So Long a Letter

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Ramatoulaye Character Analysis

Ramatoulaye is the narrator of So Long a Letter; the book is both her diary and a long letter to her friend Aissatou. Ramatoulaye belongs to the generation that grew up under the French colonial regime and came of age just as Senegal was achieving its independence. Accordingly, she is very politically engaged, and reflects often on the future of her country, the role of tradition in modern life, and the prospect of women’s liberation. She is fundamentally a feminist, though she holds certain beliefs that some feminists might find unfamiliar or perhaps even disagree with. For one, she is a devout Muslim, and follows the dictates of her faith even when they seem to advocate the unequal treatment of women. Though she is a teacher and has a professional life of her own, she is also a devoted mother. Her faith and her patience are tested when her husband, Modou, decides to take a young second wife (perfectly acceptable in Senegalese-Muslim culture) and proceeds to abandon Ramatoulaye and her twelve children. Despite Modou’s infidelity, though, she chooses to remain married to him.

Ramatoulaye Quotes in So Long a Letter

The So Long a Letter quotes below are all either spoken by Ramatoulaye or refer to Ramatoulaye. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Custom, Modernity, and Progress Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Waveland Press edition of So Long a Letter published in 2012.
Chapter 2 Quotes

This is the moment dreaded by every Senegalese woman, the moment when she sacrifices her possessions as gifts to her family-in-law; and, worse still, beyond her possessions she gives up her personality, her dignity, becoming a thing in the service of the man who has married her, his grandfather, his grandmother, his father, his mother, his brother, his sister, his uncle, his aunt, his male and female cousins, his friends. Her behaviour is conditioned: no sister-in-law will touch the head of any wife who has been stingy, unfaithful or inhospitable.

Related Characters: Ramatoulaye (speaker), Modou, Lady Mother-in-Law (Binetou’s Mother)
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

Ramatoulaye writes these words as she endures the elaborate, highly formalized mourning period for her estranged husband, Modou. Custom demands that she serve as a hospitable, generous host to the throngs of friends and in-laws that show up at her house to pay their respects. What this means in practice is that she must surrender her energy and livelihood in order to please and console the relatives of a man who abandoned her and her children. Not only is this economically taxing, it robs Ramatoulaye of her dignity. No one attending the funeral considers how Modou’s death has affected Ramatoulaye emotionally; they instead see her as a mere servant—maybe even a household object—dedicated to helping everyone else express their grief. Her internal life is seen as irrelevant. This is a powerful example of how Senegalese-Muslim tradition, while important to Ramatoulaye’s identity and sense of self, simultaneously reduces her to an object in many situations.

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Chapter 3 Quotes

Each group displays its own contribution to the costs. In former times this contribution was made in kind: millet, livestock, rice, flour, oil, sugar, milk. Today it is made conspicuously in banknotes, and no one wants to give less than the other. A disturbing display of inner feeling that cannot be evaluated, now measured in francs!

Related Characters: Ramatoulaye (speaker)
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

In accordance with tradition, the mourners who visit Ramatoulaye’s house to pay their respects to Modou offer gifts of consolation to Ramatoulaye and her family-in-law. While the gifts were once objects whose value could not be quantified, now the guests simply arrive bearing cash. This development illustrates in miniature a much larger predicament facing newly independent Senegal. The young country is undergoing modernization, and entering into an increasingly global economy. While on the one hand modernization bears with it the promise of greater prosperity and freedom, it seems also to threaten some of Senegal’s dearly held traditions. Although cash expedites economic exchange, it also turns the giving of gifts—once a beautiful ritual—into a mindless game. The guests are more concerned with posturing, demonstrating their wealth and one-upping each other, than giving.

Chapter 5 Quotes

To overcome my bitterness, I think of human destiny. Each life has its share of heroism, an obscure heroism, born of abdication, of renunciation and acceptance under the merciless whip of fate.

