The Senegal depicted in So Long a Letter is a country on the threshold, passing between two historical eras. Ramatoulaye is born and educated under the French colonial regime, and she lives through Senegalese independence. Hers is the generation responsible for the slow process of Senegalese self-determination. They have taken on the enormous task imagining a new sociopolitical order, and with it a postcolonial future for their country.
Ramatoulaye is extremely politically engaged, and while…(read full theme analysis)
The opposing pulls of custom and progress that Ramatoulaye encounters in the Senegalese political climate become personal and particular in her struggle to reconcile her abiding faith in Islam with her feminism. The central drama of the novel is the disintegration of Ramatoulaye’s marriage to Modou after the latter takes on a second wife—his daughter’s young friend, no less. Ramatoulaye’s faith permits polygyny (a man taking more than one wife), and dictates that she remain…(read full theme analysis)
Throughout the novel, Ramatoulaye’s close bond with her friend Aissatou is continually posed against the disintegration of both of their marriages. For both Ramatoulaye and presumably Aissatou, friendship—especially female friendship—offers a richer and more intimate connection than marriage ever can.
This contrast is evident in the very form of the novel. Ramatoulaye’s intense feelings of kinship with Aissatou, even while Aissatou lives thousands of miles away, can be felt in the intimacy of her…(read full theme analysis)
So Long a Letter is formally unusual. It is at once an epistolary novel—a novel composed of letters—and a diary. Ramatoulaye, writing during the 40 days of mourning she must observe in the wake of her husband’s death, addresses her reflections to her best friend Aissatou. And yet we never get to read Aissatou’s response. The book has the quality of a dialogue in the sense that the writing is interpersonal, addressed to…(read full theme analysis)