So Long a Letter

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

In So Long a Letter, the bond of sisterhood is portrayed as both fragile and resilient. The various characters’ stories show that strong patriarchal control generally works against female solidarity. The families’ desires to benefit from polygyny are often stronger than empathy for other women. Some women, such as Ramatoulaye and Aissatou, nevertheless develop ties that endure even through separation in time and distance.

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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...

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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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