So Long a Letter

by Mariama Ba

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To what extent does young Nabou’s upbringing contrast Aissatou’s?

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Young Nabou is brought up in the traditional manner to be a fine, respectable lady—a perfect wife for her aunt's son, Mawdo. To some extent, Nabou's upbringing is a way for her aunt—also called Nabou—to remove the stain of shame caused by Aissatou's walking out on Mawdo to go and live in America. Aunty Nabou wants her namesake to develop into the exact opposite of Aissatou: a traditional, submissive wife who will always yield to her husband's will.

As for Aissatou, her social background is much more humble than Nabou's. Born to a goldsmith, a mere tradesman in the eyes of Aunty Nabou, she's looked down upon by her in-laws, who think she's no good for Mawdo. Yet Aissatou's less rigid upbringing gives her a much less narrow perspective on the world than Aunty Nabou. Because she doesn't have any of the snobbish hang-ups of the upper-classes, her mind is much more open to new experiences, new ways of thinking. Thanks to her headmistress, vast new vistas of intellectual opportunity open up before her, allowing her to gain a broad perspective on the world, to develop universal moral values that transcend the old tribal customs and traditions.

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