Related Characters: Ramatoulaye (speaker), Modou
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

Ramatoulaye writes this as she reflects on her lot in life and tries to understand what led Modou to abandon her. Her words provide insight into her particular brand of feminism. She is less interested in achieving complete liberation from the bonds of patriarchal tradition than she is in achieving a kind of quiet heroism within the constraints of her experience. Ramatoulaye accepts her fate in many ways—she does not leave Modou when he takes on a second wife, and she endures the indignities of his funeral without protest—but she never fully surrenders to it. Instead, she finds empowerment in her daily life, acting as a strong mother to her twelve children, rejecting the advances of other men, and cultivating a valuable relationship with her friend (and addressee of the novel itself) Aissatou.

Combining your despair you could have been avengers and made them tremble, all those who are drunk on their wealth; tremble, those upon whom fate has bestowed favours. A horde powerful in its repugnance and revolt, you could have snatched the bread that your hunger craves.
Your stoicism has made you not violent or subversive but true heroes, unknown in the mainstream of history, never upsetting established order, despite your miserable condition.

Related Characters: Ramatoulaye (speaker)
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Ramatoulaye is directly addressing the blind, disabled, and destitute of the world. She means to draw a comparison between these unfortunates and herself: she, like the blind or disabled, did not choose her fate. She was born as a woman, and so must fulfill the particular role that Senegalese-Muslim tradition assigns to women.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, Ramatoulaye admires the stoicism of these other targeted groups. In her eyes, it takes true bravery to accept and confront one’s fate, and to therefore be lost to history. Her admiration provides clear insight into her personal conception of female strength. For her, a woman is strong not necessarily by rebelling against tradition and its attendant constraints, but rather by facing the miserable aspects of womanhood with humility and courage.

Chapter 7 Quotes

To lift us out of the bog of tradition, superstition and custom, to make us 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: these were the aims of our admirable headmistress. The word 'love' had a particular resonance in her. She loved us without patronizing us, with our plaits either standing on end or bent down, with our loose blouses, our wrappers. She knew how to discover and appreciate our qualities.

Related Characters: Ramatoulaye (speaker), Aissatou
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Ramatoulaye remembers the methods of her and Aissatou’s French (white) schoolteacher. Throughout the novel, Ramatoulaye constantly tries to reconcile the apparently opposing forces of custom and modernity. Senegal, a newly independent country emerging from the colonial era, is undergoing a process of modernization. And yet modernization, with its demands for assimilation to Western ideals, threatens to destroy Senegal’s unique cultural identity. Ramatoulaye’s old schoolteacher, whom Ramatoulaye deeply admires, demonstrates that progress need not come at the expense of custom. The teacher values diversity—of appearance, culture, thought—above all, and attempts to instill universal values among her students without erasing their differences. The teacher’s methods seem to provide a model for Ramatoulaye’s brand feminism, which combines a respect for tradition with a belief in liberal values such as gender equality.

Chapter 8 Quotes

Eternal questions of our eternal debates. We all agreed that much dismantling was needed to introduce modernity within our traditions. Torn between the past and the present, we deplored the 'hard sweat' that would be inevitable. We counted the possible losses. But we knew that nothing would be as before. We were full of nostalgia but were resolutely progressive.

Related Characters: Ramatoulaye (speaker)
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Ramatoulaye recounts the political discussions she would have with her friends around the time of Senegalese independence. The members of her generation are faced with the enormous task of directing an entirely new, independent country. In one sense they are free to reassert their cultural identity in the face of the Western powers, though in another they are eager to shed tradition in order to become a progressive, prosperous country within a global economy. The past and the future pull them in opposite directions. Ramatoulaye seems to believe that they will find success if they can somehow attend to both—if they can feel “nostalgia” but also remain “resolutely progressive.” Ramatoulaye’s reference to “eternal debates” then suggests a method of achieving this attentiveness to the past and the future: in disagreement and dialogue they may reach compromise and synthesis.

Chapter 10 Quotes

The assimilationist dream of the colonist drew into its crucible our mode of thought and way of life. The sun helmet worn over the natural protection of our kinky hair, smoke-filled pipe in the mouth, white shorts just above the calves, very short dresses displaying shapely legs: a whole generation suddenly became aware of the ridiculous situation festering in our midst.

