So Long a Letter

by Mariama Ba

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What is the significance of the main characters in the book So Long a Letter?

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I argue that the main characters of Mariama Bâ’s So Long a Letter are significant largely because they represent a marginalized population to Western readers. Indeed, the novella foregrounds the struggles of Senegalese women addressing customs such as polygamy in an Islamic culture. For the majority of Western readers, this voice is incredibly rare to find in literature. Here, Bâ confronts the issues that women face in Senegal through her frank characterization of Ramatoulaye Fall and her uncensored letter to her best friend, Aissatou Bâ. Ramatoulaye often questions the conventions in her culture that marginalize women, especially polygamy:

“I have heard of too many misfortunes not to understand my own. There was your own case, Aissatou, the cases of many other women, despised, relegated or exchanged, who were abandoned like a worn-out or out-dated boubou” (41).

Later in the novel, Bâ is startlingly direct in her call for women to become politically active. The fact that this is coming from a Senegalese woman writing from the perspective of another disenfranchised Senegalese woman is especially potent:

“Women must be encouraged to take a keener interest in the destiny of the country…. If men alone are active in the parties, why should they think of the women?” (62).

Thus, the main characters are significant because they perfectly capture the issues women in Senegal face, and they are direct in their critique of their conditions.

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