been installed in my house for the funeral, in
accordance with tradition.”
“Thus our family-in-law take away with them a wad of notes, painstaking topped, and leave us utterly
destitute, we who will need material support.”
Referring to the house Modou shared with Binetou:
“This house and its chic contents were acquired by a bank loan granted on the mortage of „Villa Fallene‟
where I live. Although the title deeds of this house bear his name, it is nonetheless our common property,
acquired by our joint savings. Insult upon injury!”
Giving voice to her despair and bitterness:
“And to think that I loved this man passionately, to think that I gave him 30 years of my life, to think that
twelve times over I carried his child. The addition of a rival to my life was not enough for him. In loving
someone else, he burned his past, both morally and materially. He dared to commit such an act of
Main Issues for
Colonialists-[pg 24] through newspapers, dress, labor laws, and union rules
Families-[pg 47] retain family values and culture through oral education.
“virtues and greatness of a race took root.”
Names and nobility-[pg 26] following old beliefs, carrying on old traditions , [pg 28] nobel
descent, how could one marry a „goldsmith‟s daughter‟
Culture Lines-[pg 42] geographically.
Mawdo‟s mother seeking revenge for taking her only son in marriage, for she is a
Between co-wives--Aissatou of Naudo, and Ramatoulaye of Bineton, and vice versa
Believe faith is rewarded, praying in times of need, [pg 46] beliefs support her decision to stay
with her husband.
Honor and blood law [pg 28]
Nabou-[pg 29] primary to secondary to Midwife, in order to make a good wife.
“a woman does not need too much education.”
Aissatou and Ramatoulaye-[pg 32] knowledge from books
Oral Education-[pg 47] in families
Class Lines-[pg 30] marrying up or down
Multiple wives-[pg 31]
“a line between heartfelt love and physical love.”
Ramatoulaye-[pg 45] stays in marriage for fear of depression or falling apart.
Courage of women-[pg 32] Aissatou takes her life in her own hands.
Benefits of staying or leaving-[pg 40] questions leaving her husband, [pg 49] should she
deny herself because of Modou‟s weakness?
Beauty = Youth--
Ramatoulaye-[pg 41] “youth has deserted my body”
Modou-[pg 48] becomes old because of Binetou‟s beauty, [pg 50] yet is happy with it.
Binetou-[pg 50] has success because of her beauty.