Related Characters: Ramatoulaye (speaker)
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

Ramatoulaye makes this remark while reflecting on her generation’s unique but difficult position in the history of Senegal. They live in a transitional period between the fall of the French colonial regime and the rise of the new self-determined, independent Senegal. Specifically, Ramatoulaye is commenting on the absurdity of forced assimilation—that is, the idea, promoted by the French colonial powers, that the Senegalese should abandon their cultural heritage and instead adopt European customs. For the French, assimilation and progress were interchangeable terms, but this makes little sense to Ramatoulaye. Why wear a hat when her kinky hair provides her natural protection from the sun? Why wear short skirts, when the Islamic faith demands modesty of dress? The task facing Ramatoulaye’s generation is to devise a way forward while retaining a sense of cultural identity distinct from the foreign and often ridiculous customs of the West.

How many generations has this same unchanging countryside seen glide past! Aunty Nabou acknowledged man's vulnerability in the face of the eternity of nature. By its very duration, nature defies time and takes its revenge on man.

Related Characters: Ramatoulaye (speaker), Aunty Nabou
Related Symbols: Aunty Nabou’s Journey
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Ramatoulaye is describing Aunty Nabou’s journey into the interior of Senegal to visit the tomb of her ancestors. It is as much a journey through space as it is through time. Aunty Nabou’s belief (which is either created or strengthened on this journey) in man’s vulnerability in the face of eternity is in part what brings her to attempt to undermine her son Mawdo’s marriage to Aissatou. It is in deference and grave respect for her ancestors that she refuses to accept Aissatou—the poor daughter of a goldsmith—as a member of the family.

Ramatoulaye seems to respect and even agree with Aunty Nabou’s deep deference to time and the eternity of nature, despite the disastrous effects it ultimately has on her friend Aissatou’s marriage.

Chapter 12 Quotes

I was irritated. He was asking me to understand. But to understand what? The supremacy of instinct? The right to betray? The justification of the desire for variety? I could not be an ally to polygamic instincts. What, then, was I to understand?

Related Characters: Ramatoulaye (speaker), Mawdo
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

Ramatoulaye is irritated by Mawdo, who has just attempted to justify his ongoing sexual relationship with Nabou, his second wife, despite claiming not to love her. Her apparent disgust at his attempts to justify his behavior reveals the subtlety of her relationship to custom and the dictates of Senegalese Islam. She knows that polygamy is permitted by her faith—it is for this reason, among others, that she later decides to remain married to Modou when he takes a second wife. However, she cannot herself become an “ally” to the supposed “instincts” that drive men to polygamy. She accepts the consequences of her husband’s infidelity without endorsing it.

Alternatively, it may simply be that it is harder for Ramatoulaye to achieve the same moral clarity when she is faced with her own husband’s interest in another woman—but when it comes to defending her friend, Ramatoulaye is able to take a firmer moral stand.

Chapter 16 Quotes

Friendship has splendours that love knows not. It grows stronger when crossed, whereas obstacles kill love. Friendship resists time, which wearies and severs couples. It has heights unknown to love.

Related Characters: Ramatoulaye (speaker), Aissatou, Modou
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

Ramatoulaye writes these words to Aissatou after Aissatou, upon hearing that Ramatoulaye has been using public transportation to get around, buys her a car. For Ramatoulaye, her friendship with Aissatou is a much stronger and far more fulfilling human relationship than her marriage to Modou. Whereas her marriage essentially dissolves as soon as it faces an obstacle—Modou’s infidelity—Ramatoulaye and Aissatou’s friendship seems only to grow stronger with time and distance. Aissatou lives thousands of miles away and yet she treats Ramatoulaye with the selflessness and generosity deserving of a family member or even a spouse. In Aissatou, Ramatoulaye has found a kind of kinship that escapes the pressures and indignities of custom.

Chapter 17 Quotes

Even though I understand your stand, even though I respect the choice of liberated women, I have never conceived of happiness outside marriage.

