So Long a Letter Themes

Themes

European vs. African Traditions
As critic John Champagne has pointed out, So Long a Letter is filled with descriptions of the culture clash apparent in 1970s Senegal. Besides the "hybridity" of the novel's form and content, Champagne argues that the novel "combines a European genre—the epistolary novel—with indigenous oral gestures'' and "presents us with a culture irrevocably altered by the colonial presence.’’ Thus, Champagne notes how "one might find in proximity both cowries and Fiats, boubous and night clubs, safara (as the glossary explains, 'liquid with supernatural powers') and electroshock therapy.'' While at times it seems as though Bâ favors Western ways over African traditions, Bâ mainly shows how both exist side by side. Ramatoulaye is distressed that her daughters have begun to smoke and to dress like Western women. She hopes that a Western type of feminism will not lead to moral dissolution: ‘‘A profligate life for a woman is incompatible with morality. What does one gain from pleasures? Early aging, debasement.’’ However, Ramatoulaye is also grateful to the white teacher who expanded her narrow horizons. Ramatoulaye rails against the injustice of polygamy, and seems to condemn Islam for allowing it. At the same time, she takes comfort in the rituals of Islam. Rather than seeing the enforced mourning time for widows as an inconvenience, she appreciates having time to reflect on her life. The novel does show how the position of women varies under a Western or a traditional Senegalese system of values. Traditionally, women gained power through family...

(The entire section is 657 words.)