So Long a Letter

by Mariama Ba

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How does the epistolary form in So Long a Letter critique the intrusion of Western prescription on traditional African values?

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This powerful text exhibits the consequences of postcolonialism through describing the way that traditional cultural values have been influenced, or in some cases replaced completely, by Western values. This, in postcolonial terms, has produced a hybrid culture that the characters in this text express ambivalence about. For example, on the one hand Ramatoulaye is very concerned about the way that her daughters have taken up behaviours that are particularly Western, such as smoking and dressing in a non-traditional fashion. She is afraid that this influence of Western culture will not have terrible consequences in terms of morality:

A profligate life for a woman is incompatible with morality. What does one gain from pleasures? Early aging, debasement.

However, at the same time, Ramatoulaye also recognises and is extremely thankful for the benefits of Western cultural imperialism, such as the white teacher she had who opened her up to new knowledge and heightened her awareness of the world. Again, she is an adherent of Islam, and clearly her religion is important to her, but at the same time her Western education means that she thinks polygamy is unjust and is representative of the negative side of this religion. The consequences of postmodernity as revealed in this novel therefore express the "nervous conditions" of characters such as Ramatoulaye, who at once benefit and are impacted negatively by Western influences. Ramatoulaye after all is a female character who gains status through her Western education, rather than through the traditional approach of gaining status as a woman through her family and connections. The ambivalence that Ramatoulaye expresses towards Westernism expresses the kind of uneasy relationship that is a natural consequence of postmodernity. 

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