Related Characters: Ramatoulaye (speaker), Aissatou, Modou
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

Though faced with nearly identical marital problems—both must face the infidelity of their husbands—Aissatou and Ramatoulaye respond to their mistreatment in opposite ways. Aissatou takes a moral stand against her husband and the antiquated customs that permit polygamy: she divorces Mawdo, focuses her attention on pursuing higher education, and leaves the country. Ramatoulaye, who demonstrates an abiding faith in the institution of marriage, chooses to remain—if only in a legal sense—with her husband.

In comparison to Aissatou’s moral conviction, Ramatoulaye’s decision to stay may seem like an expression of weakness. However, looked at another way, Ramatoulaye’s ability to confront her misfortune and understand her own personal reasons for doing so demonstrates a kind of quiet power—an unconventional sort of feminism.

Chapter 18 Quotes

‘You forget that I have a heart, a mind, that I am not an object to be passed from hand to hand. You don't know what marriage means to me: it is an act of faith and of love, the total surrender of oneself to the person one has chosen and who has chosen you.’

Related Characters: Ramatoulaye (speaker), Modou, Tamsir
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

Ramatoulaye speaks these words to Tamsir, after he cavalierly makes clear his intentions of marrying her once the mourning period for Modou has ended. It is one of the few moments in the text when Ramatoulaye takes an explicit, vocal stand against the sexism she has had to endure her entire life. The way in which Tamsir casually announces that he will marry Ramatoulaye demonstrates his inability to see her as a person with hopes and preferences of her own. Here Ramatoulaye is careful to assert that she is not merely some piece of furniture to be passed around; she has an internal life and will stand up for it.

Ramatoulaye has a complex understanding of marriage, and that understanding is clarified somewhat here. While custom and cultural norms are important to Ramatoulaye’s worldview, she does not seem to believe that one should get married for marriage’s sake, or simply because it is expected. (And to be clear: Tamsir’s proposal, while crass, is also customary—in Senegalese-Muslim culture it is traditional for a widow to marry one of her late husband’s relatives or friends.) Rather, Ramatoulaye maintains a mystical, romantic view of love: for her, love transcends the institutions that are meant to contain it. Marriage, though socially constructed, should be the result and expression of transcendent feelings.

Chapter 19 Quotes

Daouda Dieng was savouring the warmth of the inner dream he was spinning around me. As for me, I was bolting like a horse that has long been tethered and is now free and revelling in space. Ah, the joy of having an interlocutor before you, especially an admirer!

Related Characters: Ramatoulaye (speaker), Daouda Dieng
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:

Ramatoulaye writes these words while recounting a discussion she has with Daouda Dieng, an old suitor. Their conversation covers politics, the future of the country, and the role of women in it all. From Ramatoulaye’s perspective, their lively and mutually respectful debate is liberating and empowering—a breath of fresh air from the degrading interactions she’s had with Tamsir and Modou’s other relatives, who can’t seem to understand that she has thoughts of her own, much less sophisticated political views.

Unfortunately, Daouda Dieng is perhaps not as different from the others as he initially seems. Though Ramatoulaye sees him as a peer, an interlocutor (someone to converse with) without any ulterior motives, Daouda sees her first and foremost as a potential wife. Though he respects her, his respect is part of a broader marital fantasy that he hopes she will fulfill for him. As if to prove this, he later breaks off all contact with Ramatoulaye when she rejects his romantic advances.

Chapter 22 Quotes

When we meet, the signs on our bodies will not be important. The essential thing is the content of our hearts, which animates us; the essential thing is the quality of the sap that flows through us. You have often proved to me the superiority of friendship over love. Time, distance, as well as mutual memories have consolidated our ties and made our children brothers and sisters. Reunited, will we draw up a detailed account of our faded bloom, or will we sow new seeds for new harvests?

Related Characters: Ramatoulaye (speaker), Aissatou
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Ramatoulaye is directly addressing Aissatou, who plans to return to Senegal after living for many years in America. She defines their friendship in opposition to romantic love, asserting here as she does elsewhere that in some ways true friendship is more fulfilling and more powerful than love. For one, friendship is resistant to all the accidents of the body, all the superficial attributes that can come between lovers. It can adapt to separation, and it solidifies over time.

