So Long a Letter

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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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‘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:

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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:

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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:

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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
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...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
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...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)
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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)