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So Long a Letter

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Wikipedia article

'So Long a Letter' (translated from 'Une si longue lettre') is a semi-autobiographical[http://www.jstor.org/stable/4066403]"Rizwana Habib Latha, 'Feminisms in an African Context: Mariama B'a so Long a Letter.' 'Agenda' 50, African Feminisms One (2001), 23." novel originally written in French by the Senegalese writer Mariama B. Its theme is the condition of women in Western African society.

So Long a Letter, Mariama B's first novel, is literally written as a long letter. As the novel begins, Ramatoulaye Fall is beginning a letter to her lifelong friend Aissatou B. The occasion for writing is Ramatoulaye's recent widowhood. As she gives her friend the details of her husband's death, she recounts the major events in their lives.

Ramatoulaye's husband, Moudou Fall, died suddenly of a heart attack. Following the strictures of her Muslim faith, Ramatoulaye must remain in seclusion (Mirasse) for a period of forty days. Aissatou, to whom the letter is written, emigrated to the United States and pursued a feminist, monogamist relationship.

The novel is often used in literature classes focusing on women's roles in post-colonial Africa.


'Ramatoulaye': The widowed Senegalese woman who, after 25 years of marriage and 12 children, narrates the story of her psychological abandonment by her husband, who takes a second wife. Ramatoulaye physically distances herself from Modou who dies four years after this second marriage. Ramatoulaye turns down two other marriage proposals, including that of Daouda Dieng. She is well educated and teaches at a university. After her husband's second marriage, she must support her family, including her 12 children, since her husband cuts off family ties and financial support.

'Modou': The husband of Ramatoulaye and of Binetou. He was well educated, handsome, and charming. For his own selfish desires, he marries Binetou and cuts ties with his 12 children and first wife, Ramatoulaye. He later dies of a heart attack.

'Mawdo': Ex-husband of Assatou. After being pressured by his mother, Mawdo follows Muslim tradition of polygamy and marries a young girl named Nabou, who is also his first cousin. After his marriage with Nabou, Assatou (his first wife) divorces him. He is Modou's long-time friend and a doctor.

'Assatou': Ramatoulaye's best friend, to whom the letter is addressed. She divorced Mawdo because she did not believe in polygamy; she left him a letter explaining her actions and never returned. She takes care of herself well and bought Ramatoulaye a car, which made life much easier for Ramatoulaye. Her divorce is symbolic because it represents a new life for her. She later leaves Senegal with her four sons and moves to the United States to start over. She succeeds in making a new life for herself.

'Assatou': Ramatoulaye and Moudo's daughter, named after her best friend, the recipient of the " Long Letter". She enters into a relationship with a boy she calls "Iba," a poor student who impregnates her. They claim to love each other and plan their marriage after their studies. Since she is still a high school student, Iba's mother will take care of the child until she graduates.

'Ibrahima Sall': A student of law who impregnates Aissatou, Ramatoulaye's daughter. He is tall, respectful, well-dressed, and punctual. Assatou is his first and possibly only love, he says. He will marry Assatou if Ramatoulaye will allow it.

'Binetou': A young girl around Daba's age who marries her 'sugar daddy' (Modou) because her mother, who was poor, wanted to live the high life and climb the social ladder. Binetou became an outcast who never quite fit in with the younger couples or the mature adults.

'Daouda Dieng': Proposes to Ramatoulaya after her husband takes a second wife, but is turned down.

'Daba': Ramatoulaye's and Modou's daughter. She is married and the eldest child. She is disgusted by her father's choice to take a second wife.

'Arame, Yacine, and Dieynaba': Known as "the trio." They are Ramatoulaye's daughters. They smoke, drink, party, and wear pants instead of lady-like dresses. They represent the next modernized generation after liberation from France.

'Alioune and Malick': Ramatoulaye's young boys who play ball in the streets because they claim to have no space to play in a compound. They get hit by a motorcyclist that they drag home with the intention of having their mother avenge them. They are disappointed to find that Ramatoulaye does not get mad at the cyclist, but at the boys because they were careless to play in the streets.

'Ousmane and Oumar': Young sons of Ramatoulaye. They represent the idea that a father figure would be beneficial for Ramatoulaye's children since several of them are still so young. This does not, however, convince Ramatoulaye to marry Daouda Dieng.

'Farmata': The griot woman who is Ramatoulaye's neighbor and childhood friend. She noses into Ramatoulaye's business and is the one to point out Aissatou's pregnancy to Ramatoulaye. She represents a 'Spirit of Wisdom', but doesn't always give the best advice.

'Jaqueline Diack': Mother of Mawdo's child. She contrasts Ramatoulaye character because she commits to Islamic religion and becomes Mawdo's third wife.

'Little Nabou': Raised by Mawdo's grandmother, Grande Nabou. She is brought up under very traditional Muslim customs and becomes a midwife. She later marries Mawdo B to be his second wife. She is the niece of Grande Nabou and the first cousin of Mawdo B.

'Grande Nabou': Mawdo B's grandmother and influences him to marry Little Nabou. She dislikes Assatou since she comes from a working-class family and her father is a jewelry maker. Grande Nabou is a princess from a royal family in Senegal and is very conservative in her views and traditions.


Category:1981 novels

Category:Senegalese novels

Category:Novels set in Senegal

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