Ramatoulaye still believes in love and marriage, but her words here constitute a radical refutation of marriage’s central position within the vast tapestry of human relationships. In her female friend Ramatoulaye has found someone who treats her as an equal, and who cares only for the content of her character.

Life is an eternal compromise. What is important is the examination paper… This, too, will be at the mercy of the marker. No one will have any say over him. So why fight a teacher for one or two marks that can never change the destiny of a student?

Related Characters: Ramatoulaye (speaker), Daba, Mawdo Fall
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

One of Ramatoulaye’s young sons, Mawdo Fall, has made a habit of arguing with his teacher over grades. Mawdo does indeed have reason to be upset: his teacher appears to favor a white boy over Mawdo, despite Mawdo’s obviously superior intelligence. Ramatoulaye, however, discourages Mawdo and his older sister Daba from putting up a stink, offering this reflection by way of explanation.

Her advice again reveals a conservative streak, and her somewhat complex relationship to protest. A more conventionally “liberated” woman—such as Aissatou or Daba—would likely have no problem telling the teacher off and accusing him of racism. In contrast, Ramatoulaye advocates for self-reliance, for turning one’s energies inward—for subverting authority by being one’s own authority. Ramatoulaye’s personal philosophy of acceptance and quiet power may not be immediately palatable to the most liberal minded readers, but in at least this case she seems to have a point. While grades are of course important, it would be a mistake to see them as the sole determining factor of one’s destiny.

Ramatoulaye’s reaction to her son also illustrates her parenting style, which is tough and somewhat unconventional. More often she takes the side opposite her children—she rarely bends to their will—and tries to help them see their world from a new angle.

Now our society is shaken to its very foundations, torn between the attraction of imported vices and the fierce resistance of old virtues.

Related Characters: Ramatoulaye (speaker), Daba, Mawdo Fall
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

Ramatoulaye makes this off-the-cuff remark while describing to Aissatou the difficulties of parenting during Senegal’s period of modernization. It is perhaps the most concise and concentrated statement she makes on the particular, historically awkward position her generation finds itself in. Ramatoulaye and her peers are caught between two distinct eras, and two distinct cultures: on the one hand, the ancestral traditions of Senegal and West Africa, on the other, the “modern” habits and customs of the West. These two cultures are seemingly irreconcilable to each other. The “old virtues” are skeptical of imported Western ideals, and the imported Western ideals are irreverent in the face of tradition.

For Ramatoulaye, the difficulty comes in extracting the best from each and casting aside the worst of both. From the West come certain unsavory vices such as smoking, a more reckless understanding of sexuality, and of course a tradition of colonialism and white supremacy. From Senegalese tradition comes a certain conservatism and fanaticism that leads, among other things, to the subjugation of women. Throughout the novel, Ramatoulaye comes into direct contact with both poles of experience, and has to figure out how to synthesize the two.

‘Marriage is no chain. It is mutual agreement over a life's programme. So if one of the partners is no longer satisfied with the union, why should he remain? It may be Abou [her husband]; it may be me. Why not? The wife can take the initiative to make the break.’

Related Characters: Daba (speaker), Ramatoulaye
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

Daba says this to Ramatoulaye while trying to describe her view of marriage. In contrast to Ramatoulaye, Daba has a far more liberal, practical understanding of the particular kind of agreement a marriage entails. In fact, that Daba sees marriage as a mere agreement—not a sacred oath—is itself telling. This comment is at least in part a veiled criticism of Ramatoulaye’s stoicism: while Ramatoulaye insisted on remaining (legally) married to Modou even after his infidelity, Daba, had she found herself in a similar situation, insists that she would not have hesitated in calling the whole thing off.

Daba’s view of an ideal marriage prioritizes the equality of the spouses. While this idea is certainly attractive to Ramatoulaye, she also maintains a certain sentimentality about romantic love and tradition that is at odds with Daba’s strict pragmatism.

