So Long a Letter

by Mariama Ba

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How is the bond of sisterhood portrayed in So Long a Letter?

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The bond of sisterhood is portrayed in the novel as something special that endures throughout life's many ups and downs. It is something that has joined Ramatoulaye and Aissatou together throughout their whole lives. As Ramatoulaye says, “We walked the same paths from adolescence to maturity, where the past begets the present.”

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The bond of sisterhood is undoubtedly the most important element in So Long a Letter. It is the golden thread that runs right throughout the story, the unbreakable connection that gives Ramatoulaye and Aissatou the strength to deal with the many trials and tribulations of their lives.

It is only because the two women enjoy such a strong sisterly bond that they're able to confide in each other and share their innermost thoughts, hopes, and dreams. This is a bond of absolute trust, founded on mutual love and respect.

Ramatoulaye and Aissatou have gone through so much together that they know they can trust one another implicitly. This sisterly bond, this special connection that joins them together, was forged when they were teenagers, and has been with them ever since. As Ramatoulaye says in one of her letters:

We walked the same paths from adolescence to maturity, where the past begets the present.

It is this shared experience that has allowed the two friends to deal more effectively with life's numerous ups and downs. Aissatou is divorced and Ramatoulaye is a widow, yet both are able to derive considerable strength from their unbreakable friendship.

In turn, this bond of sisterhood allows the two friends to develop a connection with women as a whole, many of whom have shared the same experiences as themselves. From adversity comes empathy:

I had heard of too many misfortunes of others not to understand my own. There was your own case, Aissatou, the cases of many other women, despised, relegated, or exchanged, who were abandoned like a worn-out our out-dated boubou.

Far from being caught up in their own lives, Ramatoulaye and Aissatou have developed a broad perspective on life that allows them to walk upon their path of friendship alongside countless other women who've gone through the same or similar experiences.

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How is the bond of sisterhood portrayed in the novel So Long a Letter?

So Long a Letter offers a multi-faceted picture of the bond of sisterhood. On the one hand, connections among women are often shown as fragile and transitory. On the other hand, female solidarity is sometimes shown as resilient and long-lasting. The social situation in Senegal in the period when the novel is set is presented as male-dominated. Many of the female characters are shown as not merely accepting but trying to manipulate this inequality for their own benefit. This type of manipulation is primarily connected with polygyny, the form of polygamy in which a man has multiple wives. Rather than challenge the system, women such as Mawdo’s aunt exert family pressure to get their male relatives to marry wives they choose. Similarly, Binetou’s mother sees the advantages in having her daughter become the second wife of a much older man.

As the novel is presented from Ramatoulaye’s point of view, the reader is limited in what they learn about Aissatou’s perspective on the two women’s friendship. From Ramatoulaye’s narrative, it seems that the friendship between the young women was close like sisters. As her situation has changed since her husband’s death, Ramatoulaye has been able to re-evaluate Aissatou’s decision not to accept a co-wife and instead to leave for America. The strength of her regard for her friend is seen in having named a daughter after her as well as directing her retrospective insights to Aissatou.

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