So Long a Letter


Mariama Bâ

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So Long a Letter: Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Ramatoulaye shifts her attention to Aissatou’s controversial engagement to Mawdo. Aissatou is of modest birth—her father is a goldsmith—while Mawdo is nobility, his mother a “Princess of the Sine.” In the eyes of tradition it was a total mismatch, and at the time of the engagement everyone in town gossiped angrily about the scandal.
The widespread shock in response to the engagement demonstrates just how strong a grip custom has over social relations in Senegal, or at least the parts of the country that Bâ describes.
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Ramatoulaye then uses Aissatou’s father’s profession to discuss some of the broader social changes happening in Senegal. Aissatou’s younger brothers will not take up their father’s profession, pursuing a Western education instead. While Ramatoulaye acknowledges the importance of education—she is a schoolteacher, after all—she is wary of overemphasizing it. For one, education is still largely inaccessible for the poor, and in any case schooling is not necessarily right for everyone. What will the dropouts do? Modernization has begun to render obsolete the traditional crafts—like goldsmithing—that would otherwise serve as alternatives to those not receiving a higher education. This conflict between modernization and tradition is an “eternal debate,” Ramatoulaye writes.
Modernization is not, Ramatoulaye suggests, a universal good. While it is necessary for the progress of Senegal as a newly independent nation, it also seems to compromise important facets of Senegal’s cultural identity. While Ramatoulaye cannot offer a solution to the conundrum, she seems to suggest that the “eternal debate” is important to preserve—perhaps the solution lies partly in the very process of debating.
Custom, Modernity, and Progress Theme Icon
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