Chapter 23 Quotes

Who knows, one vice leads to another. Does it mean that one can't have modernism without a lowering of moral standards?

Related Characters: Ramatoulaye (speaker)
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

Ramatoulaye writes this after she discovers three of her daughters smoking cigarettes. She is surprised and angry that they’ve picked up the habit, and that it seems to come so naturally to them. The incident brings Ramatoulaye to worry more broadly about the cultural climate of a rapidly modernizing Senegal. Her children—especially her daughters—are now allowed greater freedoms than she ever was, yet as a result they are exposed to a broader array of temptations and dangers. Ramatoulaye worries that compromised morals are the price one pays for progress.

As a mother, Ramatoulaye must adapt to the peculiar conditions of a modernizing and globalizing country. She must discover a way to uphold the moral values she most cares about and instill her children with virtue, while simultaneously allowing them to reap the benefits of a freer society.

Chapter 24 Quotes

And also, one is a mother in order to understand the inexplicable. One is a mother to lighten the darkness. One is a mother to shield when lightning streaks the night, when thunder shakes the earth, when mud bogs one down. One is a mother in order to love without beginning or end.

Related Characters: Ramatoulaye (speaker), Aissatou (Aissatou’s Namesake, Aissatou II)
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

Ramatoulaye writes these words after she discovers her daughter, Aissatou, has gotten pregnant out of wedlock. Rather than punish or reject her daughter, Ramatoulaye decides to meet her with love, grace, and understanding.

Here, Ramatoulaye’s description of motherhood emphasizes its complexity and ultimate sanctity. For Ramatoulaye, a mother is a kind of benign god—a forgiver, a protector, and an interpreter of mysteries. Motherhood is a process that is always unfolding: it is never finished, and neither is it ever fully understood. Ramatoulaye’s personal edict is more liberal than those of her ancestors, but it does not leave her entirely without a certain amount of authority over her children.

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Ramatoulaye Character Timeline in So Long a Letter

