So Long a Letter

So Long a Letter Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The funeral ceremony continues into its third day. Now all sorts of people come out 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 the parlor; the men occasionally shout over at the women to chastise them for gossiping loudly and not showing the solemnity that the occasion demands. Many of the guests present gifts of money to Ramatoulaye and to Modou’s family. Ramatoulaye explains that these customary gifts once consisted of unquantifiable goods, such as livestock or millet, but now everyone simply presents the aggrieved with banknotes, and tries to one-up everyone else by giving the most cash. The proceeds are divvied up among Ramatoulaye, Binetou and her family, and Modou’s family. Binetou’s mother and Modou’s sisters get the lion’s share, leaving Ramatoulaye destitute in comparison.
Ramatoulaye experiences firsthand the marked disconnect between the premise of dignity on which the funeral ritual is founded and the indignity that the ritual actually can create. But while she is skeptical of the traditions she is expected to follow, she is also nostalgic for traditions that have been abandoned or otherwise corrupted: the exchange of cash in lieu of actual gifts strikes her as somewhat appalling. The unequal apportioning of the gift money between her and her family-in-law only underlines the illogic of custom for custom’s sake, and the way even traditions of generosity and selflessness can be easily twisted.
Themes
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. In their absence, Ramatoulaye now must confront her mirasse, a period of four months and ten days that she must spend in solitude and mourning, in accordance with custom. She is apprehensive but faces her “duty” with resolve, writing that her “heart concurs with the demands of religion.”
Despite her clear and outspoken discomfort with many of the demands of her religion and culture, Ramatoulaye is determined to meet them head on and operate within them, rather than against them. This is one of the first glimpses of Ramatoulaye’s particular brand of stoicism and quiet courage.
Themes
Custom, Modernity, and Progress Theme Icon
Feminism and Islam Theme Icon