So Long a Letter


Mariama Bâ

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in So Long a Letter, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Custom, Modernity, and Progress

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…

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Feminism and Islam

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…

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Ramatoulaye is a devoted mother to her twelve children. When Modou abandons her for Binetou, and then when he eventually dies, Ramatoulaye must redouble her efforts as a mother and face with courage the prospect of being a single parent. Ramatoulaye’s struggles as a mother are not just particular to her marital situation—they are also particular to the times in which she lives, as her children are growing up during the dawn of Senegalese…

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Friendship vs. Marital Love

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…

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Dialogue and Address

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…

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