The timeline below shows where the character Ramatoulaye appears in So Long a Letter. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Friendship vs. Marital Love Theme Icon
Dialogue and Address Theme Icon
Ramatoulaye, the narrator (living in Dakar, Senegal), addresses her friend, Aissatou, who lives far away, in... (full context)
Feminism and Islam  Theme Icon
Friendship vs. Marital Love Theme Icon
Dialogue and Address Theme Icon
Ramatoulaye then reveals the cause of her distress: “Yesterday you were divorced,” she writes, “today I... (full context)
Chapter 2
Custom, Modernity, and Progress Theme Icon
Feminism and Islam  Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
Friendship vs. Marital Love Theme Icon
The day after Modou’s death, droves of mourners appear at Ramatoulaye’s house to pay their respects. Modou’s close relatives appear as well, and the women among... (full context)
Custom, Modernity, and Progress Theme Icon
Feminism and Islam  Theme Icon
Friendship vs. Marital Love Theme Icon
Custom dictates that Ramatoulaye serve as a hospitable host to Modou’s family and to her co-wife’s family, providing them... (full context)
Chapter 3
Custom, Modernity, and Progress Theme Icon
Feminism and Islam  Theme Icon
...of the woodwork to pay their respects and mooch off the hospitality of the aggrieved. Ramatoulaye’s house is essentially trashed by the crowd. The men and women occupy different sides of... (full context)
Custom, Modernity, and Progress Theme Icon
Feminism and Islam  Theme Icon
Finally Binetou and the relatives clear out, leaving destruction in their wake: Ramatoulaye’s floors are blackened and her walls are stained with oil, and trash litters the house.... (full context)
Chapter 4
Custom, Modernity, and Progress Theme Icon
Feminism and Islam  Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
The mirasse also demands that Ramatoulaye and her family-in-law meet to “strip” Modou and reveal the secrets he kept during his... (full context)
Chapter 5
Feminism and Islam  Theme Icon
Friendship vs. Marital Love Theme Icon
Dialogue and Address Theme Icon
Alone again with her thoughts, Ramatoulaye becomes distressed. She wonders what could have possibly caused Modou to abandon her, not to... (full context)
Chapter 6
Custom, Modernity, and Progress Theme Icon
Dialogue and Address Theme Icon
Ramatoulaye recalls meeting Modou for the first time, while on a trip to a teachers’ training... (full context)
Feminism and Islam  Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
Friendship vs. Marital Love Theme Icon
Upon his return to Senegal, Modou and Ramatoulaye prepared to marry. Modou also introduced his friend Mawdo to Aissatou. Ramatoulaye’s mother was skeptical... (full context)
Chapter 7
Custom, Modernity, and Progress Theme Icon
Feminism and Islam  Theme Icon
Ramatoulaye remembers with fondness her and Aissatou’s French—which is to say, white—schoolteacher. All of her students... (full context)
Custom, Modernity, and Progress Theme Icon
Feminism and Islam  Theme Icon
Friendship vs. Marital Love Theme Icon
Ramatoulaye wonders why, despite her education, she chose Modou over Daouda Dieng, an intelligent, mature, wealthy... (full context)
Chapter 8
Custom, Modernity, and Progress Theme Icon
Ramatoulaye shifts her attention to Aissatou’s controversial engagement to Mawdo. Aissatou is of modest birth—her father... (full context)
Custom, Modernity, and Progress Theme Icon
Dialogue and Address Theme Icon
Ramatoulaye then uses Aissatou’s father’s profession to discuss some of the broader social changes happening in... (full context)
Chapter 9
Custom, Modernity, and Progress Theme Icon
Feminism and Islam  Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
Friendship vs. Marital Love Theme Icon
Ramatoulaye and Aissatou marry their fiancés around the same time, and together they endure the joys... (full context)
Custom, Modernity, and Progress Theme Icon
Feminism and Islam  Theme Icon
Friendship vs. Marital Love Theme Icon
In their precious free time together, Ramatoulaye and Aissatou take long walks together along the coast and relax in Aissatou’s beautiful home.... (full context)
Chapter 10
Custom, Modernity, and Progress Theme Icon
Feminism and Islam  Theme Icon
Dialogue and Address Theme Icon
...shed the history of colonial exploitation and bring a new republic into being—grips the country. Ramatoulaye sees her generation as occupying a privileged but difficult position between two distinct eras. Modou... (full context)
Chapter 11
Custom, Modernity, and Progress Theme Icon
Feminism and Islam  Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
Friendship vs. Marital Love Theme Icon
While admitting that she must be reopening old wounds for her friend, Ramatoulaye proceeds to describe the breakup of Aissatou’s marriage. She explains that Mawdo’s mother, Aissatou’s “Aunty... (full context)
Chapter 12
Custom, Modernity, and Progress Theme Icon
Feminism and Islam  Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
Friendship vs. Marital Love Theme Icon
Dialogue and Address Theme Icon
Under Aunty Nabou’s guardianship, and with the help of Ramatoulaye, young Nabou is enrolled in a French school and after a few years becomes a... (full context)
Custom, Modernity, and Progress Theme Icon
Feminism and Islam  Theme Icon
Friendship vs. Marital Love Theme Icon
Now free of her marriage, Aissatou turns to books, and begins taking her education seriously. Ramatoulaye admires this greatly. Aissatou returns to school, receives a degree in interpretation, and gets a... (full context)
Chapter 13
Custom, Modernity, and Progress Theme Icon
Feminism and Islam  Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
Friendship vs. Marital Love Theme Icon
Ramatoulaye now decides to recount her own marital misfortune. Her teenaged daughter, Daba, begins to spend... (full context)
