Historical Context

Senegal had been a French colony since the seventeenth century. In 1960, Senegal gained its independence and became a separate nation. Mariama Bâ, then, who was born in 1929, lived through the tumultuous years leading to independence and in the time of civic unrest that followed independence. These years also offered a few elite African women access to education. In So Long a Letter, Ramatoulaye records how she and Aissatou were able to go to school under the guidelines that divided French West Africa into autonomous (though not yet independent) countries. This division of the vast French Imperial possessions occurred after World War II. Ramatoulaye's white teacher recognizes the importance of these few African girls' education, and tells them that they have an ‘‘'uncommon' destiny.’’ Considering that today, twenty years after Bâ's death, the literacy rates for Senegalese women are far lower than those for Senegalese men, their fate was uncommon indeed. Bâ's French education and her exposure to Africans from many countries caused her, in the words of her heroine, to be "lift[ed]...out of the bog of tradition, superstition and custom, to...appreciate a multitude of civilizations without renouncing our own, to raise our vision of the world, cultivate our personalities, strengthen our qualities, to make up for our inadequacies, to develop universal moral values in us.’’ This wider perspective, however, of the educated French African woman came into conflict with the social mores and traditions of Senegal. This is evident in So Long a Letter by Ramatoulaye's decision to choose Moudou as a husband over Daouda...

(The entire section is 670 words.)