Discuss the theme of tradition vs. modernity in relation to characters in Ba's So Long a Letter.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that the theme of tradition vs. modernity is present throughout Ba's work.  Yet, it seems to be most effectively used when looking at the characters who represent the struggle to find happiness, poised at different ends of the spectrum.  In this case, the condition of women is representative of this theme.  When looking at Moudou's choices and how the institution of marriage empowers him over his wives, the women in his life embody tradition and modernity.  Interestingly enough, Ba's work represents the theme in a unique way in that characters intricately represent both aspects of time in a simultaneous manner.  Ramatoulaye, his first wife, represents the traditional aspect of marriage.  She is his first wife, and must abide by his choices according to Senegalese tradition.  She has little recourse when he chooses another woman, Binetou, as a second wife.  Within this traditional framework, though, Ramatoulaye ends up understanding that tradition does not work when it seeks to oppress and deny voice.  Through this, modernity through the form of self empowerment begins to become apparent in her life.  At the same time, Binetou can be seen as a modern representation.  She enjoys spending her husband's money, and likes it spent on materialist ends such as cars and nightclub.  A vision of modernity, Binetou is also trapped by the condition of tradition.  She is a second wife, and when Moudou dies, she experiences the traditional aspect of how identity is difficult when it is tied into another.  No matter how modern she might want to appear, Binetou capitulates to the traditional condition of unhappiness for a woman that is left with few options to find and reclaim her own identity in the shadow of a man.

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