So Long a Letter

Title: So Long a Letter

Author: Mariama Bâ

Publication Date: 1979

Genre: Epistolary Novel

Page Length: Approximately 90 pages


So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ is an epistolary novel that explores the lives of two Muslim women living in Senegal, Ramatoulaye and Aissatou. Through a series of letters, Ramatoulaye, the protagonist, narrates the challenges she faces as a widow in a patriarchal society and the complexities of female friendship. Addressing various themes such as love, religion, tradition, and feminism, the novel offers readers a poignant account of the strength, resilience, and determination of women in the face of adversity.

Section 1:
The novel commences with Ramatoulaye writing a letter to her longtime friend, Aissatou, following the death of her husband, Modou. She recounts the traditional mourning period and the condolences received from family and friends. Ramatoulaye reflects on her marriage, expressing her disappointment and pain upon discovering her husband’s decision to take a second wife, much younger than herself. This event shattered her dreams, leaving her devastated and questioning the role of women in society.

Section 2:
Ramatoulaye continues her letter, revealing the struggles she faced as a single mother to twelve children. Despite the hardships, she shares her determination to provide a better life for her children and her commitment to education. Ramatoulaye reflects on her own education and the opportunities it brought, lamenting that many women in Senegal are denied such privileges due to societal expectations and cultural norms that value marriage over personal development.

Section 3:
In this section, Ramatoulaye celebrates her friend Aissatou’s rebellion against societal norms when her husband, Mawdo, demanded she become the co-wife to his new wife. Aissatou, unable to accept this fate, divorces Mawdo, thus preserving her independence and challenging the patriarchal system. Ramatoulaye admires Aissatou’s courage and strength, considering her a source of inspiration and a representation of hope for the liberation of women in their society.

Section 4:
Ramatoulaye shifts her focus to her children’s lives, sharing stories of their accomplishments and challenges. She expresses her pride in her daughter Daba, who becomes a successful doctor, and her son Tamsir, who stands up against the abuse inflicted upon women. Ramatoulaye notes that education has empowered her children to challenge the traditional gender roles and establish themselves as individuals beyond societal expectations.

Section 5:
In the final section, Ramatoulaye contemplates the role of religion in her life, acknowledging her faith as a source of solace. However, she criticizes the way religion is often used as a tool to oppress women, emphasizing that true spirituality should promote equality and justice for all. Ramatoulaye urges women to stand up for their rights, advocating for a more inclusive understanding of Islam that supports their freedom and autonomy.

1. Feminism: So Long a Letter explores the challenges faced by women in a patriarchal society, highlighting their strength, resilience, and desire for equality.
2. Friendship: The novel showcases the enduring bond between Ramatoulaye and Aissatou, emphasizing the support and empowerment that can be found in female friendships.
3. Tradition vs. Modernity: The clash between traditional societal norms and the evolving aspirations of women is a recurring theme, highlighting the need for societal change.
4. Education: The novel presents education as a tool for empowerment, enabling individuals to challenge societal expectations and pursue their dreams.

So Long a Letter is an important literary work that provides readers with valuable insights into the experiences of women in Senegal. By discussing the challenges faced by Ramatoulaye and Aissatou, Mariama Bâ shines a light on the wider issues of gender inequality and the need for women’s rights. This novel serves as a testament to the resilience and strength of women, opening up important conversations about social justice, cultural dynamics, and female empowerment.