Custom, Modernity, and Progress Theme Icon
Feminism and Islam  Theme Icon
Friendship vs. Marital Love Theme Icon
Dialogue and Address Theme Icon
...married to her sugar daddy, Modou’s brother Tamsir, Mawdo, and a local imam appear at Ramatoulaye’s house. Modou is nowhere to be seen. After some dawdling and beating around the bush,... (full context)
Chapter 14
Feminism and Islam  Theme Icon
Friendship vs. Marital Love Theme Icon
...in the dark about the true identity of Binetou’s sugar daddy, is infuriated, and implores Ramatoulaye to leave Modou just like Aissatou left Mawdo. Ramatoulaye’s neighbor, Farmata, also encourages Ramatoulaye to... (full context)
Custom, Modernity, and Progress Theme Icon
Feminism and Islam  Theme Icon
Friendship vs. Marital Love Theme Icon
Dialogue and Address Theme Icon
By way of illustrating her own distress, Ramatoulaye tells the story of her acquaintance, Jacqueline. Jacqueline, a protestant from Coite d’Ivoire, marries Samba... (full context)
Chapter 15
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Ramatoulaye compares and contrasts Nabou and Binetou. Nabou is full of poise and tact, thanks in... (full context)
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Instead, Ramatoulaye resolves to “look reality in the face.” As she explains, reality consists of Lady Mother-in-Law... (full context)
Chapter 16
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As time goes on, Ramatoulaye finds that what her children originally begged her to do—to leave Modou—is now functionally the... (full context)
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In passing, Ramatoulaye one day mentions having to ride public transportation to Aissatou in a letter. In response,... (full context)
Chapter 17
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Ramatoulaye reflects further on the fate of her marriage. She struggles to understand why Modou decided... (full context)
Chapter 18
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It is now the fortieth day after Modou’s death. Ramatoulaye writes that she has forgiven him. Then, out of the blue, Tamsir, Mawdo, and the... (full context)
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Ramatoulaye is infuriated by this proposal. In response, she rails against Tamsir’s disrespect and presumptuousness. She... (full context)
Chapter 19
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The next day, Daouda Dieng, Ramatoulaye’s old suitor, appears. Ramatoulaye senses that he has come to ask for her hand in... (full context)
Chapter 20
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Some days later, Daouda appears at Ramatoulaye’s door again. Once again they fall on the subject of politics, but this time Daouda... (full context)
Chapter 21
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Ramatoulaye thinks over Daouda’s proposal in solitude. She knows Daouda is an honorable man. She trusts... (full context)
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Ramatoulaye decides to write a letter to Daouda, explaining her decision not to marry him. In... (full context)
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After Daouda, more and more men show up at Ramatoulaye’s doorstep to ask for her hand in marriage. She rejects them all, which earns her... (full context)
Chapter 22
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Ramatoulaye writes to Aissatou that Ousmane, her youngest child, is always the one to bring her... (full context)
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Daba returns from the secondary school that Mawdo (Mawdo Fall), one of Ramatoulaye’s sons, attends. He has been getting into trouble with his white philosophy teacher, who “cannot... (full context)
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Ramatoulaye lingers on Daba for a while, describing her marriage to her husband Abou. Daba maintains... (full context)
Chapter 23
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Ramatoulaye recounts to Aissatou a recent episode in which she walked in on three of daughters—whom... (full context)
Chapter 24
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Not long after, Ramatoulaye is interrupted during her evening prayers when her two sons, Alioune and Malick, come home... (full context)
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Ramatoulaye segues into discussing her daughter Aissatou, her friend Aissatou’s namesake. Aissatou has become pregnant out... (full context)
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...is Ibrahima Sall, a law student that she has been dating and, in fact, loves. Ramatoulaye is at first angry—how could her daughter do something so careless, and so soon after... (full context)
Chapter 25
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Ramatoulaye summons Ibrahima Sall, and he comes to visit her. She is pleasantly surprised by him:... (full context)
Chapter 26
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Ibrahima visits Ramatoulaye’s house often. He is a role model to Ramatoulaye’s young sons, and he encourages Aissatou’s... (full context)
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Spurred on by Aissatou II’s pregnancy, Ramatoulaye decides to have a conversation with “the trio,” her younger daughters, about sexual education. She... (full context)
Chapter 27
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Aissatou is coming to visit soon, and Ramatoulaye looks forward to her arrival. Ramatoulaye reflects further on the fate of women in Senegalese... (full context)
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Ramatoulaye wonders if Aissatou will appear changed upon returning. She guesses that Aissatou will be wearing... (full context)