So Long a Letter

by Mariama Ba

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In So Long a Letter, what is the meaning behind "you don’t burn the tree which bears fruit”?

Quick answer:

In So Long a Letter, when people tell Aissatou "you don't burn the tree which bears the fruit," they mean that she should not leave her husband Mawdo.

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Aissatou's husband Mawdo has taken another wife. He's married young Nabou at the urging of his mother, who claims that she will die of shame if Mawdo doesn't oblige. Mawdo is reluctant to take another wife, not least because he still loves Aissatou. But as he doesn't want to hurt his mother and see her shamed before the entire community, he agrees to marry Nabou.

When Aissatou finds out about this, she's less than pleased. Though undoubtedly aware of tribal customs, she still can't help feeling disrespected by Mawdo's decision. Worse still, it seems as if the children she has with Mawdo are being ignored in all of this. As Aissatou is the daughter of a mere goldsmith her offspring are looked down upon by her snobby mother-in-law.

Though sympathetic with Aissatou's plight, most people advise her to compromise with Mawdo. They tell her that "you don't burn the tree which bears the fruit." In other words, she shouldn't leave her husband, the bearer of her fruit (the father of her children).

But in a bold move, Aissatou goes against their advice and decides to leave Mawdo. She's had enough of being unhappy in her marriage and of being treated with disrespect. So she leaves Mawdo a letter in which she tells him that she's going to go her own way.

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