Ramatoulaye and Aissatou marry their fiancés around the same time, and together they endure the joys and frustrations of their new marital life. Ramatoulaye is pestered constantly by her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law, who day after day drop in unannounced and abuse her hospitality. She is also exasperated to discover that despite her professional life as a teacher, and despite the help of a few maids, the brunt of household duties still fall to her. For Aissatou’s part, her family-in-law does not respect her, and barely acknowledges her existence.
Modou’s family’s careless treatment of Ramatoulaye is a form of objectification—in their eyes she is little more than a provider of service. Even her professional success cannot save her from the role assigned to her by custom. Ramatoulaye and Aissatou’s friendship provide them with an escape, however. With their spouses and in-laws they endure their oppression silently, but with each other they can express their frustration openly.
In their precious free time together, Ramatoulaye and Aissatou take long walks together along the coast and relax in Aissatou’s beautiful home. They find solace in nature and the open air. They find solace, too, in their professional lives. They are both schoolteachers, and the satisfaction they derive from helping young children is incomparable to anything they feel at home.
The openness and natural beauty of the coast stands in sharp contrast to the confines of the home. Against the claims of custom and tradition, Ramatoulaye and Aissatou find more fulfillment in their friendship and profession than their conventionally “sacred” household duties as wives.