So Long a Letter

by Mariama Ba
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In chapter 18 of So Long a Letter, why did the Imam consider Ramatoulaye’s words to be profane?

The Imam called Ramatoulaye’s words “profane” because they defied what was expected of women in her patriarchal culture. Ramatoulaye not only denied Tamsir’s proposal of marriage but critiqued the way he treats his family, accused him of pursuing her for money, and asserted her independence over objectification. This outburst of anger and critique of the social order was not socially acceptable for women.

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In this chapter, Tamsir, the brother of Ramatoulaye’s recently deceased husband, tells Ramatoulaye that after she is done mourning he will marry her. He says this like a definitive fact rather than a proposal, simply stating, “I shall marry you” (Bâ 109).

However, Ramatoulaye is still angry with Tamsir for being the one to announce that her husband was taking a second wife. Not only does she reject the proposal but she is vocal in critiquing Tamsir’s reasons for it. For example, she says,

What of your wives, Tamsir? Your income can meet neither their needs or the needs of your numerous children ... I shall never be the one to complete your collection. (110)

Here Ramatoulaye accuses Tamsir of wanting to marry her for her money and outwardly judges him for treating her like an object. The Imam says these are “profane” words because they are not socially acceptable in Ramatoulaye’s culture for a woman to say. Ramatoulaye is displaying an incredible amount of independence and is finally voicing her true thoughts after what she calls “thirty years of silence, thirty years of harassment” (109). Not only does she display independent thinking but she defies the patriarchal social order of her culture. This was unheard of and thus shocked those around her.

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