Mariama Ba’s So Long a Letter

In Mariama Ba’s So Long a Letter, the protagonist Rama becomes a widow. As a Muslim woman, she must undergo a required time of four months and ten days of seclusion after her husband’s death. She profits from this time to write a letter that is sort of a diary and also a way of purging herself. In this letter, she reveals secrets which should be hidden and unveils painful situations that many women are forced to cope with silently. The letter is part of a healing process to confront herself, her choices, her sufferings with Modu, her husband. In the beginning, Rama states that “The walls that limit my horizon for four months and ten days do not bother me. I have enough memories in me to ruminate upon, and these are what I am afraid of, for they smack of bitterness (SSL,9).

Rama utilizes her letter as a moment of catharsis to expurgate her most private thoughts of her bitter life with Modu, her husband, a man who seduced his daughter’s schoolmate with expensive gifts and ended up choosing her, the young Binetou, to be his second wife. Rama’s letter while addressed to her friend Aissatou is also a letter to herself. It is thus an opportunity to try to understand her own choices.

With her letter, Mariama Ba writes back to patriarchy, asking for women inclusion in public spaces. For her, ” Women should no longer be decorative accessories, objects to be moved about, companions to be flattered or calmed with promises … Women must be encouraged to take a keener interest in the destiny of the country (SLL 64)

Furthermore, besides analyzing women’s situation, her letter also has a taste of revenge as the writer describes male characters as selfish, ridiculous, cowards, and parasites. Modu, a respectful public man is in the position of being ridiculed by youths when he tries to dance with her younger wife at a disco. With a note of grief and sarcasm Ba says: “The harsh lights betrayed him to the unpitying sarcasm of some of them, who called him a cradle-snatcher. What did it matter! He had Binetou in his arms. He was happy (SSL,56).

Other male characters are ridiculed in the novel. Mawdo, Aissatou’s husband, is not able to reject Young Nabou, her mother’s gift to him, and acting cowardly, he watches her wife and four sons leave while he decides to marry the young woman his mother prepared to him. Tamsir, Modu’s brother, is portrayed as the parasite which sees the marriage with his brother’s widow a way to solve his financial problems. Samba Diack is a weak man who married a woman in Ivory Coast but couldn’t stand the pressure of his own society, neglecting his wife Jacqueline who faces depression. 

By understanding literature as a vehicle of women’s empowerment which opens a space for women voice her stories, Mariama Ba’s So Long a Letter subverts the male gaze, undermines patriarchal authority in the Senegalese African society while informing that the ancient art of storytelling can be turned into a weapon to destroy the silence imposed by centuries and several outsiders.

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