So Long a Letter


Mariama Bâ

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So Long a Letter: Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Ramatoulaye recounts to Aissatou a recent episode in which she walked in on three of daughters—whom she describes as “the trio”—smoking cigarettes secretly in their room. She is shocked by this, and doubly shocked by their bewilderment in the face of her anger. Ramatoulaye wonders whether she has been too liberal as a mother (she lets them go out at night on their own) and worries that smoking will lead them into other, more dangerous vices. She notes also that her daughters have started wearing trousers, which strikes her as indecent. Despite her worry, however, Ramatoulaye doesn’t crack down on her children—instead she simply keeps watch over them, otherwise trusting them to make their own decisions.
The trio’s behavior suggests that they are abandoning conventional Senegalese-Muslim wisdom in favor of a more progressive, European-inflected outlook. On the one hand, they now have access to greater freedoms; on the other hand, these new freedoms present dangers to their health (in a quite literal way, in the case of the cigarettes), and threaten to admit indulgence and vice. Though Ramatoulaye disagrees with her children’s decisions, her ultimately measured response to them suggests an underlying liberal attitude.
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