How does So Long a Letter reflect the theme of polygamy? What does it say about the characters since one accepts her husband's second wife and one does not? Is it due to the personality of...

How does So Long a Letter reflect the theme of polygamy? What does it say about the characters since one accepts her husband's second wife and one does not? Is it due to the personality of characters or their culture? I need someone to discuss polygamy as a whole within the novel. 

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

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Ba's work articulates that while the theme of polygamy might be a part of one's culture, it does not have to imprint itself upon the individual. Ramatoulaye experiences the cultural sanctioning of polygamy.  Simply put, Modou is able to take another wife.  Polygamy is approved by the culture. It is a part of the cultural condition in which Ramatoulaye and her children live. It is for this reason that after 25 years and a dozen children, she is really unable to enjoy public support against polygamy and cannot expect her social order to offer repudiation.  In the Senegalese culture, Ramatoulaye must accept polygamy if she is to stay in the culture.  It is for this reason that she writes the letter to Aissatou.  Aissatou rejected polygamy, leaving to America in the hopes of finding a monogamous relationship.  In both examples, the theme of polygamy is an important one.  It defines how women are viewed in the cultural context, and also defines how women, to a great extent, see themselves.  The theme of polygamy is shown as a way the culture views women as a means to an end, as opposed to an end in their own right.  

The theme of polygamy is shown in a different light through the characterizations that Ba offers.  While it is a cultural reality, polygamy is not something that must necessarily imprint itself on women.  Ramatoulaye affirms her own condition in the world, recognizing the need for independence for her children and affirming her own intelligence through a love of literature and validating her own sense of self.  In writing the letter, she shows  a solidarity with Aissatou, who for her own part refused to be defined by polygamy.  In the alliance between both women, Ba suggests that cultural expectations do not have to play a singularly defining role in the way one views themselves and how they view others.  The theme of polygamy is shown as a cultural reality.  Yet, it is not one that must be accepted as unchangeable.  Both women show that polygamy might be a part of one's world, but does not have to be imprinted on one's identity.  In this light, So Long a Letter offers a note of empowerment against a musical composition where the theme of polygamy has done much in way of damage to women's identities.

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